November 18, 2015
In my last blog post (http://blog.campchampions.com/improvements-at-camp), I described some of camp’s biggest physical improvements over the past few years and gave a sneak preview of improvements and additions that are yet to come. We love our location and property here in Marble Falls. One of the best things about camp is all the cool things you can do as a camper – climbing, swimming, ziplining, skiing, horseback riding, and more.
But camp is about more than just the facilities and activities. While on the surface a camp day is all about the fun and crazy toys and events, most parents, camp staff, and experienced campers know that there is more to Camp Champions than simply the place. For instance, there are many summer camps with impressive ropes courses and swimming facilities (though I would argue ours are among the best). Most camps teach archery, play sports, and design arts & crafts. So what truly sets Camp Champions apart?
I have been part of the Camp Champions family since I was seven years old, and I count myself incredibly lucky. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness the camp’s transformation in the past 15 years from the changing perspective of child to teenager to adult.When I was young, camp enabled me to build confidence and independence trying different, sometimes scary things away from home (reasonable risks!), and I learned to navigate new friendships and social situations every day. As an adult, working here has inspired my passion for changing kids’ lives.
Some things are exactly the same. We take great pride in our camp traditions. I’m still singing the same songs at Torchlight, dancing on Wednesday nights, cheering for my team in Trojan/Spartan games on Sunday, and swimming in the lake on Saturday beach parties.
There are distinct differences, too, the most obvious of which being the activities and facilities. We’ve got a pool, the Pirate Ship, new ski boats and jetskis, a bigger rock wall, revamped sport courts, and an epic new tower at the swim bay. The activity schedule has changed, we’ve scratched some special events and added others, we’ve made the food healthier, and we’ve remodeled cabins.
Long-time camp folks like to reminiscence about the “good old days” by throwing around the term “Camp’s changed,” followed by a woebegone sort of sigh. Remember when we had soda every day at Treat Time? Remember when we had “real” Champs earned on a merit system (which soon turned into institutional favoritism)? Remember when counselors let us do whatever we wanted all day? The list goes on and on, but I’ve noticed that most people tend to cherry-pick the past. It’s true – camp has changed.
But if I’m really honest? As much as I loved my camp experience growing up (and clearly, I did, considering I’ve graduated from college and I’m still here), I wish I could be a camper in today’s camp.
In part, I wish I could be a camper for all the new stuff. I didn’t get to grow up swimming in the pool or climbing the Pirate Ship or choosing my own activities, but I can still do some of those things now as an adult. It certainly would have been fun as a camper, though, to be able to choose my own schedule and climb every day if I wanted to!
More importantly, I wish I could be a camper in today’s camp for the community. We’ve always had a sense of pride and togetherness at CC, but over the years, we have also adopted higher standards of excellence and become much more intentional with our mission and goals. We simply hire better staff. The application process is competitive, and the counselors here today are not here for the “Wet Hot American Summer” experience or for some easy cash between semesters. Rather, they are here to work hard and to love your children, more so than when I was I camper.
For example, all staff commit to not drinking alcohol all summer long – not because we have anything against drinking, but because we have decided that we want to set ourselves apart. We want to ensure that when we’re on, we’re on. Knowing we are all holding ourselves and each other to very high standards brings us closer as a community, and that enables us to be fully present with our campers.
Speaking of being fully present, the counselors and leadership at camp today are more dedicated and driven than when I was a camper. I believe this has happened for a few reasons. We have an extended orientation (two weeks long) that focuses on intentionality in your interactions with every child: the outgoing ones, the quiet ones, and everyone in between. We answer the obvious questions: What do I say to a homesick camper? How should I deal with a troublemaker?
But we discuss more than that: How do you encourage a group of disparate personalities to bond? How do you recognize special moments and special qualities about each camper? What will you do to leave a lasting impact on the children that come into your life? How will you embody and represent the four R’s (respect, reaching out, responsibility, and reasonable risks) so your campers truly adopt those values as well?
After orientation, counselors write “scopes” every night, or brief descriptions of how each camper was feeling and how the cabin interacted as a whole. These scopes are thoroughly inspected by leadership members so any issues can be addressed right away. Every week, we come together as a team to recognize and honor the counselors that do an exceptional job loving and teaching their campers, and they become role models for their peers. We always have too many wonderful counselors, and too few Wednesday night gatherings to honor each one.
I was always a “middle camper” when I was young. I was never so profoundly shy or homesick that the counselors would whip out their warmest smiles and chatter my ear off at the lunch table in an attempt to get me to open up. I never made trouble, either. But I also wasn’t so wildly open, helpful, and outgoing that I immediately jumped into camp life and charmed everyone I met. To my young perspective, I sometimes felt lost in the shuffle: a cabin of 12 girls can be a lot to keep up with, and the counselors would get caught up with managing the troublemakers or lauding the superstars.
Now, there’s no such thing as a “middle camper.” The counselors and leadership don’t let that happen. They will simply work harder – they find the time to comfort the homesick camper, laugh and bond with the boisterous cabin clown, and spend time getting to know the easy rider. And it’s not just because it’s their job – they want to do it. Instead of the cabin being just a cabin of girls or boys with one or two special cases – the pushy one, the loud one, the sad one – counselors truly get to know each camper, connect with them on a personal level, and ensure that their time at camp is positive and influential.
I don’t really remember my counselors from my first few years at camp. We hadn’t connected on a deep enough level for me to really remember them as individuals – I only recalled that I liked them just fine. Now, every senior camper I speak to can rave about their counselors from 5 or 6 years ago, and they rave about their current counselors even more. Counselors in today’s camp rise to the challenge of loving every child, never letting a “middle camper” – or any other type of camper – fall through the cracks. Children will treasure that connection to their counselors as they grow up.
In my eyes, that’s how camp has changed in the last 15 years.
_Want more like this? See: http://blog.campchampions.com/7-reasons-to-hire-a-summer-camp-counselor _