Things I Screwed Up at Camp 10 Years Ago

Things I Screwed Up at Camp 10 Years Ago

About 10 days ago, my old boss/first-ever camp director texted me: "This is Phillip from the YMCA. When is a good time to call you concerning camp?" I cried on Chicago public transit. It was embarrassing. 
Long story short, maybe I'll run camp this summer, maybe I won't, but regardless, I've done a LOT of reflecting. I started that job at 22, and let me be honest — it wasn't my best work. Here are some things I'd do differently.

There's not really a right way to be friends with your staff, but there are lots of wrong ways.

I became the camp director straight after being a camp counselor, so the people I was supervising had been some of my best friends. A big place I went wrong was drawing a line between being a boss and being a friend and not telling anyone where that line was. I also didn't give anyone the opportunity to draw their own line and tell me where it was. Being real friends with people you supervise takes a lot of trust, vulnerability, two-way communication, and owning when you screw up that is possible but didn't happen back then.
If you're thinking, "It just doesn't work" — I hear you. Really. At the end of the day, though, camps have created a system where it's probably going to happen. The first bits of our Benefits & Burnout Survey analysis are coming in, and only 9% of people say they have time to keep up with friends and family outside of camp. If that's true, how could we possibly expect people to NOT be friends with their staff? If you're super against people being friends with those they supervise — cool. Change the systems to give them time to keep up with their friends.

Staff parents & caregivers deserve more.

The mom of one of my staff members once called me and asked me to help keep her kid safe, even during his time off. I told her that, of course, I would. Then, when she called me on her son's night off wondering why he wasn't answering the phone, I suddenly pulled the "I can't talk to you about employees" card.
What I should have done is set realistic expectations beforehand and been consistent. If I could go back, I'd take a page out of YMCA Camp Greenville's book and have a virtual meet and greet for staff families before the summer. I've got some ideas on what this might look like, and I'll share them soon.

You don't always have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes you can just level the wheel up.

As a new camp director, I was SO EXCITED to try a million different things. And I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with that, but I do think there's a difference between "What would be better?" and "How could this be better?"

What I wish I'd done is to look around and see what areas of camp were actually going well and could just use a little bit more oomph or to be leveled up.  I spent a lot of energy taking things that were at a 6 or 7 and gutting them, only to get them back to a 7 or 8. Kind of a waste.

Essentially, I spent let's say 7 of my time/energy "points" to bring something up a point. Instead, I could've used one point on that and 6 points fixing something that was at a 3 or below. THAT would have made camp SO MUCH better.

There's enough power pie to go around, and maybe it's better when more people eat it.

I think about this one a lot. Another long story short, my camp created a new operations director position while I was there. I wanted nothing to do with her, and I wanted to make sure no one else had anything to do with her. I just wanted to be free to run camp my way. And I know I'm not alone in that.

We talk so much about bringing outsiders in and building community, but are we extending that to people above and around us? Because honestly, as much as we don't want to admit it, it would probably make our lives easier and make camp better. I think this looks like intentionally bringing people in, even when we don't want to. Maybe ideas for that are another blog? A podcast? A seminar? We'll see.

It's not the only Magic Campfire.

Our campfire at the end of the week is truly magical. It involves ordering some really sketchy chemicals, soaking toilet paper in kerosene, and more. Here's the thing — even if I could tell you the rest, you absolutely should not do it that way.

To my shock (and, tbh, my horror), Mike O'Brien showed a video at one of our first retreats of HIS magic campfire and how it worked. And while I would not admit it at the time, it was a lot better than fishing wire and a cup (I'm really saying too much).

Magic campfire aside, the real lesson is that there are people out there doing really cool things — some similar to you, some different than you, some worse than you... whatever. The big takeaway is that the more you talk to other camp professionals, the better you and your camp will be.

Ready to talk to other camp professionals?

That's why we made membership! We have opportunities to talk to 200+ camp professionals every day.

Allison Krabill-1





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