A Week of Training Teens at Cairn
So...once I had my purpose, my acronym, my daily activities all figured out, I knew I needed to tie the whole S.T.A.N.D. package together with a lot of special touches. It was important to weave the message through every aspect of every day, to really hit the mission home.
Cairn is a Christian camp and before breakfast each morning, the camp gathered to sing songs of praise and begin their day together. I had selected Scripture that supported the letter of the day and it was shared with the campers. Each morning, during our session together, I often had the campers participate in ‘sword drills’ to be the first cabin group to find the days’ Scriptures in their Bibles and the words of wisdom were reinforced.
One of my favourite aspects of the morning hours was our Tweet Team. One representative from each of the cabins (alternating between boys and girls cabins) was paired with a Senior Staff member for the session. We usually had 4 or 5 campers on the Tweet Team each day. The camper and staff member pairs then tweeted, posted, instagrammed their thoughts during the session. It was important to teach the campers to use their voices in meaningful and constructive ways. I had asked alumni and parents prior to the week to join us during that hour and respond. Those adults who could not be present during that hour responded at other times during the day. At lunch each day, we shared the online activity. It was great to see the campers faces as they realized that people were actually listening, were taking what they had to say seriously. And the tweet team took the task very earnestly. Their words and photos really showed that they had something important to say.
Music is always a big part of the sessions I run. I had chosen a ‘song of the day’ and it played as cabin groups entered the lodge in silence to begin each morning’s experience. For me, silence is a terrific way to allow people to gather their thoughts, appreciate the work to be done, and absorb the words of the day’s song. As we were working hard to instill the idea that we are here to build community, we ended each morning session by hearing our song of the day replaying on the speakers while shaking hands with all those around us and wishing one another a good morning. The first day or two, this activity looked awkward and it was obvious the teens were uncomfortable but, by day 3, I didn’t even have to announce it; they just turned to one another and greeted each other in friendship.
As the teens were likely missing texting and tweeting while at camp, I created an opportunity for them to do so every day during supper. We called it DHeeting or Dining Hall tweeting. On my computer, I set up a powerpoint and allowed cabin groups to post messages to others in the Dining Hall. They added creative hashtags to their short posts and they appeared on a screen for all to see thanks to the camp’s projector. They thanked specific staff members for great sessions that day, shared successful experiences their cabin group had accomplished, and posted welcoming messages to one another. I sat at the table closest to the projector and just moved the slides of the powerpoint forward when each new cabin group came to post. It took a few days for this to really take off but, by Tuesday, it was an extremely popular dinner time activity and campers looked forward to contributing to the positive messages shared with the entire camp.
Before arriving at camp for the week, I had gathered hundreds of quotes that reinforced the mission of S.T.A.N.D.. Each day, I taped up the quotes that applied to the day’s letter and, by the end of the week, they could be seen all over camp. I posted them around the lodge, in the dining hall, in the kitchen, in the washrooms, everywhere. The early risers loved to find me to be the first to read the day’s messages as I added the new ones to the growing pile. I felt, by leaving them up through the week, I was allowing more opportunities for the words to be ingrained in the teens’ minds as they lined up for meals, brushed their teeth, or walked to their next program area. I was thrilled when I heard them discussing the quotes and what the words meant to them.
There is a Wailing Wall in Israel where people write their prayers on pieces of paper and place them between the stones. Borrowing from that idea, I created a Rejoicing Wall just outside the Dining Hall. A wonderful alumnus who was volunteering time at camp, created the actual wall part and I left instructions and supplies on a bench beside it. Campers and staff were invited to record on coloured strips of paper behaviours they had witnessed during the day and to place it between the ‘stones’ of the wall. Blue strips indicated examples of trustworthiness, yellow strips - respect, green strips - responsibility, white strips - fairness, violet strips - caring, and red strips - community. Folks could write just the names of people who had shown one of these characteristics or they could go further and explain the situation a little. By the end of the week, it was a colourful demonstration of a caring community of difference-makers. Cabins groups were encouraged to add to the Wall whenever they happened to walk by.
Just as we began each day together with a focus on the day’s message, we ended each night with vespers at campfire. I had prepared something different for each evening. I did everything from tell stories to involve the campers in activities with candles and other visual aids - whatever I could think of to make an impact. I even memorized a poem called, Touchscreen, which emphasizes how we have lost so much of our humanity to technology. I did this at campfire on the first full day (S - Social Graces, if you please) when we had discussed not allowing technology to get in the way of treating each other politely. Here’s the link to the writer, Marshall Davis Jones, and his rendition which far outshone my own. It was a lot of work to memorize the words and actions but it was totally worth. I really got the teens’ attention and completely ‘upped’ my cool factor!
Our week culminated with a live internet programme at 8:00 pm on Friday evening, August 23rd. We were fortunate enough to have a camp alumnus who owns a company called Where It’s At TV, Toronto’s premier public access webcasting channel (http://www.whereitsattv.com/). He graciously donated his time and talent, drove himself and his family to camp, and put it on the air for us live. It never ceases to amaze me how generous camp alumni can be!
I had asked the campers for volunteers who would like to talk about what they had learned during the week. Two campers were chosen to discuss each letter of S.T.A.N.D. The campers were interviewed by the Co-Directors and the show was peppered with camp songs, funny and much adored camp characters, and a ton of enthusiasm from all the campers and staff. We even had some very gifted campers show off some of their talents and they were amazing!
If you’d like to see the program they recorded, here’s the link: http://new.livestream.com/whereitsattv/rocktalklive. It’s a great blast of summer on a cold February day! You can hear the pride of the campers and staff as they share a bit of themselves right from the very first notes they belt out. I was so proud of how they conducted themselves; the audience members were incredibly respectful and eager to support their fellow campers. The interviewees brilliantly shared what they had learned (I had met with them on Friday afternoon to go over some talking points but they all confidently told me “we got this” and so what you will hear are their words and theirs alone).
The campers wrapped up their week with a 10:00 am campfire on the Saturday morning. I had one last chance to emphasize the importance of standing up for what you believe in. I ended the week with a short ‘show and tell’ after breakfast and thought that wrapped things up. Little did I know, the campers had a surprise for me at the end of campfire. On Friday after lunch, they had gathered together in the courtyard, spelled out the word STAND with their bodies and had the social media director take a photo from the Lodge roof. They had added our hashtags of the week at the bottom of the photo and had it beautifully framed. I felt very privileged to receive such a thoughtful gift and it now proudly has a place honour on the wall above my desk in my office.
It has been over 5 months since that experience with S.T.A.N.D. and I can still see so many moments of the week as clearly as if they happened this morning. It was a week of such positivity and affirmation. It was a lot of work to be so intentional but the rewards were astounding. I think we made a REAL difference. I could never have pulled it off without such dedicated staff members who worked so hard in their program areas and with all their other responsibilities but somehow managed to have enough time and energy left to devote to S.T.A.N.D. Their enthusiasm and example was contagious. The Co-Directors of the camp allowed me a lot of leeway and supported all my requests. I could never have done it without them. As grateful as I was to the staff, I was not all that surprised. They had a reputation for being extraordinary. What surprised me and made the week for me were the campers. This group of teens rose to every challenge I extended and surpassed them. They were patient with me as I jostled them out of their comfort zones and they responded enthusiastically to my unending invitations to go further, to dismiss the ways we often treat one another in today’s society and to instead respect and care for one another in a desire to make positive change. The kindness they showed, the community they built, and the thoughtfulness they displayed absolutely blew me away. I wish I had had another week, month or year to work with them. These teens will go on to move mountains.
I hope in the many posts about the S.T.A.N.D. project I have inspired you to be incredibly intentional in what you do at camp, to make every moment teachable, and to not be afraid to offer your campers and staff an alternative way to, sadly, much of what they are experiencing in school or their communities. Insist on a better way, a kind, gentler, more respectful way and I guarantee your campers and staff will be thrilled to take up the torch. My best to all of you who are out there creating difference-makers this summer. I would LOVE to hear your stories.