Jack's Kookie Take on Professional Development

This is an adapted email I sent to our team at Stomping Ground as we build a professional development plan for our small team. For context, Stomping Ground is a sleepaway camp Laura and I founded in 2015 with 4 of us on the year round team and no history of a concrete professional development plan. In 2019 we added two year round employees, both recent college grads that had worked with us at camp.  


Pictured above

Thinking about professional development today. Here is an article I found after I googled professional development

First, I don't think I have ever really thought about how to run Stomping Ground as a person in charge of handling other people’s professional development. I love learning things in a very Jack way and am constantly listening to podcasts, trying to make new things, and do things that seem stupid to other people. 

I am a huge believer in talking to other people and learning from random conversations because I think a huge part of learning a job or an industry is about the language people use. Not for nothing, this is why Kurtz and I started The Summer Camp Society a few years ago. With the idea that building community across camps is the single best professional development most of us can do. (Kurtz, did you see that? Not even 4 paragraphs in already shameless and honestly plugging The Summer Camp society)


With all that in mind, Laura and I have not really paid for classic professional development in the past, but I think we have been very professional development focused. First we went out and met a million camps. Then we started speaking about camps. We read and listen to a lot of books. The last one I just finished was all about negotiation techniques, now I am listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Talking to Strangers”. I go back and forth from listening to books for a few months and then not and just doing podcasts. 

Laura and I on the road in 2012…

I subscribe to a bunch of not for profit and marketing facebook groups just to read what other people are thinking about. I signed up for the free trial to Fizzle, a website for helping entrepreneurs bootstrap businesses, and watched all their videos and then canceled, probably 10 times.

I spend a decent amount of time every day reading articles that sometimes are super related to camp and sometimes aren’t. Watch a lot of youtube videos about starting businesses or making videos or whatever I am into at the time. 

I do The Summer Camp Society to make sure I am talking with camp directors about what they are doing and sharing ideas. (Kurtz! AGAIN! I am getting good at this.)

We have also been to 1,000 camp conferences.

I also talk to Kurtz and Syl almost every day and hear about their projects so I can steal more of their ideas. As I write this I am realizing the three ways I love learning are

What is The Summer Camp Society?

  1. Consuming fire hoses of information mostly through audio and video

  2. Trying to do things I don’t know how to do and scrambling to figure them out

  3. Talking with people doing cool stuff

Laura is in grad school right now, at Columbia for Social Work. By far our biggest commitment to traditional professional development to date. She can describe more what that is like, but to quickly summarize, it is a very different take on professional development than I described and a much more tried and true method. 

Oh! the other thing I think that fits into my professional development is always having to publish something. A video, a blog post, whatever. 

Laura right now is doing a lot of traditional professional development, but she also taught herself illustrator, how to be a boss, everything she knows about restorative justice. I guess a lot of the restorative justice stuff was half and half. She went to a bunch of random PIRI things and other trainings. 


Anyway, I wrote that whole thing out describing the way Laura and I have learned in the past to say that there is no right way to do this, but I find it both very important and very interesting to learn new things, both tangible, web design, video editing, etc and intangible, what are other people doing for capital campaigns, marketing from a why perspective and more.

What I want to do is start the conversation about how do we, as Stomping Ground, and then as individuals, want to think about professional development?

This is not an email to say you aren’t learning, but an email to say I think there are very few things we all can’t do and can’t learn together so let’s make sure we are all thinking and talking about that. 

What are you hoping to learn? What kinds of things have you learned lately? How do you like to learn? How are we all growing our professional and personal networks? What can we all do to do more of that? What are you interested in? 

These are all big questions that all have a weird pressure of “What do you want to be doing in 10 years?” Or that’s what it can seem like. But I want to take the pressure off and say let’s learn some cool stuff together. 


The Fizzle guys (mentioned above) have this idea of being a Leading Learner, where they say go learn shit and as you go write about it, make videos, a podcast, whatever but don’t be afraid of not being an expert admit that and then talk about the process of learning. Gary Vee calls this document don’t create or basically just show people what you are doing online. This is definitely the attitude we have taken as a camp and has been my style for this, as you all know, but not exactly Laura’s style. 

ANY WAY! My long ass writing is to say let’s start the conversation of what kinds of things everyone is interested in and then figure out how we all want to learn new things and how all this learning can be good for camp and each other. 

A lot of places just put together a budget and say spend it and just get each thing approved. I am happy to find money to pay for things like conferences or online classes if when we find cool stuff, but I want to start by figuring out what we want first and then work backward from there. 

Just a few things I have thought about signing up or going to as professional development but haven’t yet.


OK THAT’S ENOUGH. I would love to hear what you all are thinking about this. LOVE YOU ALL!

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What Do You Do The Rest Of The Year? - Staff Narrative & Social Pressure

What Do You Do The Rest Of The Year? - Staff Narrative & Social Pressure

I wonder how many great camp directors have left the camp world because they didn’t feel like constantly answering that question. “What do you do the rest of the year?” Or how many potential great camp directors go become teachers, nurses, or lawyers because they don’t think camp is valued in their community.

What Teens Really Want... Trust

I wrote this as I was prepping for camp with our teen leadership counselors who will be working with the teen campers this summer at Stomping Ground. I realized we hadn’t spent much time formalizing our philosophy for working with teens and wanted to have some common language to get started. We are facilitating a Teen Leadership Workshop starting April 9th for 4 weeks, all online, all for staff working with teens. Check it out. CIT/LIT Leaders Workshop. - Jack

What Teens really want…

To feel trusted.


Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, the founders of Self Determination Theory, posit that people are happiest and motivated when their three psychological needs are met. They define those needs as autonomy, belonging, and competence, the ABCs.

Quick aside, when we can get our staff to think about behavior from a “What needs aren’t being met?” perspective it is a game changer. Instead of “That kid is a bad kid.” we can reframe to a “Does Sarah not feel connected? How can I help?” mentality. This is way more effective and way more human.

OK BACK TO TEENS. For teens at camp, think about the three psychological needs.

Self Determination Theory


They spend almost the whole time trying to figure out how to build stronger connections. One of the big tools for connection is “just hanging out”. That is what most grownups do and that is a huge part of what teens are looking for. I think we do a pretty awesome job of helping teens and campers find belonging and connection.


This one is harder. How can we create autonomous, supportive spaces at camp while also making sure teens are safe and not hurting others? What about SEX?!


In Self-Determination Theory, they define competence as the ability to impact the world around you. This one is also hard at camp. Typically teens come for only some portion of the summer. Also, they claim they want more responsibility, but then, let’s be honest, they don’t always really follow through…


My take, Competence and Autonomy are really about feeling trusted. I don’t think our teens are looking for that much, they just want us to treat them like adults. We can’t just turn over the keys to camp, but luckily for us, the bar for this is so low because the message most teens get from the rest of the world is that they aren’t worthy of trust.  This provides us with a huge opportunity to connect with them, starting with reasonable trust.


5 Ways to Build Trust With Teens

(And let’s be honest… PEOPLE)

1) Tell them that you want to build trust with them.

This is the easiest one. On the first night of camp instead of starting with all the rules do a quick recap about how the world seems to tell them that they aren’t worthy of trust and that at camp you want to reverse that. You want to start with trust and realize that we will all mess up, but that you know they are worth trusting and you are excited to build trust with them.

2) Explain why things are the way they are at camp.


This part is a little harder. Now you have explained that you want to build trust, but you still need to set limits and boundaries. You still are the one who will “make” them do things all week. So explain why. Don’t just have an arbitrary bedtime. Have a bedtime and explain why they need to be quiet for the younger kids. Explain that you have to supervise them because it is the law and because that is the promise we made with their parents. Why can’t they talk about sex or curse? TELL THEM! Connect it to why camp exists and why they are here. If you can’t explain that then stop here and figure out why. Then practice explaining it.

3) Change something about camp when they ask.

Show the teens you value their input. No matter how well you explain your policies and try to make sense they will poke holes. Listen to them and try to change something to be better with their thoughts and ideas. When they push back on bedtime, see if you can do a couple of late nights further from the younger kids or a couple of sleep in days. By listening and then working with them to make a change at camp you are showing that they matter.

4) Ask them for help and share some of your mistakes

Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection. We are going to make mistakes with our teens and we are going to need their help. Instead of waiting for it to happen by accident let’s own it. A lot of times I tell our teens this story about how we tried camp with no bedtimes and what a disaster it was and then ask for some times they have messed up. To wrap it up, I let them know we will all make mistakes this session and it isn’t about the mistakes but how we all work through them together. Sometimes we end with a group pinky swear to have each other’s backs. It is camp after all.

5) Explain why you are at camp and ask them why they are here

This last one might be the most important and can be the easiest to forget. My friend, longtime The Summer Camp Society Member, director of YMCA Camp Minikani, and all around amazing guy, Peter Drews, once said


He was talking about working with staff improvement, but the idea is the same with teens and maybe just everything. This starts with getting on the same page with our teens about what they want from camp. Why are they here? What are they hoping for?

On the first day of camp just ask them. Start by sharing why you are at camp and what you are hoping for and then let them share. At first, my guess is you will get relatively superficial answers like “Make friends” “Do new stuff” “Because I loved last year.” That’s ok. Those are a great start. If you are successful, a huge part of your job will be better understanding the teens you are working with so you can better understand what they are wanting out of camp and struggling with in life. With that understanding, it becomes your job to partner with them to get more of what they are wanting while living in a complex camp community.


“I think it’s wild when people say ‘teens’ like they’re some big mysterious being we couldn’t possibly understand instead of just like humans?” - Tursh

As I talked more and more with Tursh, one of our teen leadership staff, she said the quote above. In the end, that is the mentality I hope we can get to at camp. Teens are just people. Each one is an individual with individual wants and needs. Certainly there are some different skills or techniques for working with teens than working with 6-year-olds, but we spend too much time labeling teens as teens and not enough time getting to know each individual.

Don’t forget to check out our teen leadership workshop designed for staff leading teens this summer.


Some Articles I Sent to Our Teen Leaders to Start the Conversation



20 Things You Can Do This Month To Recruit Male Staff

Recruiting male staff can be incredibly challenging. For whatever reason men are not becoming teachers, nurses, camp counselors or engaging in other helping professions as much as women are. Below are 25 ideas to try to help you get a jump start for recruiting a couple male staff.

I don’t think there is a silver bullet for this. No one of these will net everyone a bunch of staff, but by starting with these and continuing to work on camp culture, living wages, and personal connections you can begin to add up to a camp that doesn’t struggle to for male staff every year. Some camps have plenty of male staff, and there are plenty of college age males out there. What can we do to connect with them and create a space where they want to work? Let’s do it!

1) Call every one of your current male staff and ask them if they know anyone
2) Email coaches for mens college sports teams and ask for a meeting
3) Email current registered families and ask for help
4) Set up a focus group with current male staff
5) Ask one of your seasonal staff to make a video like the one below focused on male staff

6) Get an alumni male staff to write a blog post about how he is a better dad/teacher/etc because of camp. Then send it to local teachers colleges or whatever the topic of his article is.  
7) Call all of last year’s male staff that aren’t returning and ask for feedback. Then beg them to come back.
8) Create a referral system for recruiting staff. You get $100 per staff that finishes the summer.
9) Talk with the people at the front desk at your local Y about who the nicest guys that come in are. Meet them. (When you get desperate…)
10) Is there an all boys high school in your town? Connect with their leadership council.


11) What is special about your camp? Very outdoors focused? Soccer camp? Liberal values? Make a list of what is different about your camp and another list about what college clubs have similar interests or values. Contact all those clubs at your local colleges.
12) Run targeted Facebook/Instagram ads at men ages 18-22 with those same interests in your area. Make sure the creative (what the ad says) confirms something you already know about who you are targeting. IE: target men interested in social justice with an ad that says: DO YOU BELIEVE IN SOCIAL JUSTICE? WANT TO MAKE AN IMPACT THIS SUMMER? Work at Camp Compassion this summer. Picture of a male staff connecting with a kid.
13) Print you should work at camp business cards and hand them out to all your supporters to share with all the nicest young men they meet.
14) Get all your current local staff to come to a big and simple kickball tournament on a Saturday. Tell them to bring as many friends as they can and supply food, maybe free t-shirts.
15) Send all your current staff posters that say “Great Men Work At Camp (yourcamphere).” To hang in their dorms/houses and ask them to put them up. Maybe include a t-shirt.
16) Run a staff appreciation week on social media with daily memes asking for referrals to male staff
17) Write up a quick blog post to be shared on how to help convince your parents you want to work at camp. Like this https://campstompingground.org/blog/2017/2/7/convincing-your-parents-that-working-at-summer-camp-is-good-for-your-career
Instagram/ Facebook Live with a male staff member about his summer at camp and why he loved working at camp. Share.
20) Actively get your male campers to join your CIT program! (This won’t get you male staff for summer 2019. But will get you male staff for summer 2022.)

Many of these ideas were shared by The Summer Camp Society Members in our community forums. Where conversations and ideas like this build on each other and develop long term friendships and connections. Learn more about our semester long programs and lifelong friendships below.


Splitting Up Teams Intentionally

I, like many of you, have used a lot of tricks for splitting up groups.

  • Find a partner, one of you raise your hand, all the hand-raisers are on a team

  • Find everyone with the same third number in your phone number

  • Get into groups with people born in the same month

  • Count off

  • OLD SCHOOL TEAM CAPTAINS?! (Lots to write about here..)

What if we could have kids get into groups with the people they want to play the game with and we try our best to make that happen?

Most of the techniques at the top are designed to split up cliques and encourage campers to expand their friend groups. They are designed to push kids outside their comfort zones so they can make new friends. That’s ok, but what if that isn’t the number one goal.

At Stomping Ground, the camp I help run, we play an all-camp game every night. The night games often have teams, sometimes all the kids are on one team against some staff playing the bad guys. You can see some of our games in the Free Stuff Section of this site.

For us, the goal of the night games is threefold.

  1. We want to create larger than life immersive events that kids will remember and talk about.

  2. We want to end the day on an epic high note giving all of camp a shared experience.

  3. We want to let kids encounter big ideas on their own terms.


Not everyone participants in all the games, they can opt out, but the goal is to get as many people at camp thinking in the same direction and have a wild time doing it. These games, at Stomping Ground, and at many camps, are many kids favorite part of camp.

If you noticed, for us pushing kids outside their comfort zones or getting them to make new friends during the games are not our highest priorities. This doesn’t mean we don’t hope kids will make friends, but it means we aren’t prioritizing that during these games. We prioritize that at other times.

If that is the case, that we care more about kids loving the experience than pushing making new friends, during the game, than what should we do about making teams?

Side note, if the kids are having the best time ever they tend to also love making new friends. That the making new friends part comes naturally when they are having an awesome time.

What if we just let the kids decide?

We have tried this and the hard part is they tend to make teams that aren’t very fair. I think if given enough time one of the more outspoken, probably older, kids would speak up and explain that the teams aren’t fair and that makes the game less fun, but we haven’t run that experiment.

What if we mostly let the kids decided, but we play the role of that older kid?

What we tend to do is explain the game. Then explain the number of teams and have kids clump together based on who they would like to be with. Then one of our game makers go around and send groups of kids evenly to teams. This let’s us have some control over balancing teams, and let’s kids play the game with the people they want to play with. We find when teams are mostly even and kids are with the people they want to be with the games are dramatically more fun.


Some other thoughts…

This is more art than science. As the facilitator, like always, we need to be on the lookout for kids possibily being left out or just not actively included.

We have added in recent years the option to instead of choosing your friends you can choose the color or team you want to be on. We do this by sending team captains to four corners of the area and telling kids if they want to choose the color they are on go to the color and if they don’t care please stay in the middle so we can make fair teams. We have found the younger kids tend to be more color-focused and the older kids don’t care about that, but want to make sure they are on the same team as their friends.

At the end of the day the question of how we form teams is about why are we playing the game at all? Why should adults decide? Why should kids decide? Why have teams? By pushing ourselves to answer these questions we can more effectively and intentionally accomplish what we are hoping to accomplish.

If you love thinking about this kind of thing you will love the All Camp Games Workshop we are running in February. All online.


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Five Simple Ways to Make Carnivals More Fun

I love carnivals at camp. We call them open camps or station games because they tend to be more than just carnivals, but the games we are talking about have a bunch of stations that individual campers can walk around and go play.

Below are five simple ways to add some more juice to these types of games. If you love this kinda stuff we have a few all camp games in the Free Stuff section of the website and I am leading an online All Camp Games Workshop in February. Check em out.

Let’s get into it!

1) Add Money

Money is fun to play with. Monopoly is a terrible game, but wildly popular. Why? Because you get to play with fake money. Adding some form of currency to games is pretty easy.

Idea: Kids earn between 1 and 5 dollars for every station they complete. With the money, they can buy starbursts or access to another area like the inside of the rec hall for a dance party.

Sheets of Fake Money We Have Used. Use them or make your own.
Tower MoneyCastle MoneyLaura Money (Might be weird if you use this one…)

2) Design Stations for Different Avatars

Making up stations for games is all about thinking about who is going to play them. You know your camp better than anyone. When we design for Stomping Ground we think of about 4-7 real-life kids in the offseason, then as we get to see the kids that are at camp each week we adjust for the different personalities each week.

Some Potential Avatars

  1. Johnny - Rambunctious 8-year-old, high energy, low attention span, loves running around

  2. Teagan - Kinda too cool for school 13-year-old, doesn’t tend to love our games, but does care about younger kids, no sports, creating things is fun, very concerned about their social standing

  3. Gary - 11-year-old, loves pushing people’s buttons, loves RPG style video games, favorite games involve some form of leveling up with friends he can choose

  4. Sarah - 9-year-old, loves the counselors, loves pop music, happy with pretty much anything where she can be silly and interact with staff

You get the idea. How can you design stations that are for the people playing not just for some nebulous group? Johnny will love if there is some form of dodgeball. Teagan will be hesitant to join. How can we make a station that involves just sitting and chilling with their friends?

Here is a quick avatar creation handout we made for a camp training a couple years ago.

3) Create an Unfolding Narrative

Gary, above, will be fine playing most station games but would love if there was something more going on. Think of the Stranger Things kids at a carnival. They aren’t just playing games, they are trying to unearth clues in a much larger story. This is the world we can create for an hour with Gary.

Example: When you get to the fortuneteller’s tent, the fortune teller breaks character to tell kids that the whole carnival has been taken over by aliens. You can tell who the aliens are by looking closely at their left ears. Sure enough, half the staff leading stations have green paint dripping out of their ears. The fortune teller explains that we need to get rid of the aliens and to go see the “maintenance guy” who has been going around picking up trash. Hijinx ensues. Maybe they need to get into the rec hall from above to learn more about the aliens. Maybe there are two ways in. They can pay to get in like everyone else or there is a secret entrance that they can have the maintenance guy’s assistant help them get in if they do a task for him.


4) Costumes - For Kids

Kids love costumes. Have a station where kids can get in costume and take pictures. Maybe they stay in costume. MAYBE! With money earned from above they can buy costumes. MAYBE! You need a costume to enter the rec hall so you have to buy a costume to get in.

OH ALSO! I read this again after I wrote it and realized this made an assumption that the staff were already in costume. If we don’t have your staff get dressed up for these kinds of things please do. They love it and it adds such a layer of depth to all games and is so fun.

5) Epic Music


This is a super simple one. Set up speakers and play music the whole time. Whatever the theme is just download a corresponding movie’s soundtrack from Spotify.

  1. Having a Ren Faire? Lord of the Rings

  2. Space? Star Wars

  3. Disney? OK just tons of Disney Songs

Awesome composers have already done the work for us. Music adds an enormous level of immersion just by being on we are having a shared experience.

Let’s Make Awesome Stuff Together

Stations during these events are really fun, and for some number of kids that’s all they need to make friends and build memories. But we have an opportunity each time we run something like this to make it the best moment of camp for some kids let’s take it. What are some of your favorite additions to open camps? Comment below.

Looking to take your all camp games to the next level? Love talking about these kinds of things? Join Our All Camp Games Workshop this February.


Make up a new game for yourself. Get access to the rest of the cohorts new games. But most of all start to think differently about game creation.

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Opening Day Sucks

Let’s think about opening day. I wrote a little questioning our campfire last year, but now I want think a little broader.

We, at Stomping Ground the camp I help run, start each session on Sunday afternoon, one week sessions, and about half the kids stay over the weekend. Quick schedule below.

3:00 - 4:00 - Arrival Window
4:00 - 5:45 - In villages, get to know you games, tours, etc
5:45 - 6:30 - Dinner
6:30 - 7:30 - Village Pump Up Meeting
7:30 - 8:15 - Opening Campfire
8:15 - Back to villages, get ready for bed, village agreements, embers, hangout, bed

First- What is the point of opening day?

To get through it…

But for real, it often seems like the goal of the first day of camp is just to get through it so we can get to the good stuff when camp really starts Monday morning.

Maybe we should just start Monday morning… OR maybe we should just make Sunday more like the rest of the week. That is what we do at Tall Tree, a camp for kids with autism that Sylvia runs. Sylvia is also running an Inclusion Specialist Training for us. It is also what we did the first summer of Stomping Ground. Just start activities basically as soon as kids arrive.

Ok wait!

What is the point of opening day?


  1. Actually get the kids to camp

  2. Welcome parents

  3. Welcome kids

  4. Collect meds

  5. Lice Checks

  6. See where they will sleep/poop/shower

  7. Learn the rules

  8. Meet their counselors

  9. Meet the kids in their cabin

  10. Get a glimpse of the culture

  11. Eat

  12. Sign up for Monday’s activities (might be cool to do the swim check?)

  13. See what camp looks like

  14. Opening Campfire? → back to this again…

Those are the tangible things, but the crux of what we want is for kids to feel comfortable and excited about being at camp and start getting to know each other. What would it look like to do that differently?

Let’s ignore some logistical problems for now and just try a different schedule for after kids arrive….

3-4:30 pm - Normal check-in process and some initial get to know you games in cabins
4:30-5:30 pm - Free Choice Option (include an option for a tour or something similar)
5:30-6:15 pm - Dinner
6:30-7:00 pm - Campfire
7:00-8:15 pm - Cabin Time
8:15 pm - Bedtime stuff ← need to look closer at all of this later too.

What are the problems?

  • No time for village cheers. Do we care?

  • What happens when kids arrive late? ← some always do.

  • What happens at Bed Time?

  • What is “Cabin Time”?

Cabin Time…

The goal is…  

  • To make a little memory with the kids in your cabin.

  • Build a bond between the campers and the staff.

  • Do something fun to get buy in

What if we make up 20 mini adventures that cabins could go on? Then from the campfire each cabin goes on their adventure and meets back up in the village for night time stuff after their adventure ends.

Then each staff could easily make their own cabin time up, but having an easy choice for folks would lower the difficulty to get started and raise the floor for the activity.

The big problem I see is around the lack of choice here. For all our other activity times there is a huge amount of choice. Kids can go to Downtown Stomping Ground or pick different options.

Where would this be the biggest problem? Older kids. Ok, ok, ok.

We don’t typically have age segregated programming except for sleeping, but if we are going to have them stay in their cabins anyway what if we do things a little differently based on village? We have four villages based loosely by age. From youngest to oldest, Explorer, Viking, Robinhood, and Pioneer. What if Pioneer always went somewhere for a village event that had some built-in choice, hangout time, and maybe a conversation about how they are leaders at camp?

How would that play out in Robinhood? This is hard to say because we are expanding capacity in Viking and Explorer and I am not sure what the age breakdowns will be, but I think it could work pretty well.

One of the keys I think would be that it was a small group on the adventure so getting out of the main field would be important for most groups.

What could some of the options be?

  • Pioneer goes to… The Lava Lounge for something similar to the After Party from ArtsFest

  • Smores in Mountaineer

  • Ice cream in boats

  • Bake a cake in the staff kitchen (wait these are all just food… Maybe that is the key? Just a snack party for each cabin?)

  • Fire tower

  • Archery… boring

  • Outpost cookout

  • Newt catching

  • Explorer creek walk

  • Fort building by Viking

  • Some kind of dodgeball type game (maybe the game assault?) Could be 2 cabins

  • What could people do in the dining hall?

  • These still need a lot of work, but I bet we could just ask some of the staff to make some up this offseason.

To simplify, we make a signup list for staff that gets passed around during the Sunday big staff meeting with supplies that we order for each week. We always order ice cream, cake making stuff, whatever to be used on the first night. Plus snacks for Pio in the Lava Lounge. This way it gets systematized and if people want to do special stuff that is awesome, but at least we have a base.

The new setup would be a pretty simple change. More choice before dinner and a fun cabin activity with a lot of snacks likely after dinner and village meetings moved to Monday.


Did you know Kurtz and I put up a bunch of free staff training sessions, all camp games, and more? Check em out.

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Building a Culture of Partnership Instead of Power Over With Our Staff

This is Peter Drews!

Why do some challenging conversations with staff lead to huge impact and while most at best lead to tiny changes?

This week in The Summer Camp Society Semester we were talking about difficult conversations with staff and Peter Drews, YMCA Camp Minikani, gave us a profound takeaway. We were trying to narrow in on what was true about the tough conversations we have had with staff that lead to the biggest breakthroughs. Peter said:

“When I am collaborating with someone I care about to help them do something they care about.”

I am in.

Think about it. The most effective helping conversations happen when you are working together with one of your best friends to help them solve a real problem they want to solve.

Kurtz has some thoughts and Mike O’Brien chimes in with a great staff training session at the end of this article.


Now there are a lot of incredibly challenging aspects of this, but it gives us a goal and a place to start, mostly a place to start way before the tough convo.

  1. How can I build closer relationships with the people I supervise so I can know what they care about and so they know I care about them?

  2. What does my camp really care about and how can I make sure we are articulating this to staff when we hire them so they can decide if they care too?

  3. How do I make sure the policies and topics of these tough conversation line up with what we are saying we care about?

Kurtz’s Staff Training on Practicing Coworker Confrontations

This is a huge undertaking. Here is where I am going to start with Stomping Ground. Jack actually do this you lazy dog!

  1. What Happened? - Compile a list of as many tough conversations that happened this summer as you can. Look through incident reports and staff evaluations.

    1. I think if I were doing this exercise, I'd also want some direct input from staff. I'd call my unit directors, my wellness coordinator, and my assistant summer camp director. I'd ask them to think about the corrective conversations they had to engage in most this summer.- Peter

  2. Breaking It Down - Categorize them by what you think the problem is. This will take some thinking. Is it level of engagement, timeliness, violating a specific policy? Which category has the largest number of conversations?

    1. I can see how frequency of conversations is really important. I think I'd also want to look at the list I compiled and think about the conversations that most spoke to our core values. When were my staff members doing something that felt like it really flew in the face of our values? Is that happening consistently? Is that behavior happening more in one unit or with one staff member more than with others? I'd want to identify patterns, to learn more about where our staff culture can improve. - Peter

  3. What Do We Care About? - Now, this is the hard part. Dig into this category for what is actually happening and figure out why, really why, this policy is necessary for camp and in alignment with what camp really cares about. Pick a handful of staff that are likely to break this policy. What do they care about that overlaps with why this policy is in place?

    1. I love this. It's another place where a phone call might be a good idea. - Peter

  4. Explain It - Write a quick one-pager not just explaining the policy, but explaining the overlap between what your staff members care about and why the policy exists. Try to really give them the benefit of the doubt, it is November so that is easier. Why should they care? What else do they already care about? Be as specific as possible.

  5. Do Something - At this point, feel free to change the policy, make plans to change your staff, or make plans to change how you hire staff. My hope is that by picking the most frequent problem with staff I can either get more staff on board or just change the policy.


It is not always the case that when people believe in something they can do it, but it is a million times easier to have a conversation with someone when they are invested in making the same change we are.

“When I am collaborating with someone I care about to help them do something they care about.”

Thank you Peter.




Some thoughts from Kurtz while she is taking care of her newborn. #businessMOM #mba #BABYKURTZ #yesshecandoitall

It’s kind of like the same technique in principled negotiations (win-win negotiations). There is a summary of the principled negotiation book. The “interests” part is what might be most pertinent to this convo.

Principled Negotiation: Interests:

  • The difference between interests and positions is crucial: interests motivate people; they are silent movers behind the hubbub of positions. Your position is something you have decided upon, while your interests are what caused you to decide.

  • You can ask for another's position, making clear that you do not want justification, just a better understanding their needs, hopes, fears, or desires that they serve.

  • The most powerful interests are basic human needs: security, economic well-being, sense of belonging, recognition, control over one's life

  • If you want the other side to take your interests into account, explain to them what those interests are

  • Make your interests come alive - be specific!

  • Acknowledge their interests as part of the problem - be sure to show your appreciate their interests if you want treatment in like kind

  • Put the problem before your answer: give your interests and reasoning first and your conclusions or proposals later

  • Look forward, not back: instead of asking someone to justify what they did yesterday, ask "Who should do what tomorrow?"

  • Be concrete but flexible: treat the opinion you formulate as simply illustrative - final decision to be worked on later

  • Be hard on the problem, soft on the people: show you are attacking the problem, not people - give positive support to the humans on the other side equal in strength to the vigor you emphasize the problem - this causes cognitive dissonance and in order for the other to overcome it they will be tempted to disassociate from the problem in order to join you in doing something about it”


A Staff Training Session From Mike O’Brien


Camp Director, Camp AJ, Kentucky

We ran what turned out to be a great session during staff training this summer on a similar topic that ended up helping all of us align our goals for camp.

We posted a bunch of large sheets of paper around the room with a question at the top, things like "What should we expect from our campers?" and the converse "What should our campers expect from us?" There were questions relating to leadership, parents, peers, CIT/LITs, as many relational aspects of camp as we could come up with.

Then each staff person was given a stack of post it notes and as a group we went around the room and wrote words or short statements answering the question and sticking it on the sheet.

After about 20 minutes or whenever most folks had a chance to think about all the questions, we broke up into small groups and each group was assigned one of the large sheets of paper. Those groups then discussed and ranked what they felt were the top 3-5 most important/most meaningful answers, and then presented that to the whole group for discussion.

The end result was great discussions about expectations vs reality, what things matter a lot and what things don't really, and also gave leadership some great insight from our staff about what they expected from us as well as how they perceived our relationships with them. SO GOOD!


Schott Jack.jpg


The Staff Are Like Our Campers... Or Are They?

This is a post from the newly made up, “We can disagree, but still care about each other.” column. We are making t-shirts, hopefully, to be slyly given to everyone in America. The it starts with my hot take followed by a couple different perspectives. If you like this kind of article, with different points of view and perspectives comment below. Let’s get into it!

OH! There is some light cursing under the heading, “They Said” at the beginning of the article.

- Jack Schott

Camp directors often say, “The staff are like our campers.” I get where they are coming from, and I would never say that.

I think the thought process is that as camp directors or leaders we need to take care of our staff the same way we ask our staff to take care of their campers. We need to put as much work into making sure they are doing well as we ask them to do for the kids. This is admirable and something I can get behind.

However, I think the phrasing can come off as patronizing.

I thought I might be alone so I texted some of our staff at camp...

“What would you think if you heard a camp director say ‘The staff are like my campers’”

They said…


“Kinda patronizing.”
“I think it is sweet and well-meaning, but I'd rather be told ‘the staff are like my co's’. Idk which is more true tho.”
“No for sure, for sure, director/counselor counselor/camper are similar in that everyone is IN on FUN and the expression is probably used to distance from traditional employer/employee sort of relationship but I mean come on guy you’ve got a pet… You’ve got a responsibility, You don’t just look for an hour then call it quits…” → Billy Madison Reference
“Huuuuge little bitch move.”
“Stop being such a big BIOTCH.”
“Also sounds kitchy (?)”
“Even if they mean it in a “i am like their counselor, they are like my campers, I want to help them grow and learn” way then it still negates any idea of counselors having a say in camp as a whole / creating a reciprocal relationship with all staff”
"But for realsies, another interesting piece of that is the implication of director's idea of counselor/camper roles.”

Two things are certainly true.

  1. They like to curse via text.

  2. They may be a little more rebellious and more likely to dislike this idea than most.

“The staff are like our campers.”  comes from a very good place, but I think it misses the point.

As camp directors, we clearly love the campers and so treating our staff like campers means treating them with love, but it also has the connotation that we are treating them like kids. Maybe that is what camp directors are saying when they say that. I don’t think so, but maybe.

I am not interested in treating summer staff like kids or assuming that they will act like children.

At camp, we put a huge amount of trust in our staff. They have to both be childlike and playful and at the same time some of the most responsible young adults you can imagine. We, as camp pros, make arguments all the time about how great a growth opportunity it is to work at camp as compared to internships or other jobs.

I don’t think most camp directors mean they want to treat their staff like kids when they say “The staff are like my campers”, but it can be how many staff take it.

Maybe even more than that, I think these words have power and when we say things like “The staff are like my campers” it can lead to a culture where we may not mean to, but we encourage a larger divide between our leadership staff and the staff they supervise. That it leads to more of a power over dynamic than a partner with relationship.

Also, I realize this is a hot take and was chatting with some other folks in The Summer Camp Society looking for some different perspectives. Here are some of their thoughts.

- Jack

Anna Hopkins

Director, Friends Camp, Maine

While I see that some counselors might find this language condescending, I also think that it can be useful when used well. Working at camp can be pretty intimidating for a first-time counselor (maybe a counselor of color at a mostly white camp, a counselor who used to be camper and is really nervous about trying to live into the role of the counselors who he used to hero-worship, or a staff member who is in the US for the first time to work at your camp). Many camps are facing a challenge of staff members bailing a few weeks before the summer, quitting the first week of camp, or even “ghosting” and not showing up for staff week.


Staff members, and those new to camp especially need to feel empowered to bring their crazy ideas, take the lead in potentially dangerous situations, and be the “grown-up” for nervous campers. I think perhaps the best way to help these new staff members become their most empowered selves is to give them support and help them feel like they belong-- two jobs best done by the camp counselors.

The very best camp counselors feel the weight of their responsibility. Maintaining a physically and emotionally safe environment for a group of about 10 children (while canoeing/ camping/ battling dragons) is no joke. However, the weight of this responsibility can sometimes cause good counselors to experience anxiety or make it hard for them to let loose and be silly.

In telling my camp counselors that they can think of me as their counselor, I hope to take off some of that weight. When a camper comes to them and makes a disclosure of abuse, I want them to be able to cry about it with me if they need to and know that I will take it from there. If they get a call from home that their dad is sick and they need to travel home, I don’t want them to feel bad asking me for the time off. If a friend from home is texting them with thoughts of self-harm, I want them to know they can talk to me and I will find someone to cover their cabin while they help their friend.

I agree with my colleagues who say we want to be “partners” with our staff rather than condescending or paternalistic. But in much the same way that campers don’t have the same level of responsibility for camp that their counselors do, camp counselors don’t have the same level of responsibility for camp that the camp director does. When I tell my staff they can trust me and use me as their “camp counselor” if they need to, I hope that it relieves them from feeling like they need to know all the answers right away. If we consider the camper/counselor relationship to be “disrespectful” or “condescending” when applied to adults, what does it say about how we are treating our campers?

- Anna

Katrina Dearden

Assistant Executive Director, Eagle Island Camp, New York

I can see where this phrase would come from and why a Camp Director might choose to use it.  We want what is best for the staff and we know that we need to provide a level of support to them in order for them to be successful.  But I think this phrase also comes from a level of selfishness.

We miss having campers.  

Camp Directors and leaders got into this industry because we loved camp, we loved having a group of kids who saw the potential in us, who joined in on our fun games.  And it’s really hard to give that up as you move up the ladder at camp. So in some ways I think claiming the staff are our campers is just our way of still clinging to the desire to have our own groups of kids.  And that’s not fair to us and it is especially unfair to the staff. Because they are not our campers, they are not here to blindly follow us and our activities. We have hired them to make good decisions, to be responsible for their own groups of campers.  We hired them to push back when something doesn’t make sense, to let us know when there is a better or safer way to do things. Or a better way to connect with the current camper trends and interests.

The staff are not our campers, they are our camp staff.

- Katrina

Ben Clawson

Executive Director, Lindley G. Cook 4H Camp, New Jersey

A few times, when addressing a staff culture issue (i.e. staff talking behind each others backs instead of addressing the problem directly, etc…) I’ve made the mistep of saying to the counselors involved, “how would we react if our campers were treating each other this way?” I think it’s a good, valid point! However, I have seen in my staff’s eyes that they do not think it’s a good, valid point:  “It’s way different than the campers!  We’re young adults in a very complex social situation with a lot being asked from us all the time!” (And it certainly wouldn’t be helpful for me to counter that our 12 year olds probably feel the exact same way.)

At its best, I like to think of camp as a potential antidote to a lot of what’s not-so-great with the rest of the world. I think one of those not-so-great things is that young adults are very used to being treated like children, and having the low expectations of children put upon them. At camp, we ask for so much more. Not only are the counselors not the children, but they are entirely responsible for every aspect of the children’s camp-life, and we hold them to standards that would never be expected from a child. We ask for 24-hours-a-day of solid decision making, responsible judgement, endless energy, boundless creativity, and ever-diligent compassion all wrapped up with imperviously buoyant morale. It might be more than has ever been asked of them, and it’s why so many staff take such pride and joy in clearing the bar and “accomplishing camp.”  Being a counselor at summer camp might very well be the most adult, least-childlike thing they have ever done.

This can be a tough idea for those of us at camps where a large percentage of our campers matriculate onward to become counselors; it can be harder not to think of a staff member as your camper when they literally were your camper a matter of months earlier. And, in reality, our counselors are the highest evolution of what we hope for from our campers - they’re often the best examples of our program’s long-lasting positive effects, and a personification of the promise that the program will continue to produce those effects in the future. Yes, for directors, our counselors might totally be our kids: our oldest, most trusted and esteemed campers.

But perhaps we shouldn’t spend too much time explicitly telling them that.

- Ben


Do you love these kinds of discussions and want to be a part of them every week? Check out our semester long options. 600 bucks for weekly discussions, a great network, and an inclusive conference. There is no other deal like it for professional development. Check it OUT

Schott Jack.jpg


Growth Not Retention.

I spent the weekend pouring over the retention numbers at Stomping Ground, the camp I run. I think I decided retention is overrated.

For context, I have believed retention to be the number one indicator of great camps for the last 5 or 7 years. I am huge fan of Camp Augusta, who boasts above 90% retention every year, maybe 95% I can remember the exact number. I love James Davis’s model on the economics of retention. I believed retention to be the best indicator of camp success.

This weekend I lost my faith.

Ok, I am being dramatic, but I dug deep on our retention and found some interesting facts that are leading me to think differently about retention. I think retention can be incredibly valuable but is just one metric.

This week in The Summer Camp Society Semester we were talking about the value of retention. The ethics of using staff to convince kids to come back for another year and different tactics for increasing the rate kids might return to camp. We discussed progressive programming, connecting with parents, awards, and more. Then we started talking about the numbers.

Retention isn’t just one number it is a combination of an uncountable number of variables. Male vs Female return rate, ages that return at different rates, what about new campers vs old campers.


This got me thinking. I hadn’t calculated our retention at Stomping Ground since our first summer in 2015. There goes my weekend.

I put together a bunch of spreadsheets, why CampBrain doesn’t do this with a click of a button is fascinating. Rob if you are reading this let’s talk. I did this in the most straightforward way. No aging out or removing kids for any reason. If they came to camp one year and came back the next they counted. This matters because you can play with these numbers in a million ways. Here is what I found.

Our Numbers

2015 (our first summer) - 44% of kids returned for 2016
2016 - 58% of kids returned for 2017
2017 - 66% of kids returned for 2018

What the heck does that mean?

I don’t know, but I went to school. 44% is for sure failing. 66% is failing but a little better. It seems like an improvement. I did a bunch of other math. I won’t bore you with all of it, but I found that our retention rate for male and female campers is essentially the same. That we have the highest retention rate for 6 year olds (our youngest kids) and the lowest for 14 year olds (our oldest main campers), but in the middle everything is basically the same. I found that rain has less impact on retention than I thought, but good counselors have much higher impact.

I am happy to run these numbers for you for a donation to camp. Ok, I’ll donate it to camp, but a donation can’t be quid pro quo so you have to pay me then I donate to camp. Laws. Not for profits. Math. Send me an email.



Most importantly I found growth. Over that same time period that our retention failed, never breaking 70% we also 10x-ed the size of our camp. We went from ~60 kids the first summer to ~600 camper weeks this last summer. What was happening?

I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I have an idea. I found two other interesting tidbits.

  1. While our retention rates mostly stunk our retention rates for returning campers are pretty good. Last year ~90%. So if someone had been to Stomping Ground before and came back at least once, the chance that they would return again was very high.  Camp Champions has a person dedicated to first year camper retention for this reason.

  2. Campers that were returning were signing up for more weeks. A lot more weeks, in some years averaging almost twice as many.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN!?!!?!?@!?!!?!?!@?

Growing a program isn’t about retention it is about growth. Of course, it is. But this matters!

We made Stomping Ground up. It never existed. We have messed up, tried things, tried other things. Our first summer we didn’t have bedtimes. ← real life.

The best way to grow fast isn’t to be pretty ok for most of our small number of campers it is to be hecking awesome, best place ever, life-changing, for the right families.

When we do that we grow like mad. When we blow every other place that specific families have ever worked with out of the water they send their kids back for longer and tell everyone they know.


I think this is interesting and I think it changes huge parts of the way we do business. This rewards swing for the fences commitment to mission and encourages us not to round our edges for parents that don’t get what we want to do.

We let kids play with hammers and nails at camp. Kids choose how to spend their days all day every day. They get in arguments and we don’t kick kids out just for fighting. We do weird stuff. We do it safely, but for the right families, this is what they are looking for.

This math is pushing me to double down on what makes us weird. Pushing me to put ourselves more out there for what we believe in and then not compromise our program to please parents that “don’t get us”.


This doesn’t mean we should listen to parent concerns or stop trying to get better and change. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care. Just the opposite. It means we should really care. We should really care about what we really care about. We should double triple quadruple down on connecting our mission to our program, because when we do that, the right people love it and they tell their friends. There are lots of “regular” camps out there.

Trying to be a “great” regular camp is a bad long-term strategy.  

I got excited at the end there, but you get the point. Retention isn’t bad, but it isn’t always good either. I need to keep figuring out what Stomping Ground cares about and then do more of that, explain why, and the right people will care. Or they won’t.


An Introduction to Interviewing Camp Staff

At Stomping Ground, the sleepaway camp I started with Laura Kriegel in 2015, we just hired our first year-round assistant director. Allison Klee, or Klee, has worked with us for three years. You may know her from her videos on how to help staff prepare for the summer.

Anyway, she is awesome and really gets what we do at Stomping Ground, but is still new at so many aspects of her new role. My guess is many of you are in a similar position to either Klee, a new year-round camp person, or me, helping onboard new year-round camp homies. With that in mind, I thought I would share what I shared with Klee about our staff hiring process. Maybe this will become an ongoing series, On-Boarding Klee - A New Assistant Director’s Journey.

Below is an email I sent to Klee, edited a little for context and some fun photos added.


It’s already staff hiring season. We have had a couple new folks apply already. Through this - Apply to Stomping Ground.

Let’s talk process.

  1. Staff apply through the website and give us a few pieces of simple information so we can get started.

  2. Then, I will reach out to them to set up an initial conversation.

  3. Most of our applicants tend to be solid so I will connect them with you to have a conversation. I will share my notes with you.

  4. You will talk with them.

  5. You check their references.

  6. Then we decide what to do next. We either offer them the job or have Laura talk with them to learn more.

  7. Then we send them this page on the website to make sure they really want the job.

The Interview

Interviewing is hard. Some people say interviews don’t work at all. So what is the point? At the highest level it is to see if they will do well in the job they are applying for. OK! That is a start. What is the job they are applying for? Let’s talk cabin counselors at Stomping Ground. What if we broke down being a counselor into 5 major categories?

JISE XT (We need a better acronym)

Judgment (Understand and align with the mission, vision, and practical nature of camp)
Initiative (Ability to consistently start)
Supervision (Awareness of assigned areas and campers)
Engagement (Emotional involvement or commitment)
X-Factor (What makes them special?)
Team (How do they make others better?)

Maybe EXITS?

Engagement, X Factor, Initiative, Team, Supervision/Judgment

You can use this for notes or make your own.


Some Questions to Get Started

Tell me about a time when you had to make a hard decision.

  • What are you hoping to get out of this summer?

  • How did you decide what to do as you after high school? Walk me through your thinking.

  • Tell me about a time you were with kids and had to be the “grownup”

  • When you are with a group of friends what role do you find yourself playing?

    • Tell me about a time where you played that role

  • I noticed on your resume that you… tell me about how you got started with that.

  • Tell me about a time you made a one on one relationship recently.

  • Tell me about your ideal day

  • Tell me about a challenge you have overcome

  • Brag about cool stuff you have done. Pretend I am your new best friend

  • What are some cool hobbies/skills/talents you have?


Informed Consent

This is a weird idea or maybe just a weird phrase to use.

Something obvious: the best counselors are the counselors that know what they are doing. The earlier we can help them know what they are opting into the higher the probability of success. One way to do that is to retain staff. Another is to grow staff from the camper base. The hardest, and one we have to do a lot at Stomping Ground, is getting new staff up to speed as quickly as possible. This starts in the interview process.

I will talk with everyone that applies about the hours, the workload, the lack of self-care time, etc. The goal isn’t to scare them away but try to give them as accurate a picture of the job as possible so that they can make an informed decision about whether the job is right for them.

I don’t have statistics, but anecdotally it seems that when we can really get people to understand this the mental health of staff have been much higher and performance much better. The You’re Hired Page has helped a lot with this. Along with the Don’t Take This Job If Video.

Other stuff....

Ok so I think you have a pretty good understanding of what we are thinking about for the process. Below are a couple of links to some resources that I think will better set you up to actually do the interview. TAKE A LOOK!

A Short Video on Interviewing Camp Counselors

Laura Kriegel, Scott Arizala, and I made a video about interviewing a few years ago. I think the key takeaway is to ask follow up questions that give more insight into what we are looking for and ask questions that lead to stories of real-life not hypotheticals.

Gary Forester and POWER Hiring

Gary was the number one camp consultant for a long time. He grew up in the Y, eventually was the go-to Y camp guy, then became a consultant for all camps. He is sort of retired now, but his writings are still some of the best and most influential in the camp world. Check out his advice for interviewing here.

How to Interview
Let's Go Fishing

Actually trying to read everything on Gary’s old school website is definitely worth doing. The design is out of date and some of his thoughts seem dated, but 98% of what he is talking about is still incredibly relevant.


Let’s do this!

I hope this was useful! Kurtz and I get together with camp pros every week to talk about what is working, what isn’t, and how we can help each other. It is the best deal in professional development on the planet. $699 for 8 weeks of real time online discussion and a 3 day retreat. Check it out. The Summer Camp Society Semester.


Tristate Speakers Not To Miss

Next week is Tristate! WHAT!? Tristate is this huge camp conference in Atlantic City, weird I know, but awesome.

For Stomping Ground, the camp I help Laura run, we are bring a few seasonal staff.  They started asking what it would be like. Last night, I quickly looked through the session outline to help them decide what sessions they might want to see. We don't mandate that our staff go to specific sessions, but do try to share our experience so they know what they are opting into. So, I thought I would share my list for my staff with all of you.

Who are these people?

Below is a quick synopsis of 9 speakers and their presentation times that I would love to be able to see. It is mostly designed to send to my staff as they start thinking about the conference, but I thought it might be useful for other folks as well.

This list is far from exhaustive. There are dozens of great speakers at Tristate every year, and I always come away with a new must-see presenter. Last year it was Cole Perry, more on him below. Quick disclosure: I have worked with almost everyone on this list starting Stomping Ground, facilitating Directors' Camp, running Go Camp Pro, or building The Summer Camp Society. I love these people and that makes me biased. 

Some Advice I heard

The best advice I heard about Tristate (and any conference) is find great sessions, talk to as many people as possible, and leave my ego at the door. I think Stomping Ground is a great camp, but the best thing we can do is learn from other camps, spend more time listening than talking, and try to be helpful when we can. 

I don't have much experience in other industries so this might be hyperbole, but...The summer camp industry is unique and camp people are the best. Tristate is an example of that in action and one of the best sharing opportunities of my year. I can't wait to see you there!

With Love!


The List...


Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon

Kurtz is the single best creator of staff bonding, connecting, and growth activities I have ever seen. Her magic is that her activities and examples work with 5 year olds to 80 year olds because they are never condescending. She brings years of camp directing experience (6 as the exec at Ann Arbor YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian) and an MBA from the University of Michigan paired with a millennial mindset that connects with staff today. She is forward looking, mindful, and compassionate. 

 What you will see? Current, activities, experience, compassion

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented

Wed., March 21st, 2-3 p.m., Room 304, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Avoiding the Parent Trap: Working with Difficult Parents

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Transitioning from Coworker to Supervisor: Success as a Young Camp Leader

Thurs., March 22nd, 10:15-11:15 a.m. Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Using Microstorytelling to Market Camp



Steve MAguire


Steve is the best in the business at simple takeaways, bringing incredible energy, and firing you up. He cares deeply about the success of your program, the power of camp, and the impact individuals can have in a summer at camp. He is a school teacher, a former CIT director, and bad ass song leader. He is especially great at helping new staff really get camp. One of the best parts about seeing Steve speak is he is like a cup of coffee in the middle of the conference. You can’t help be leave fired up afterward.

What you will see? Teacher, energy, passion, specific takeaways.

Tues., March 20th 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 302, Stephen Maguire, Little Things are Big Things: 10 Specific Ways to Improve your Entire Camp

Wed., March 21st 3:15-4:15 p.m, Room 302, Stephen Maguire, 5 Ways to Improve Your Staff's Patience at Camp

Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 312, Stephen Maguire, Weathering Camp: 15 Ways for How to Prepare Your Camp for the Best and the Worst Weather



Sylvia van Meerten

Syl is a straightforward, no BS, let’s make it work kind of person. Her sessions are always full of specific takeaways and a to-the-point candidness that I think is often missing from the camp world. She is licensed therapist, autism expert, and the other half of the Camp Tall Tree founding team with Scott Arizala. She has worked at half a dozen camps and was the Executive Director of Dragonfly Forest for years.

What you will see? Clear takeaways, no BS, mental health, autism expert

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 320, Sylvia van Meerten, Neurodiversity, Inclusion, and the Hidden Curriculum at Camp

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented



Dr. Chris Thurber

Chris ties everything back to academia. He is surprisingly hilarious in a professorial kind of way that I can’t pull off. A graduate of Harvard and school psychologist at a prestigious boarding school, he really gets the high-powered families that choose many of our camps. He has spent the last 30- something summers at YMCA Camp Belknap in New Hampshire and is especially great with a staff looking for more research to back up actions. 

What you will see? Expertise, academics, mental health

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, Cross-Cultural Agility in Action

Wed., March 21st 12:30-1:30 p.m. Room 415, Dr. Chris Thurber, Woodworking with Hand Tools

Wed., March 21st, 3:15-4:15 p.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, XXX-Posed: Youth Development in the 21st Century

Thurs., March 22nd 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 312, Dr. Chris Thurber, Shockingly Professional Talk: Smooth Responses to Sensitive Topics



Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton


Beth and Ruby host the podcast Camp Code with Gab Raill. They are strong advocates for women in camping and typically focus on specific staff training sessions or additions that you can do with your staff. Beth is a long time director of Cairn Camps in Canada and Ruby at Green River Preserve in North Carolina.

What you will see? Takeaways, community building, focus on relationships

Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 404, Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Three Innovative Training Modules to Plug into Your Staff Training Right Now

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 417, Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Management 101 for Staff Who Are Supervising Others For the First Time



Travis Allison

Travis is a nerd. That’s why we get along. He is constantly searching for new hacks and tricks to make running camp easier and typically pushes folks toward more storytelling in marketing and finding new ways to provide value to families. Travis was the long time camp director at Cairn Camps, a Presbyterian camp in Ontario. He grew up on a farm, is a professional photographer, and probably camp's leading podcaster with is CampHacker podcast.

What you will see? Marketing, technology, experience, Canadian

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 309, Travis Allison, How To Get Dirt-Cheap, High Quality Responses From Email Marketing



Cole Perry

Cole dramatically less “camp famous” than the other speakers on this list, and has a very different niche. Cole worked at YMCA Camp Ernst for a long time and has been studying race at camp for the last few years. He is earnest and thoughtful is his presentations and always leaves me thinking differently and questioning our policies. Definitely worth seeing.

What you will see? Typically group discussion, race at camp, no easy answers, academic 

Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 401, Cole Perry, Antiracism at Camp: Speaking Up and Acting Out


Dr. Deborah Gilboa

Dr. G is a physician, mom, and is on a mission to help grownups realize how powerful kids are. She, like Dr. Thurber, will connect humor to scientific studies and her experience working with different families. Her three boys go to camp, and she is a camp doc during the summer. She has spoken on all kinds of national and local TV and is certainly the most famous speaker outside of the camp world. 

What you will see? Humor, science, confidence, charm

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 301, Deborah Gilboa, Managing Anxiety at Camp

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 312, Deborah Gilboa, Staff Self-Care - How to Teach It AND How to Practice It



Scott Arizala

Scott is a born storyteller. He keeps you hanging on every word and can connect with anyone. He has an incredible knack for relating to the audience. It’s really like your best friend is up there. Scott was the long time director of Dragonfly Forest, a camp for kids with special health needs, the founder of Camp Tall Tree, a camp for kids with autism, as well as a lifelong camper, staff, and now camper parent at YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian. He brings that connection to different types of people to every training he does. 

What you will see? Relatability, special needs, storytelling.

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 302, Scott Arizala, Silence, Whispering, Writing, and More: Lessons from Our Quieter Staff

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Scott Arizala, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, and Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development, and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented

Wed., March 21st, 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 303 ,Scott Arizala, Training for the Middle: What Do We Really Want from Summer Camp Staff?



Understanding the Business

Some other people I like to sit in on because they run very successful camps and are often involved in the larger discussion of summer camp at the national level. These guys get business and no matter how we slice it, summer camp is a business. 

Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 301, Andy Pritikin, Free Play at Day Camp- Important and Possible!

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 303, Jay Jacobs, Building a Winning Camp Leadership Team

Wed., March 21st, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Room 401, Andy Pritikin,  Day Camp Communication 2018, a Roundtable Discussion → Note: I don’t run a day camp, but am going to try to make this one anyway. I love stealing Andy’s ideas, especially around parent communication. 

Wed., March 21st 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 417, Scott Brody, ACA's Public Policy/Government Affairs Update!

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m. Room 304, Steve Baskin, Using Disruptive Moments to Transform Campers Narratives


Seasonal Leadership Seminar

Set your leadership team up for success this summer
4 Weeks $75 until April 1st


Five Reasons Staff Work at Camp & A Kookie Idea To Recruit Great Staff

Millennials Are The Worst :)

They (we?) are selfish, noncommittal, and disrespectful. This all may be true or it might be totally ludicrous, and the latest in a string of older generations complaining about younger generations. At the end of the day, summer camp is built on millennials, and we have to figure out how to connect with, recruit, and lead this generation as our staff this summer. 

Depending how we define Millennials we might already be onto the next generation of staff. Could they be even worse? I kid of course. I was born in ‘88 and am a proud member of the millennial generation. But here’s the thing. Regardless of what we think, we need 18-25 year olds to make camp work, so instead of ringing our hands, let’s figure out how we can partner with them to make the best camp and help them. 

Now more than ever before, our potential staff have a choice in what they do this summer. They can volunteer in cool places, travel, get internships that might advance their careers, make a lot more money than we pay them, choose a different camp, come and work for us, and more. Unlike generations before, and even older millennials, the staff we are hiring this summer can get on Google and find an almost limitless number of options for how to spend their summer. If we want to recruit the best staff, we need to understand what they are looking for and build our staff recruitment AND the actual staffing experience to match their hopes. 


Why Work at Camp?

Below are the most common responses I hear from people about why they choose camp, in no particular order. For most of the staff we work with, they connect with each aspect in different ways. 

Different Potential Outcomes Staff Applicants Might Be Looking For

I could imagine building a quick quiz that would rank these for each applicant and spit out a simple diagram. Similar to the True Colors Personality Test. Some diagrams also below.

Legacy - Connected to camp. Former Campers, parents were staff, that kind of thing. 

Impact - Belief in the mission. Want to be positive role models for kids, connect to nature, reimagine a different way of working with kids etc.

Community - Making new friends, connecting to old, being a camp counselor is all about the community.

Career - How can camp help your career? New skills, 21st century skills, a network, a different experience. We are thinking long and hard at Stomping Ground about how we can be truly useful here. I think in the past we have only been mildly useful.

Fun - For a lot of people it is a lot more fun to play by the lake than sit at a desk. But staff are often giving up things like concerts, family vacations, or summer parties.

Money - It is a job. We don’t pay a lot at Stomping Ground ($275 a week for counselors 2018), but money is a part of the equation. Working at camp pays more than volunteering in cool places.

Each potential staff member will be looking for these with different focuses depending on a million individual circumstances. By better understanding what they might be looking for we can individualize our recruiting messaging and their experience at camp. 

This might look like...

Great at some, not great yet, at others.

At Stomping Ground, like most camps, we do a great job with fun, community, and impact. Where we lose people is around career advancement and the ability to make money. We, again like most camps, have a pretty limited budget. This summer we will pay our typical counselors $275 a week, up from $250 last year and $225 the year before. Next summer we will pay $300, not nearly enough to compete with the other jobs our staff could work, but inching up toward minimum wage. 

If we aren’t going to be able to compete based on short term financial returns, I think we need to be disproportionately good at long term career advancement so that we can make a good argument that giving up a couple summers of better pay results in a much higher long term upside. In many ways this argument is so that the staff, that already want to work for us, can convince their professors, parents, and advisors. This won’t be possible for everyone and that’s ok. If we can do this for the right people, we can create an unfair advantage because we actually genuinely care about each of our staff members.

We are in the beginning stages of this, and are taking a two pronged approach. 

One - Helping our staff better understand themselves, what they want, and how to get there.

This is means taking time out of staff orientation to focus on them. To run workshops about professional development, career skills, and resume building. For specific staff we try to help them gain the skills they want if those skills also can help camp. 

Things like paying for a great staff member to become an EMT because they want to be a doctor some day or sending staff to a leadership retreat. Many camps do this and we are just getting started with it at Stomping Ground. Kurtz wants me to let you know that if you have seasonal leadership folks looking for new skills The Summer Camp Society just launched an online interactive course designed just for that...


--> TSCS Seasonal Leadership Seminar <--



Two - Leveraging our network -- to connect current and former staff with the right mentors.

This is the Kookie Idea.

At camp we have a huge number of people that care about what we do, camper parents, alumni, donors. They already love camp, most want to help but don’t know how. Many are very successful in their fields. Our newest endeavor at Stomping Ground is what we are calling the Stomping Ground Support Network, you could call it the alumni network, but we don’t have many alumni yet. Basically, we built a quick online form for people to fill out saying the would talk with staff members interested in learning more about their industry. The next step is learning from our staff this summer what they are looking for and connecting the right mentor with the right staff member. We will also probably send an email with all our staffs’, who are looking for jobs, resumes to this group in September. 

Stomping Ground Support Network

I love getting to build a staff community, recruit the best people, and lead a group of passionate summer staff each year. It is one of my favorite parts of running camp. As camp directors we get to choose how we do that, and I hope I can keep choosing to try and find new and different ways to bring value to our community both because it helps in recruiting and because it helps the people we care the most about. I would love to hear in the comments some different ways you are bringing value to your staff. THANK YOU! Have a great summer.

It's Good to Be Together!

Stomping Ground Origin STory

A Kookie Idea On How to Become a Camp Director...

This is how my brain works… 

The best way to become a camp director, or really get any job, is to know the person making the hiring decision. The next best is to have an incredible recommendation from someone the person making the hiring decision trusts. This all only works if you are awesome/qualified at what you want to do. If the person hiring knows you and thinks you suck… That’s no good. More on this thesis here. How to become a camp director.

So now we have a new problem, how do we build relationships with people who might be hiring or people that the people hiring trust? Become a badass videographer. Hear me out. 

Video is King

Video is king is the hottest buzz in marketing. Some articles below.

This is Why Video is The Most Engaging Type of Content
3 Social Media Trends for 2018: Video is king

So if you are a badass (read probably only have to be mediocre) video creator you can help anyone that wants to sell anything without spending much money. Really you just need to use your time. 

If you can help people that need to sell things we have a new ven diagram. People that want to sell things and people hiring deciders (I am the decider) trust. Who is in that circle? Other camp directors, camp consultants, other youth development professionals… If you know a specific decider you could make a more specific list. 

He is what I would do after making a few, even mediocre, videos. Find the closest relatively popular camp consultant. I listed a few below, but there are plenty more. 

Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon - MI
Steve Maguire - MA
Dr. Chris Thurber - MA
Travis Allison - ON, CA
Beth Allison - ON, CA
Scott Arizala - MI

Send an Email

Send them an email, be honest, saying something like…

Subject: You Inspire Me. I’m Future Camp Director.

I am a college student and I love camp. What you do inspires me and I would to find a way to thank you. I am also a videographer, here is one of my videos. I would love to come to your next event or even just meet up at a park/camp/school and make a video for you. For free of course.

Anyway! Thank you again, please let me know if that is something I could do for you. OH! And just so you don’t think I am a creep or something. I worked at Camp Stomping Ground last summer. You can email or call the director there to make sure I am a reasonable person. 
Jack Schott - jack@campstompingground.org 


All those people above are great, generous, kind people that would probably take you up on this offer. One, because it would help them, but even more because they would want to help you.

Now Make The Video

Then make a great video for them. After, do it again for three or four more people. AND! If you do it for someone like Steve, he is super tight with Scott, Chris, and Kurtz so my guess is he would help you connect with the next person. 

Now, you have three-five videos make for some of the most influential consultants in camp. When you apply for your next job ask them to send a quick email to the person doing the hiring explaining their work with you. 

I have never seen anyone do anything like this in the camp industry and it wouldn’t work for every camp job, but my bet is this would land you a job over the next twelve months. If you are good. If you are qualified and have some track record as a seasonal staff leader. 

**** Kurtz and I are dreaming up a month long seasonal leaders training aimed at helping middle managers, unit leaders, assistant directors, division heads, and more be the most effective this summer. If you would be interested in learning more as that comes together check this out and fill out the super quick form.  *****

--> Seasonal Leadership Program <--

Schott Jack.jpg


Try Things Camp: 5 Ideas All About Staff

A Note from Jack

I run a sleepaway camp called Stomping Ground. We try stuff. One time we had no bed times. That didn’t work. (I should write about that later)

My favorite part of The Summer Camp Society is the sharing of ideas. I love getting to hear about the ideas that folks have tried, what has worked, and hasn’t. Every camp is different, but we all have so much in common. Why reinvent the wheel? 

Camping Coast to Coast

Before The Summer Camp Society, Laura, the other director and founder at Stomping Ground, and I traveled the country for two and half years visiting about 200 camps and 47 states looking for and sharing great ideas. That was awesome, but now that we run camp it’s hard to keep up that lifestyle… 

You can see more about that journey at Camping Coast to Coast.

Ideas for 2018 Doc

Each week when we meet for The Summer Camp Society I keep a document open, Ideas for 2018, and I add new ideas from other folks or new ideas that are sparked from conversation. Most participants do something similar. I love it. Not all these ideas are going to work and a some of them I won’t get a chance to implement this year, but if just a couple of them turn into hits than I will feel great about it. 

As we developed the program we started something called “Somebody’s Something”. The idea is similar to a Mastermind Group or Consultative Problem Solving. One person is on the hotseat. They explain a problem, project, or idea they have, and we all try to help. It’s an awesome exercise both for the person getting specific advice and for all the rest of us thinking about similar problems we might have. I can’t wait to get back into Somebody’s Something groups. I have never been on the hotseat and the takeaways have still been out of this world.

Over the next few weeks I am going to try to write up a bunch of the ideas we are hoping to try. This one is all about staff ideas. Next fall I’ll try to give you the feedback on how they went. We are calling it Try Things Camp. As a camp community we have so much to learn from each other. I hope some of these ideas resonate with you and maybe inspire you to find a community to share ideas with. 



1) Pre-season Zoom Groups

Kurtz inspired this one. We hire a lot of new staff and, like most of you, spend a ton of time during staff orientation on teambuilding and skills development to help our team be as prepared as possible for the summer. We also have extensive interviews and pre summer conversations between Laura and I and all the staff. Last year we had a seasonal leadership team member call each new staff and welcome them to camp, and it was pretty good. This year we are doubling down on welcoming staff early and often. 

We are paying one of our seasonal leadership staff members, Klee, to develop a preseason welcoming plan. Klee is dividing all the staff up into groups of about 8 that will have meetings on Zoom each month starting in April. Your Zoom group, lead by a seasonal leadership staff member, will stay the same throughout the preseason and into staff orientation. We already have groups about that size that meet each night during staff orientation so these Zoom groups will continue through that. Maybe we will do meet ups each week in the summer.

The hope is that, by starting to build small communities before getting to camp, new folks can get more comfortable more quickly with our larger community and have a chance to ask questions, make jokes, and be more of themselves when they arrive. Klee is developing a curriculum for the preseason meetings, but mostly it will be simple conversations and get to know you activities.

2) Internal Grants

Kurtz shared this idea from her time at Ann Arbor YMCA. The idea is super simple. What if we put aside a specific amount of our programming budget for the staff to use? Let’s say we had $1000. Any staff could put together a quick proposal and get access to some of that money to improve camp. It could be starting an outdoor cooking program, putting twinkle lights up in the shower house, or a million other ideas we haven’t thought of yet. 

In the past, we have just encouraged folks to let us know when they need things or have an idea, but what I love about this program is it gives less vocal staff a specific way to make lasting impact at camp. 

3) Counselor Roles Breakdown

I wrote about this in the summer camp pros group on FB. The bones of this idea I dreamed up with Carlie, from the Takodah YMCA. We were talking about training staff to work in adventure playgrounds and other camper driven play spaces, during a one on one. This got me thinking, how we can better support our staff through their different roles as camp counselors? Almost no one task of being a camp counselor is super difficult, but the hard part, the real art, is knowing how to mix between a leader, a follower, and the many other facets of our work at camp. We wrote up this quick synopsis of 7 Roles of a Camp Counselor as an intro. My guess is we will use these terms this summer and simplify this as the summer goes on. 

The hope is that by codifying the different roles we can better support staff if they are struggling to help kids through tough times, lead activities, remember to help kids find their toothbrushes. Instead of looking at each one of those as separate issues thinking “What role of counseling aren’t you quite getting if you can’t remember the toothbrush? And how can we help you in that space?” That would be being a caretaker and it probably means we can get better at a number of other aspects of caretaking as well.

Staff Orientation Session

On top of this, it gives us some simple brainstorming or skits to create during staff orientation. I can imagine breaking our staff up into the 7 groups and asking them to think through scenarios at camp where each role is applicable. Then, what can go wrong if we neglect different roles or use different roles in the wrong situations. Maybe each group dreams up scenarios and writes them on index cards. Then groups pulls a card with the scenario, and they suggest what roles might be the most effective in that scenario. Maybe! Level two is pulling a scenario card and a role card, then acting out what/how that role would look in the scenario. It could be really silly and lead to some great debrief discussions. 

You can see our roles here


4) You’re Hired!

I thought of this one week as Luke, from Beacon Bible Camp, was explaining his process for bringing volunteers to camp. I know at least YMCA Camp Seymour and Camp Augusta have their own versions of this, but we never did. In a further attempt to help welcome new staff into our community, we built a very simple page on our website to help them see a little more about what they are opting into. It includes a video encouraging them “Don’t take this if…”, a video from staff orientation, and some articles to read about our take on working with kids at camp. Now, we send to it all staff after we offer them a job and before they accept.

Our “You Hired Page”

5) Make My Day Book

This one I learned from Jason Smith at YMCA Camp Kitaki. Often, at camp, people have rough days and other folks want to help or I just want to say thank you in a meaningful way, but we don’t totally know how. At Kitaki, they have their staff all fill out a quick one page questionnaire during staff orientation asking how someone could make their day. Then they put a copy of all those pages in a binder where all the staff can access them. Now, when you want to thank someone or give them a quick pick me up, you can check the book and know exactly what they have asked for. Why guess if they would prefer chocolate or a handwritten note? It is kind of like bringing the Love Languages to life at summer camp.

Thank you!

Thanks for spending a few minutes deep inside my brain with me! I am excited to keep digging into different ideas and sharing. If you have cool staff ideas that you want to share I would love to read them in the comments or if you want to get together and dream up ideas with us, check out The Summer Camp Society program!

Winter Semester 2018 Application Deadline:

Friday, February 9 @ 11:59 p.m. EST

Schott Jack.jpg

Jack Schott
Co-Founder/Director Camp Stomping Ground
Facilitator The Summer Camp Society


Camping Coast to Coast Staff Tour 2018

I have a ridiculous idea.

In 2015, Laura and I ran a trip for teens from camps across the country. We got in a van and visited 7 camps over 17 days in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way we visited national parks, learned a ton, and made lasting friendships. It was amazing.

Being able to see different camps in action and debrief with like minded camp folks from across the country was transformative. Each camp was uniquely different while at the same time being remarkably similar. It pushed all of us to think differently about what was possible, what made camp camp, and gave us enormorse insight into what our impact might be. We stayed up late talking about the power of camp and imagining ridiculous ideas for what we might create some day.


Ever since that trip, Laura and I have wanted to be able to offer something similar. Something that could give that wider perspective and possibility in a short period of time to passionate potential camp directors. With the growth of Stomping Ground from one week in 2015, to three in 2016, and four in 2017 we just couldn’t find the time to facilitate another trip.

Here’s my ridiculous idea…

What if we could put together a program where a group of 5-10 amazing staff (18+) traveled together visiting and working at a handful of camps. Learning from the different way things are done, working with experts and making a little money as you went. What if this cohort of passionate camp staff went on an adventure like this...

Training and Volunteering at Camp TBD (Jun 4-16)

Advanced Autism & Diversity Training w/ Sylvia van Meerten(Jun 17-20)

Training and Working at Camp Stomping Ground(Jun 21- Aug 4)

Traveling and Visiting a Couple Camps (Aug 5 - 11)

Training and Volunteering at Camp Highlight(Aug 10-19)

Volunteering at Camp Tall Tree (Back with Sylvia Aug 20-25)

*** This schedule is preliminary and will change


Plus make some money

Here’s the fun part! Because you would work a bunch of weeks at Stomping Ground, Stomping Ground could cover the cost of the program and pay you a stipend, probably about $1,000. Not a ton of money, but getting paid to travel, learn, and play with kids is pretty awesome.

This is exactly how I would have loved to spend a summer while I was in college. Instead of wondering what other camps were like, go out and see them. You will get to work with camps pushing the limits with what is possible with kids in a variety of settings, build authentic relationships with a bunch of camp directors and camp staff, and have a better understanding of what a career in camp might look like.

This program isn’t for everyone. It will be hard and requires a willingness to work hard, think creatively, and try new things. We are looking for passionate camp folks looking to make an impact, learn a ton, and push themselves and the cohort to new levels. If that sounds like you, sign up to learn more about the application process.


Jack Schott
Camp Director/Founder
Camp Stomping Ground

Why Bother With Opening Campfires?

I am in a contemplative mood as we approach the holidays….

I don’t love our opening day at Stomping Ground and the opening campfire is a big part of that day. We have a relatively standard opening day with welcoming counselors, name tags, name games, great pizza, tours, agreements, orientation, and a campfire. The campfire is the culmination of the day. During that time most other days at camp, we play an epic game where kids battle dragons, catch dinosaurs, or something similar. But on opening day, kids mostly sit and watch or stand and sing. This article is mostly a trip inside my brain as I try to wrestle with the why and how of campfires at Stomping Ground. I hope it is informative or at least entertaining. Also, at the end I am going to try to explain/sell/convince you that The Summer Camp Society is worth looking into. It is!


At every sleepaway camp I have worked at, and most I have been to, we start each session with some form of opening campfire or ceremony. One of the most commonly spouted pieces of advice for day camp is to create that resident camp feel. A lot of times that starts with a big ceremony with camp songs and classic skits. Why? What is the magic of campfires?

When I say campfire I mean some combination of songs, stories, and skits as a big group. Often no actual fire is present. When I am talking about campfires this is what I am talking about. These gatherings, these songs, this experience.

Why We Need Summer Camp from Camp Tecumseh

Awesome video from Camp Tecumseh YMCA by the way. If you don’t follow them check them out. Their content marketing is some of the best in the business.

We Can’t Win on Fun

But why campfires? Why are we bothering? If like Joel says in the video above camp isn’t just about fun. That “We can’t win on fun.” What else is happening at a campfire? Maybe an even better question. What else could we do that would be better than a campfire? Also! Couldn’t we be more fun than a campfire?

I was the program director at Camp Stella Maris for the last two of the eight years I worked there. I ran an opening campfire every week, but got rid of closing campfires every other week. Kate, the program director at Stella Maris after me and the program director at Stomping Ground now, took it one step further. She got rid of opening campfires all together. Kate is a badass, but was she right? Was it better? She did this because she noticed the time when kids were the most bored and homesick at Stella Maris was during opening campfires. She added a simple evening program to the first night of camp and bailed on campfires almost all together.

At Stomping Ground, Kate runs opening campfires and closing campfires every week. Our camp has a lot more new kids than Stella Maris did. The opening campfire is mostly high energy and silly. All the villages, campers and staff, do a skit or cheer. We do a few songs and a few skits. Then we end with a little more heartfelt closing ceremony. It is a fairly standard opening campfire. The closing campfire is all low energy. It happens after a night game on the last night. Laura and I say some words and kids are given a chance to reflect on the week. We sing a song and kids head back to their villages, also fairly standard for sleepaway camps.

The closing of the campfire looks something like this Facebook Live video we did for our fundraising campaign last year. Skit ahead about 2 minutes.

What I love about opening campfire?

  • I know everyone hears the same message from Laura and I about the community we are creating.

  • New kids get to see everyone

  • Often the skits and songs are fun and silly which creates a shared experience for all kids to talk about. Similar to gathering around the water cooler and talking football.

  • These inside jokes can facilitate quick friendship making.

  • It has a low barrier to entry. We don’t ask much from kids. It is easy first night for mostkids.

  • When we sing the songs are easy so most kids sing along which is easy and gives them a sense that they can participate going forward.

  • It is easy to plan.

  • Staff love campfires.

  • Everyone has a chance to be on stage.

  • People have been gathering around fires for ever so there might just be something to that.

I struggle with about opening campfires…

  • There aren’t any options. It is the only evening program that there isn’t a clear alternative.

  • The space we sit is fairly uncomfortable which makes extended or damp sitting pretty rough.

  • Lots of kids don’t like to be on stage.

  • Lots of kids don’t really like the skits or songs.

  • Lots of kids don’t actually listen while Laura and I explain things.

  • Opening campfire is dramatically less fun and structurally different from the rest of the program we run.

Kids seem to like about campfire...

  • When there are really funny skits, ok mostly when Brian, one of our staff, does skits.

  • Mostly younger, mostly girls, tend to quite like the repeat after me songs.

  • Almost everyone seems to like when we sing the camp song. (Classic acoustic guitar folky type song)

  • Kids like to get in on repeating nonsensical jokes. Ok mostly when George, another staff, does them.

Some ideas…

Without getting too into the details about our constraints at Stomping Ground that is a glimpse into how I like to think about different areas at camp.

  • Get rid of opening campfire entirely and run a night camp the first night.

  • Have a short night game, maybe by village, and then a short campfire.

  • Make sure the campfire skits are funnier.

  • Get benches for the campfire pit

Why The Summer Camp Society

Each week I get a chance to meet with The Summer Camp Society cohorts and dig into tons of different areas of camp, just like this. We dream big, ask why, and try to find specific takeaways for each of us. I try to keep a short list running of ideas for Stomping Ground next summer, but there are a dozen more I have already implemented that have come from conversations in our groups.

If you are looking for a community of driven, intentional, like minded young-ish camp professionals examining the why behind camp, looking for quick wins and low hanging fruit, and other folks to bounce ideas off of, I hope you will check out The Summer Camp Society. It might be the best value you can get for professional development in camping. $599 for a conference, 10 weeks of weekly discussions, ongoing chat about real topics, and most importantly an authentic community of camp pros you can call for the rest of your career.  


PLUS! You get to hangout with Kurtz every week. I mean me too, but Kurtz every week. MBA, was youngest Y exec in the country at 23, filled camp, incredible facilitator, easily one of the best staff training consultants. Ok ok ok. You are done listening to me about The Summer Camp Society.

Check it out.

Stomping Ground Campfires 2018

Right now what I am leaning toward from campfires at Stomping Ground in 2018…

  • Let’s keep em!

  • Figure out how to drive the price of crazy creeks down so everyone could have one.

  • Get Brian and George on stage more.

  • Shorten the campfire.

  • Create a system where I can know for sure that kids are hearing what Laura and I have to say before campfire. We made this last year but need to do better.

  • Up the fun in each village before or after. Maybe snacks. Maybe village specific games. Like night games but for just the village.

  • Maybe just a bigger actual fire. That can change the whole experience?


Jack Schott
Co-Founder/Director Camp Stomping Ground
Facilitator The Summer Camp Society


The Best Investment Your Camp Can Make Is In You

The Summer Camp Society’s first cohort is amazing.

We have 24 passionate, compassionate, and driven camp professionals striving to better themselves and their camps. It is inspiring to meet with them each week. We have talked about budgets, program design, diversity and inclusion, design thinking, and so much more. Every meeting is full of laughter, a-ha moments, and community building. Facilitating The Summer Camp Society has reinforced for me that the best investment camps can make is in their leadership.

Being a great camp leader is hecking hard.

It means managing the culture, program, finances, staff, parent interactions, and so much more. Each week as we get together, I realize that The Summer Camp Society is solving one problem above all others: We are building an authentic community of driven camp professionals. That the community we are building is so much more valuable than any one piece of advice or simple take away. Don’t get me wrong Kurtz has really incredible advice and almost always a specific takeaway from each meeting, but what Kurtz is the best in the world at is facilitating the community.


As I reflected on this, I realized the best resource I have as a camp professional is the greater community. This past summer at Stomping Ground, we had 13 kids throwing up on the second day of camp. 13 out of 110. We are not designed for that. We were not prepared for that. In 2013 Laura and I had worked at a camp on the west coast that had had the norovirus. Ninety of about 150 campers and about half of the staff got sick and were vomiting within the first 72 hours of camp. We shut camp down for two weeks. It was horrifying. This is what we thought was happening at Stomping Ground this summer. As the third or fourth camper got sick, I called Marty Ferguson, whom I knew had experience with the norovirus at a camp he previously directed. He gave us some advice and helped us think through our options. Mostly he helped us stay calm. Luckily, we got ahead of this sickness or it ran its course. We ended up not having the norovirus or food poisoning. The department of health investigated and let us know it was just some other less severe 24-hour flu type sickness.



At Stomping Ground, we have been desperate to be more inclusive of gender-expansive campers and had very little experience with it, so when we met Kayla and Jess at Brave Trails, we quickly asked if we could come volunteer. Since then, we regularly call and email when we have questions about inclusion, but more than that--when we just need to talk about what little problems we are all overcoming as new, small not-for-profits. The hours we have spent talking about fundraising, culture creation, recruiting, and more have saved us days of work and made Stomping Ground dramatically better.

The point is camp is a relationships business. This is true with the kids who are at camp, the parents, and with the leadership. I often forget that instead of banging my head against the wall trying to solve a Stomping Ground problem by myself that the best thing to do is just call one of the hundreds of camp directors I know that may have had a similar problem, idea, or struggle.

I am spoiled.

I lucked into building a huge network from my trip around the country visiting 200 camps. Not everyone has that opportunity, and especially new camp pros who don’t have much of a network yet. That’s what we are trying to solve for with The Summer Camp Society. We are building a community where camp professionals can break the ice and build authentic connections with camp leaders across the country. These connections are unique because they span geographic regions, interest groups, agencies, whatever. We get a chance to learn from new camps, old camps, big camps, small camp, not-for-profits and for profits. It is truly amazing.

The best part is that it is fun. Similar to camp, it seems like something this fun shouldn’t also be good for you. Building a personal network is great for your career, but more than that, it is great for your camp. Every little idea we get is because we meet someone who has tried an ambassador program, built a new dining hall, or just has a better way to design a brochure. This helps you grow, but it also helps your camp. If the best camps have the best leaders, the best way to be a better camp is to grow the camp leadership.

Kurtz and I are excited about the potential of our camp community, and found that we can accelerate the process of building an authentic, powerful, and supportive camp community for emerging camp professionals. We loved doing it this fall with our first group of 24 fellows, and we can’t wait to do it again.



So, this spring we want to run second cohort of The Summer Camp Society. You can read all about it here. The main points: We meet weekly for discussion groups and have weekly projects. You build a network and join us for the spring conference. The conference is only be available to past and current members of The Summer Camp Society and the goal of the conference and The Society is to push the conversation forward through community, connection, and collaboration.

If you believe joining a community that shares ideas and helps each other is the best way to grow as a professional and as a camp, then The Summer Camp Society might be for you. Take a look, apply, or send us an email and let’s talk more. The Summer Camp Society is and will always be a work in progress. Expect things to change morph and grow and know that the biggest takeaways will be in the relationships, unexpected moments, and laughter we share as a group.



Let us know if you would like to chat with some current members

“Being a part of The Summer Camp Society has given me more than I could ever ask for. Every week I feel inspired to do more for not only my camp, but for myself professionally. Meeting and speaking with other directors has allowed me to broaden my views, deepen my thoughts, and further ignite my passion for this industry.”  

-Maggie Mitchell


(585) 451-5141

The Summer Camp Society empowers emerging leaders to give all kids the best possible camp experience. It is a collaboration of Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon and Jack Schott to help young camp pros be the best versions of themselves.