The Summer Camp Society
SARAH KURTZ MCKINNON
“Carry your heart through this world like a life-giving sun.” – Hafiz
When I was a college sophomore enrolled in a highly-competitive college journalism program, I decided the last thing I wanted was to get a stressful magazine internship. Thinking it was my last summer ever to “be a kid”, I decided to apply to work at a summer camp for that year only. I ended up at Ann Arbor YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian (AGQ) in Northern Michigan as the newspaper instructor. Instead of staying for just one summer, I haven’t left camp since!
When I was 23 years old, I was hired to be the director of AGQ, becoming one of the youngest YMCA executives in the country. It was a lot of work, of course—but good work. I was alongside of my best friends impacting kids’ lives in a very tangible way. From crafting a positive staff culture to managing million-dollar construction projects, I found great fulfillment in my career in camping.
Camp AGQ became one of the preeminent YMCA camps in the country during my time there. We were widely recognized across the movement for our high staff and camper retention numbers, creative programming and leadership. In 2015, I left AGQ to pursue some new goals: I entered graduate school at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, pursuing my MBA. I also started my own camp consulting and training business, Kurtz McKinnon Creative LLC, where I work with other camps and camp leaders across the country to help them make more camp magic.
I’m interested in making processes and practices at camp more efficient. But I also believe that community is the root of everything good at camp, and that kids, staff and alumni should all feel like camp is a home. As camp leaders, it’s steady mix for us of professionalism, creativity and unconditional love.
When I’m not traveling to different camps or working at them when I can (shout-out to AGQ Family Camp and Camp Tall Tree!), you can find me playing tennis, hangin’ with my husband Robert (who I met through camp, of course!) and our two Brittany Spaniels or working on an art project.
Camp life has given me the good life, and for that I am eternally grateful!
“Imagination rules the world.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
I struggle to sit still, follow rules, and do what I am told. My teachers struggled with me. But camp brings the best out of me. I work with camps get to more kids in the door and help them be ready for kids like me.
Usually my bio says something about the research project Laura and did after graduating from college. We spent about 2 years traveling the country visiting summer camps, speaking at conferences, and diving deep on the power of summer camp.
But, to be honest, I just wanted to see the country, and summer camps have beds you can sleep in. I thought we would be on the road for a couple months, drive to the West Coast, and see the Redwoods. Then I would get that engineering job my degree was designed for. It wasn’t till we met Dan Weir, at Frost Valley, and he told us to get our act together, that we started thinking summer camp could be a career. He helped us see that our little road trip could be a stepping stone to something more.
On the road, I fell in love with the unique opportunity camp has to re-imagine what is possible for kids. I became obsessed with creating culture, change, and community at camp. Since pulling off the road, Laura and I started Stomping Ground, an overnight camp where we get to do just that.
More is possible. I can’t wait to get to know you better and help you accomplish your dreams.