June 4, 2018
When I was a boy, I loved comic books. My favorite issues were always the “origin stories” that told the tale of how the superhero became a superhero.
This is an origin story.
Two years ago, we had one of our best ideas ever.
We created a new position - a full-time director to focus solely on first year families. [Note: the photo includes most of the First Year Family team from earlier this summer as they prepared to run “Invasion”, a campwide game. They are usually less verdant, but always this postive!]
In retrospect, I am surprised that neither we, nor any other camp I am aware of, had not done this sooner. The concerns and needs of a first time camper are very different from that of a multi-year camper. The new camper wonders, “Will I make friends? Will I be able to find my way around? Will I be safe and comfortable? Will I have fun?”
Similarly, the first time parent is different from a parent of multiple summers. In fact, the gulf here can be even wider. Returning parents might see us as “partners in the parenting process”, but we have not earned that trust from a new parent. For the new parent, camp can seem scary and horribly unfamiliar.
The new parent wonders, “Will these people love my child? Will they see her special gifts? With they focus on his safety? Do they share my goals and my worries”?
We wanted to find a way to earn the trust of the parents and the excitement of the campers.
The more we thought about it, the more we realized that new families need and deserve a distinct set of interactions and reassurances. We then started to make a list of these needs. Once we started to think about it, we realized that it would require a LOT of work and a special set of skills and talents.
We also realized that human nature tends to lead us to think about the needs and wants of people we already know and care about (returning campers and parents) more than those we have not yet met.
So human nature pushes camps to think about the very people who already know and trust the camp and think less about those that are new to the camp family.
We eventually realized we needed someone that woke up and went to bed thinking about NEW families.
The Director of New Families was born.
Of course, the right job requires the right person, and we won the lottery in this case. Kate Hutson is a 20 veteran camper/counselor at Camp Champions who was a standout with Teach for America. Kate loved teaching, but believed she could make a bigger impact at camp. Camp had been the strongest influence in her life (other than her parents) and she wanted to create similar experiences for other children.
Kate is able to connect with any camper while also understanding and valuing their parents.
After her first full year, our already high camper return rates have increased by an exciting amount. We have more elated campers and parents than we have ever had.
The experiment was such a success, that we decided to add a second full time director – one for the girls and one for the boys. This summer, our director of new boys is John Bailey from Leicester, England.
Like Kate, he is compassionate, committed to his campers and incredibly fun.
So this dynamic duo will lead an entire team of superstar counselors who will dedicate themselves to our new families. This session, the group will consist of 6 directors and counselors who are assigned to no cabin at all so that they can be there for all our new families and another 6 counselors who will spend the day with new campers (rather than teaching actitivities).
Earlier this week, we hosted all the new campers at our home for milk and cookies. We wanted all the newcomers to know that we are elated that they are here and that they should feel part of our family. While they were with us, the returning campers were brainstorming ways to assure that the new campers are integrated into the cabins and our camp community.
We look forward to having even more delighted first-time parents and campers with this wonderful team!
PS If you are a returning parent, we remain 100% here for you. In fact, this new position makes camp better for our veteran campers as well. Since the New Camper team can help with first-year campers who might need some extra TLC, the cabin counselors will have more time for the rest of the cabin. All campers will get more engaged time with their counselor-heroes. After all, we are not redirecting time away from veteran campers; we are adding new people to help our newest families feel part of our camp community.
As always, we remain deeply committed to our mission of helping our campers grow into the champions they are meant to be!