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.
I believe that summer camp has the power to change the world through authentic connections. I am the Camp Director at Friends Camp in Maine, where we work to create intentional Quaker community with over 400 campers and about 35 staff each summer. In the winters, I independently run our year-round office and handle everything from fundraising to camper registrations to hiring. I took over from my mentor in September 2016, and since then have learned more about ACA accreditation, being "the boss," writing budgets, and plumbing than I ever thought I would. I believe our different backgrounds as camp directors (mine includes a degree in biology from Williams College, a competitive rowing career, and a few years teaching K-12 science) make us the perfect community to learn from each other. Through The Summer Camp Society, we are able to form the authentic connections with our professional peers that we work to create for our campers and staff during the summers at camp.
I am interested in talking about increasing equity & diversity in camping, working with boards, effective teaching practices at camp, restorative justice, storytelling, and increasing camp director efficiency so that we can spend more time on the good stuff-- being with campers and staff! My favorite winter-time hobby is hiking with my border collie Seven and partner Jamie. My favorite summer hobby is hosting camper tea parties on the porch of my cabin.
“You can choose to operate from a place of faith in abundance or one of fear of scarcity.” Jen Feltz Hense
I entered college with the plan of being an architect. Something about designing and creating has always been interesting to me. As I started school I also started working at YMCA Camp Kitaki, the summer camp I had grown up attending. Two years into working at camp and school I decided that architecture wasn’t for me and changed my major to psychology. When I graduated, Kitaki had a full time position open and I was fortunate enough to get the job. I went into that job thinking it was something I could do for a few years, before still needing to go back to school for psychology. Somewhere along the line I realized it could be my career and I’m still at Kitaki 14 years later.
The stuff that I was interested in with architecture (being creative, solving systemic problems, how people interact in space) and the things that attracted me to psychology (how people think, what motivates individuals, making lasting change in people’s lives) I have found in summer camp. Couple that with some of my hobbies (making music, taking pictures, building things out of wood) and camping has become my career, my passion, and the institution that I most firmly believe can affect positive change in our world.
If I have had any success, it is in believing that great things can be even better. Camp is a great thing. Let’s make it better.