10 Things You Need to Know Your First Summer as a Camp Leader

By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon

Ten years ago(!) I became an assistant director at our camp, moving out of the cabin and into the "lodge," which at our camp means I was officially on admin and no longer with campers of my own. Although it was thrilling to start to plan and run parts of camp, many parts of the transition were a huge surprise to me.

So, at the end of the summer, I wrote a letter to the next person in my position. In it, I explained the top ten things that you need to know when moving out of a cabin and into the lodge. I recently came across this wise guide, so I've adapted it here for all of you camp leaders who are transitioning to the next level of camp leadership in the upcoming weeks.

10. Staff members will expect you to know everything. 

But don't worry! You will soon gather a second sense for camp policy, procedure and where things are located (Oh, the purple rope with pink stitching?  Bottom shelf in utility room).

9. Staff members will ask you for permission to do things...

...like use excessive tinfoil for a costume, go pick up a prescription, etc. It is mostly in your power to give them the go-ahead or not. That’s OK…get used to it!  And, you don’t always have to say yes.

8. In the beginning, you will feel like you are always asking your supervisor 1 million questions.

You probably are…but you’ll figure it all out soon enough. Asking is part of learning. It's also good role modeling--you want your staff to ask you when they have questions, too!

7. You do not have traditional "rest time."

During normal camp “down time,” counselors tend to come to you with questions or problems and you will be dealing with camper/programming issues.  “Rest” hour is no longer that restful, and neither is regular time off. Make sure you take personal time when you have the chance, even if it is during an unconventional hour of the day.

6. You see the worst things about camp. 

You will soon learn about/witness/be involved with the aftermath of every disaster or mishap or near-crisis.  Try not to get a skewed perspective…most of the time, and probably all of the time, camp is going pretty well. When you look around, don’t forget to look for the positive.

5. You will be privy to a lot of special/private information. 

Sometimes, you just have to know this stuff so you can do your job! The key to confidentiality is only sharing information with people who can help. Don't get pressured into sharing private information, no matter how persuasive the gossipers are. Oh! And document everything!

4. Your relationships with staff members will change.

Your camp friendships are now a bit different. You have to work hard at maintaining those relationships and building non-work connections with staff members.  You’re still a camp leader, on camp and off. It’s a privilege but it comes with extra pressure. No matter how approachable you are, you're still a little "scary" to many staff. Your words carry extra weight, so be careful with sarcasm.

3. It’s easy to get stuck inside all day. 

You have to make an effort to get out of the office and around camp.  Make sure you are out there! If you are working on a project like paperwork, put it on a clipboard and do it outside where you can see and be seen. Wear a pedometer so you can track your daily steps. Make getting out and about one of your priorities!

2. You don’t have a cabin of kids anymore

You have to work at making sure you still have kid time so you don’t get sad or go crazy. Become a character during evening activity; make rounds at lights-out to say goodnight to cabins; jump in the lake at free swim. This keeps you motivated and is excellent role modeling for your staff team.

1. you don’t have your own campers…but the counselors become your “kids.” 

It’s like you have a cabin of 50 college students (Awesome!? But crazy!).  One of your biggest priorities is to be there for the counselors and to make sure they are supported, positive, and fulfilled with their work. If you’re able to do this, they can give the kids the best experience possible—which is the ultimate goal.


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Sarah Kurtz McKinnon (left) is a camp director, consultant and trainer. She's also one of the co-founders and co-facilitators of The Summer Camp Society! Reach her at kurtz@thesummercampsociety.com.

10 Ways to Build a Foundation of Mutual Respect During Staff Training

10 Ways to Build a Foundation of Mutual Respect During Staff Training

The camp counselor said, “We respect our director because we know she respects us.”

That’s the goal, isn’t it? Respecting our staff might not be hard to do. But where camp leaders often stumble is figuring out how to get their staff to recognize that they are respected.

Jack and I believe that this process starts well before the campers arrive.

Getting Diagnosed with a Chronic Illness Made Me a Better Camp Director

By Katrina Dearden

Director, Rock Hill Camp

Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson

During my second summer as a Camp Director, I began to notice some unexplained joint pain.  It progressed throughout the summer until it got to the point where I found myself cradling my arm in tears outside the dining hall trying to open the door.  By the time I got a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis the following February, I was in so much pain that reaching across my body to shut off the alarm in the morning was unbearable. Too many mornings the alarm would snooze itself, not because I slept through it but because it took me that long to make my body roll over (and I won’t even get into the act of actually sitting up).  

It’s hard to learn that you are sick with a chronic illness; unlike every other time you have been sick or injured in life, this time there is no amount of medication or surgery or recovery time to get you back to normal.  There is no cure. You have to learn that you have a new normal. They tell you to mourn the loss of your health as you would a loved one. So I began my healing journey.

Through medications and adapting a version of the paleo diet and lifestyle, I have gained back so much of my life.  I will never be fully back to who I was pre-diagnosis, but I am pretty close. In some ways I think I am even better than before.  I’m certainly a better Camp Director. I’m sharing some of what I learned on this journey with you so that you too can reap the benefits without the physical pain.  

Stress management:

I now feel stress so much sooner than before, because now I feel it in my bones (specifically my right elbow always gives the first warning, thanks friend!).  When you feel stress sooner you can react sooner. The motivation to remain calm is much stronger when you know that if you don’t, there’s a good chance a pain flare will be set off that can last for days.  

I was always a very stressed-out person. I wanted everything to go perfectly, but now I am much better about choosing my battles and deciding what is worth it to worrying about (hint: it’s not much).  I have learned more methods to reduce anxiety and I make sure to spend more time outside. There will always be work to get done in the office. But it turns out the longer you are in the office, the more work appears.  You can leave, I promise. What needs to get done will get done. Since I am now a calmer person, staff are more likely to come to me with questions so we can figure out how to handle a situation before it becomes a problem.  When you seem stressed, staff don’t want to come up and “bother you” with their questions, no matter how many times you have told them they should. The problem they had questions about ends up escalating until it becomes a bigger issue to deal with.  So take a breath, step outside, and play a game with the campers. Remember why you chose this job to begin with. Let the call go to voicemail. You will answer it eventually, and you will be in a better frame of mind when you do.

Prioritizing health:

On a plane, they tell you if the oxygen masks drop down to fix your own first before you can help anyone else.  I always knew this analogy, but I didn’t really understand it until I lived it. I know that if I go into flare I won’t be able to help anybody, and I truly love my job at camp.  In order to keep my body healthy enough to continue in this line of work, I had to prioritize my health. No more saying “I’ll sleep in September,” because now if I don’t get enough sleep, my joints deteriorate at a more rapid pace, and once that happens it happens, it can’t be reversed.  

I set a strict schedule to leave the office by a reasonable time at night to go to bed (except, of course, if an emergency comes up).  At first, this was difficult for me. I felt like I needed to be the last one to leave at night and the first one in every morning. But once I communicated my plan and started to leave at night, the rest of the office started to go to bed at a more reasonable time as well.  Turns out they felt like because I was still working, they should be too! Which comes back to my point from before: as long as you are working, work will come up. So you can’t stay until the work is done because it never is. The important stuff already got done. How do I know?  Because that stuff you handled right as it came up. That’s how camp works. So go to bed; your body will thank you and you’ll have a clearer head to jump into the work with tomorrow.

I also make sure I eat a healthy diet.  I cleared away all the unhealthy snacks that we all reach for at camp, and I replaced them with grapes, carrot sticks, and other healthy options.  If it’s in reach, that’s what you are going to eat. Nutrition is something that truly slowed down the progression of my disease, gave me my energy back, and made me feel almost back to normal.  But that’s a whole separate post on its own (drink your bone broth kids!).

Asking for help:

As Camp Directors, sometimes we get caught up thinking we have to have all the answers all the time.  “Don’t let them see you sweat.” I no longer have that luxury.

My first summer living with my illness I tried to hide it.  I only told the leadership team and even then, I didn’t tell them much.  I was afraid they would think I couldn’t do my job. As you can imagine, this didn’t go well.  

For the first time in my life there were parts of my job that I could not physically do at times (I was very much still figuring out meds and I hadn’t truly embraced the nutrition as much as I should have). As much as I thought I was hiding what was going on, everyone could read the pain on my face, making it more of an issue than it was.

Flash forward to my second summer post-diagnosis.  This time I fit my personal story into staff training.  I made a whole session on using weaknesses as strengths.  I got personal. I cried (I didn’t mean to). I wrote what I felt were my limitations down on an index card and threw it into the fire.  I invited the staff to do the same. We shared our stories. I learned some things about some of the staff I had worked with for years and had no idea what they struggled with.  Because we shared, the whole staff felt more connected as a community. We talked about why it’s important to ask for help and why this was something we wanted to model for our campers, and that summer went so much better.  Now on the mornings when I was walking a little funny, staff knew why and would just quietly take whatever I was carrying from my hands so I didn’t have to struggle down the hill. Or they would hold a line a little longer so I could catch up without campers recognizing that anything was different.  We all did little things for everyone else on the team as well to help with their battle that otherwise we wouldn’t have known they were fighting. We developed a new level of understanding that made camp better for the whole community which absolutely left a positive impact on our campers. I plan to do the same exercise again this year, and you should, too.

Empathizing with camper parents:

This one is just pure bonus.  I always had an answer for every parent concern and I thought I was great at explaining our procedures to parents, specifically for food allergies or dietary concerns, and for medication passes. Now that I have lived that lifestyle I have such a deeper understanding of the questions.  Not that my answers before weren’t correct, they were. I still describe the same processes, but now parents can hear it in my voice that I truly understand it. Empathy is just deeper than sympathy. I can honestly tell them I too have dietary concerns and the kitchen accommodates me, so I know they can accommodate your camper.  I can lean into the kid and tell them that we can be buddies walking up to the kitchen door for special plates. I can hear relief in the parents’ voices that I never got before. I’ve even had multiple families sign up for camp specifically because of these conversations that I wouldn’t have gotten to sign up before. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is one you can learn from me without experiencing it yourself.  Guess I just get to keep it as my personal win.

So breathe deep, get some sleep, eat good food and ask for help.  Your camp will thank you.

-The Chronic Camp Director

Katrina Dearden is the director of Rock Hill Camp in Mahopac, New York, which is part of Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson. She completed the first semester of The Summer Camp Society in the Fall of 2017 and is currently part of our second semester cohort. Contact her at kmzdearden@gmail.com

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DARLING Framework for Staff Training - James Davis

A few years ago I worked with James Davis to put together a simple framework for helping staff make effective choices in unstructured or transition times. Ok, James made up all the important stuff, but I edited the video and helped set up the studio. We all have our roles to play. The vidoes disappeared into the internet abscess for a while, but now we have rescued them!

Introducing the DARLING framework

D - dangerous
A - alone
R - rough play
L - listless (bored)
I - intense competition
N - needs help
G - grow connection

James put together some simple videos below that you can use with your staff to help them see these situations more effectively. 

The D.A.R.L.I.N.G Framework - Intro

The D.A.R.L.I.N.G Framework #2 - Dangerous

The D.A.R.L.I.N.G Framework #3 - arling

The D.A.R.L.I.N.G Framework #4 - Address The Group

James is now the owner at Longacre Leadership Camp outside of Harrisburg PA, a board member at Camp Stomping Ground, and podcast host with his wife, Taylor, of One Free Family. I hope this helps and I hope you have a great summer!

Want more tips for great seasonal leadership?

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JACK SCHOTT
CO-FOUNDER/DIRECTOR CAMP STOMPING GROUND
CO-FOUNDER THE SUMMER CAMP SOCIETY
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG
STOMPING GROUND ORIGIN STORY

From (Kell)sie to Shining Sea

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By Lindsey Sigler, Camp Fern

2018 Spring Cohort Member

If you ever get the chance to have a conversation with Kellsie Sedlak, DO IT!  She is the Group Manager at Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC) in Brewster, MA and she is very passionate about the camping industry, although she originally planned to pursue a career in marine biology.  She spent 3 summers working at CCSC as a counselor and then went on to spend time at a zoo camp in Missouri where she was in charge of the reptile room (how cool?!) and then she worked at YMCA Camp Edwards in Wisconsin before returning to CCSC when the Group Manager job became available.
 
Kellsie has many hobbies that she partakes in like playing and coaching basketball and bike riding.  In fact, I got to chat with her while she was at Disney World for the ½ marathon weekend.  It did not take us long to realize that we had a lot in common, from the master’s program we are enrolled in to the position we play in basketball; who knows, you may have something in common with her too!  I enjoyed our conversation so much that I forgot to write down a lot of what I was learning about her, BUT I did get the answers to my 10 favorite questions.  If you are a fan of “Inside the Actors Studio” you will know exactly what’s coming (If you’ve never watched it you totally should!).
 
1.  What is your favorite word?  Dingus
2.  What is your least favorite word?  Can’t
3.  What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?  Emotions, she is very vulnerable to things.
4.  What turns you off?  Can’t
5.  What is your favorite curse word?  I’ll let you get to know her to find this one out – it’s a good one :-)
6.  What sound or noise do you love?  The ocean at high tide
7.  What sound or noise do you hate?  The screeching of knives against a plate
8.  What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  Marine Biologist
9.  What profession would you not like to do?  Coroner or Petco rat cage cleaner
10.  If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  I’m actually impressed

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!
Jack

 

The List...

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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

http://www.kurtzmckinnoncreative.com/

 

Steve MAguire

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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

http://www.goturnstone.com/

 
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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

http://vanmeertenconsulting.com/

 
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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 Maine 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

https://drchristhurber.com/

 
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Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton

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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

https://gocamp.pro/

 
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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

https://gocamp.pro/

 
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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

 
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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

https://askdoctorg.com/

 
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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?

http://www.thecampcounselor.com/

 

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

JACK SCHOTT
CO-FOUNDER/DIRECTOR CAMP STOMPING GROUND
Co-Founder THE SUMMER CAMP SOCIETY
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG
STOMPING GROUND ORIGIN STORY

Meet Meredith Stensaas from Mass Audubon's Wildwood Camp!

By Patty Rudd

Day Camp Director, YMCA Camp Copneconic

Spring 2018 Cohort Member

Getting to know you...

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This week I was thrilled to be paired with Meredith Stensaas, Assistant Camp Director at Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp in New Hampshire. Meredith has been involved in Camping since 2010 taking on all aspects of camp life from Outdoor Education to Summer Camp. While the majority of her Camp career has been at Wildwood, she has also served as an Outdoor Education Instructor at Camps throughout the Northeast. Meredith instantly struck me as the quintessential camp person- kind, intelligent, and warm.

It's a small world after all!

When Meredith first reached out to me to set up our conversation she mentioned that she had been to Fenton, MI before and actually knew where my camp was. I am well aware that the Greater Flint area is not a tourist hotspot so I was very intrigued to find out that her husband is also a fellow Michigander who grew up in the Flint area.

Kung Foo Fighting...

Not only is Meredith a super wonderful camp person, but she also sings in a choir and knows karate- WHAT?!? Also, as a long suffering Detroit Lions fan, I was thrilled to find out that Meredith is from Philadelphia and is an Eagles fan! What a pleasure it was speaking with her this week.

 

How to Take Up Residence in a New State

By Hannah Russell, Director Camp Little Oak

Spring 2018 TSCS Cohort Member

As camp professionals, changing jobs generally means a new state.  This can be intimidating, especially for those who grew up with their roots in one spot.  Even beyond the emotional impact of not being in your usual habitat, the sheer number of things that one would never anticipate needing to do when you move states is overwhelming.  So, here are some things that you need to do when you get to your new home.

To help you think about these aspects, I have split them into 5 categories: car, legal, financial, medical and social.  Of course, these are not all of the things that you need to do (if you have children, this gets vastly more complicated), but here is some quick guidance.

As a last caveat, there are many things on this list about what it takes to start a new job with a new team.  But this will focus on the personal side of putting down your new roots.

Car

1.     Car registration:

Some states have laws about how many days you can be resident in the state without transferring your registration.  Be sure to check on that.

2.     Driver’s license:

Some states also have laws about the limit on this as well

3.     Car plates:

In states, license plates are issued separately from registration.  Don’t assume that one will get you the other in every state.  Most states have a checklist on their DMV website to tell you about their rules

4.     Insurance change:

 This one might actually save you some money.  Insurance companies use zip code to estimate the probability of your car being broken into or being involved in a hit-and-run while you’re not in the car.  If you are moving to an area with less incidents, you might get a little check in the mail to make up the difference.  Also, the laws that insurance companies follow are different depending on where the car is insured, so they have to change some things on their end.  But, it’s usually not too much of a headache.  Many large insurance companies can change the state where the car is registered over the phone!

5.     Car maintenance and repair:

Before you are in that awkward situation, establish a relationship with a mechanic.  Ask around for where your neighbors take their cars for maintenance and repair.

Legal

1.     Voter’s registration:

You get to be represented in a new state!  Be sure to update the voter’s registration.  This can often be done online.  Find the website for your new state’s Secretary of State, and there should be instructions.

2.     Males: selective service update

If you are a male between 18 and 26, you are legally required to update your draft registration.  After the age of 26, you are not in the prime draft age range, and you are not required to update in peace time. 

3.     Address:

Be sure to submit a forwarding address request to the post office!  Beyond that, as things are forwarded to you, be sure to update whoever is sending you things!

Financial

1.     Changing Banks:

Much of the time in today’s world, changing banks is not actually required.  But, you should change your address at the bank.

2.     Update delivery addresses on any automated deliveries

If you have any automated deliveries, such as Amazon Prime, be sure to update the delivery address.

3.     Update address with any lien-holders

If you have any active loans (such as on your car), make sure that you update your lienholders about your location change. 

Medical

1.     Finding new providers

Ask around, check with your insurance company, and establish care with a new provider before you need it.

2.     Choosing a new pharmacy

In this same boat, make sure that you decide your new pharmacy, whether you prefer big-box stores or mom-and-pop shops. 

3.     Forward any existing, repeating prescriptions to a new pharmacy

If you take any prescriptions that have refills, make sure they are forwarded to your new pharmacy.

Social

1.     Put down your roots

This is a little vague, but having roots is as important as changing your address.  Think what is important to you right now.  Do you really enjoy your book club?  Need your scheduled volunteer opportunity?  Really get fulfilled by your volleyball league?  If so, look around and find those things in your new home.  Become a part of your new society.

2.     Library

I always consider that I’m not moved in until I have my new library card.  It’s amazing how tethered you feel once you know your library. Even if you don’t routinely read or borrow, there are a lot of community activities attached to the library.

3.     Place of worship

If you’re religious, make sure you scope out a new place of worship.  Finding a new church, synagogue, mosque or temple is an important step in find your new place in a community.

Extras for those with pets:

If you have pets, make sure you find a new vet, groomer and kennel.

Of course, there are more things that you’ll need to do, and you’ll probably find more along the way.  But as you forge into a new state, find your new identity and love your new home.  You’ll do just great!

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. 

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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 <--

 

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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!
Jack

JACK SCHOTT
CO-FOUNDER/DIRECTOR CAMP STOMPING GROUND
FACILITATOR THE SUMMER CAMP SOCIETY
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG
Stomping Ground Origin STory

Introducing the Spring 2018 TSCS Cohort: Meet Katie Milne

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By Richard Bombach, Camp Balcones Springs

This week, I had the absolute pleasure of getting to “know” Katie Milne.  Both of our schedules were a little bonkers this week, so we had to communicate via email and each had a small list of areas that we covered to get a feel of what the other was about.  What’s great about working in the camping world, is that you never see one word answers.  Everybody has a story to tell and a story that should be heard. Katie is no exception.

Katie is the camp dream.  A camper that started at 9 years-old and immediately fell in love with what camp brought to her world.  From 1996 – 2008, Katie spent her summers at Camp Al-Gon-Quian, which is 4 hours north of Ann Arbor, Michigan – her hometown.  Camp Al-Gon-Quian is an overnight residential camp associated with the Ann Arbor YMCA.   Katie worked her way up the ranks, from being a camper, a counselor, administrator, and eventually an assistant director in 2008, in which she thought would be her last encounter as a staff member for her beloved summer camp. 

After graduating from the University of Colorado – Boulder with a degree in journalism and a minor in women’s studies, Katie moved away from the mountains, skiing, and snow to Chicago to pursue a job with her journalism degree, although admittedly, her passion for that particular occupation was gone.  (Sidenote:  I’m blogging about somebody in the journalism field that could probably rip this piece to shreds– no judging, Katie.) In 2010, she had an opportunity to get back into camping (in a way) through one of her Chi Omega sorority sisters; a new startup company in Boulder was building registration and business management systems for camps.  This startup was called CampMinder, and it would be her way out of the windy city and back to the mountains.  Some of you may have heard of it.  It’s kind of a big deal.  Katie worked in client development for CampMinder for over 7 years, in which she was instrumental in building a client base from 180 camps to 800 camps by the time she left! 

Holy.  Freaking.  Cow.  Way to go, Katie!

While her role at CampMinder was impactful, it no longer fit within her life goals.  Katie said that her heart was always going to be in Michigan and the Midwest, and knew it was time to go back.  She moved in with her best friends, which happen to be her parents and said it was “the most beautiful blessing ever.”  In February of this year, Katie was able to apply for her dream job: To be the Camp Director at the camp she fell in love with as a child, Camp Al-Gon-Quian. 

Katie has been at Camp Al-Gon-Quian for 6 weeks now, just coming off of one her busiest weekends which kicked off their annual campaign to raise money to send underprivileged youth to summer camp.  Although she’s been out of the camp game for 10 years, she is excited to find ways to impact the lives of children and staff for the next several years.  In her words, “it’s a dream come true.”

Outside of summer camp, Katie has always loved sports and the outdoors.  She was a 3-sport varsity athlete in high school and also studied ballet for 10 years.  These days, she loves to be outdoors, whether it’s biking, skiing, hiking, kayaking, or paddleboarding.  She still saves some time for dance, although there was a shift from ballet to hip-hop around 10 years ago.

Katie is excited about The Summer Camp Society so she can gain more insight into what camp directors are facing throughout the year and learning new ways that she can better serve her campers and staff for years to come.

It was an absolute pleasure to learn about Katie and her passion for her camp.  Thank you for taking the time to fill me in on what will be an incredible adventure, at a place you can finally call home.

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
5 STATS THAT PROVE VIDEO IS TODAY’S SOCIAL MEDIA 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.
Hi! 

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 

Thanks!
Jack”

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 <--

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JACK SCHOTT
CO-FOUNDER/DIRECTOR CAMP STOMPING GROUND
FACILITATOR THE SUMMER CAMP SOCIETY
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG

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. 

LOVE!
Jack

5 STAFF IDEAS 2018

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

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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

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Jack Schott
Co-Founder/Director Camp Stomping Ground
Facilitator The Summer Camp Society
Jack@campstompingground.org

 

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.

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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

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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.

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Jack Schott
Camp Director/Founder
Camp Stomping Ground
jack@campstompingground.org

I Believe In Love - Levi Miller

I believe in love.

I know that seems like the cheesiest damn thing to say. But, I believe in love more than anything. I believe that the power it has over us, can either destroy us, or free us. Love is such an abstract thing, that most people have a hard time defining it without using the word itself. I believe that love has, at many points in my life saved me, but also what I perceived as the absence of love has torn me to pieces.

There are many different types of love floating around in the Universe. I can be “In Love” with a romantic partner. I can love my best friends. I can love a dog I meet on the street. I can love the pasta I had for dinner last night. I can also love myself. However, it is important to note, that each of these different types of love can be forgotten if you don’t work to remind yourself of their existence.

The Variety Pack of Love

As I have learned to appreciate this variety pack of love that the universe has provided, I have discovered the most important, and likely the best kind, is the love I have found for myself. While I’ve spent the last few years processing the various demons of my past, I learned that if you have love and compassion for yourself, being alone with your thoughts becomes infinitely easier. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy spending time with myself before I loved myself. I can’t imagine how I could’ve expected others to want to spend time with me while I was pretending my way through the world, each day pasting on one of many rehearsed smiles.

People are often inspired by my story and ask how I knew it was time to begin this journey truth is that I had finally pushed enough people away, that I had nobody else around to expect love from. I had only myself, a Netflix subscription, and the four walls of my college dorm room. I spent countless nights awake trying to avoid my thoughts by watching as many female centric dramas as I could get my hands on. I would sleep all day, only getting up to eat and use the bathroom. Then, I would do it all over again day after day. It was a miserable existence. But, I learned, that no matter how loud I had those headphones turned up, there was always a little voice somewhere in me that was louder.

The voice said, “love”. That was it.

It said “love”; over, and over, and over again.

The voice had always been there. I had just run out of things to cover it up.There are only so many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to watch. One night, I was lying in bed having an existential crisis because Netflix kept asking if I was still there and I, for one, take that very personally. As I laid there in my crusty sweatpants and dirty sheets, I let my mind wander to the last time I felt real, genuine self-love.

That was at camp.

I eventually wandered away from Netflix to find the home page of the summer camp I had attended for one summer as a 13-year-old. This was the beginning of what has been the greatest life changing adventure, I think, in history. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But, I applied to work for 10 weeks. Five years later, I realize I had no damn clue what I was doing at the time. I guess sometimes it’s a blessing to be young and dumb.

I remember the first couple of nights during staff training I cried a lot. One kind soul saw my puffy eyes as I tried to get back to my cabin without anybody seeing me. She forced me into conversation in a dark gazebo, in the middle of the woods, at midnight. I thought she would try to murder me.

Then, we talked, and we talked, and the sun started to come up as I finally had the courage to say what I’d been holding in. “ I hate myself” I blurted out before I could catch the words and pull them back into my throat.

“You clearly love yourself enough to come here and talk about yourself.” That was the response. Not, a hug, or sympathetic tears. Just that. But, she was so right.

I later learned that the better phrasing of that ugly statement is something like, “I hate… about how I’m acting right now.” Or “I hate… about how I handled that.”. But, I suppose I can’t go back and change the things I said about myself then. I only control the love I give myself right now.

I believe that once the soul knows the taste of loving itself, it’ll never go back. I learned that at camp.

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Levi Miller
Day Camp Coordinator
Camp Jewell YMCA