Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 3

Two Completely Different Bus Rides

Today on Twitter I was part of a very brief but interesting conversation about the bus ride to camp (Follow me: @jay_gilbert).  As a staff member, I would occasionally volunteer to be one of the staff on the camp bus at the beginning or end of a session.  The bus ride to camp and the bus ride from camp couldn’t be any more different.

On the first day of any particular camp session, the bus will wait in the parking lot for (potentially) eager campers to arrive.  In our hideously bright staff t-shirts - it would be impossible to miss us, plus we had giant smiles on our faces - see photo, the group of 3-4 staff would enthusiastically greet everybody who arrived at the meeting spot to head to camp.

Some campers were returning campers, and they knew the drill.  Drop the bags under the bus, say goodbye to their parents, get on the bus, and find a seat for the next couple hours.

Some of the campers were new.  Not only were they new, they were also afraid.  Some of these little boys and girls were leaving home for the first time and weren’t sure if they were ready to be away from home for two weeks.

We did our best to get the campers excited to be en route to South Waseosa Lake Road.  We would work the aisle - go up and down the bus talking to campers, making sure everybody was comfortable, answer questions from the returning campers such as “Did Seeley come back to camp this year?  Who’s my counsellor?  What cabin am I in?  Who’s the craft lady?”

Despite all the positive energy of the staff, the bus ride to camp is very quiet.  The energy that so magically comes out at camp hasn’t hit yet, and the first time campers often feel overwhelmed, nervous, and scared.

Fast forward two weeks.

It’s tough to get the campers on the bus to go home.  Nobody wants to leave.  A dozen pair of best friends reluctantly board the bus.  At least they have seat mates for the ride home!  The volume of conversation on the bus ride home is noticeably louder and the air is filled with laughter, chatter, and some sniffles.  Not long after the bus rolls away from camp everybody starts singing.  This bus ride is completely different from the one two weeks prior.

Having had these two opposite bus experiences did teach me that it only takes two weeks to change a kid’s life.  That first-time-away-from-home ten year old who arrived at camp shy and quiet, jumps off the bus with more stories to tell his parents than there are minutes in the car for the drive home.

Taking the bus to camp is absolutely a great idea.  It’s the first chance you have to make a new friend

Things I Wouldn't Know If I Didn't Go To Camp: Part 2

Can you start a <insert style> gimp bracelet for me?  This was a very frequently asked question posed by campers when I was on craft shop patrol.  I must admit, I actually didn’t learn how to start a diamond gimp bracelet at camp.  Diamond was the tricky one.  I could do zipper, flat, cobra, square, and circle.

How basic is a bracelet?  A gimp one, or a hemp one?  One of these bracelets is a few pennies worth of material bended and knotted together to form a nice pattern.  Why then, are these incredibly invaluable, handmade pieces of jewelry (often with errors on every third knot), so precious to us?

A tradition we would regularly do with our campers, especially upon the completion of a great canoe trip, was to take a long piece of very thin climbing type rope, cut a custom piece for each person’s wrist, and using a lighter, heat and bind together the two ends of the rope to make a bracelet for each person.  The bracelet was a representation of a special bond we shared.

The rope cost a couple bucks from the camping store.   The materials themselves had almost zero value.  What I learned through these bracelets, representing the shared experiences of a close group of friends, was that the sentimental value, confidence, and trust that lives within the bracelets is incredibly strong.

One summer during A Camp (the first session of the summer) I was a ‘regular’ at ropes which meant for every interest group (camper rotation) I would work at the ropes area.  At the end of the session, Jaime (the ropes girl) gave Brianna (the other regular) and me a blue rope bracelet.  The three of us put them on together, and I can honestly say that my rope was no longer blue by the time I took it off.

Two full years later, the two ends that had melted together to form the strong bond that held my bracelet on came apart.  That bracelet was the most important piece of “flare” that I wore on a day to day basis.  It reminded me of the good times at camp as well as my great session as the ropes regular.  I always had something positive to think about, even if I was having a down day, just by looking at my wrist.

The lesson is - even the most inconsequential, invaluable little token represents something so much bigger.  The shared experiences, the friendships, the memories of camp.  If I hadn’t gone to camp, I wouldn’t have realized how a little piece of rope can leave an impact on many lives for years.

I still have to learn how to start the diamond gimp pattern though!  I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes, and one I appreciate so much because of camp.

“The greatest things in life aren’t things.”

I will take this opportunity to share that my book “The Cabin Path: Leadership Lessons Learned At Camp” will be launching on April 7.  The launch event will be at the Indigo Bookstore in the Eaton Centre in Toronto from 12:00 - 4:00.  It would be great to see you!  For those outside of Toronto and even Canada for that matter, the book will be available for purchase in paperback and eBook formats through  I hope you pick up a copy and pass the book along to your summer camp leaders!


Serving Others at Summer Camp

It's All About Serving Campers


Having had the privilege of working with youth for decades now has taught me that they really do want to do something important with their lives and often just need a nudge in the right direction.  At camp, we have the opportunity not only to role model this kind of living but also to intentionally discuss it with our campers and staff. This week, we offer up 2 ideas that you can put in your arsenal for next summer - for pre-camp training, for working with your Leaders in Training, or for working with your teen campers.

In Service to Others

Ask your youth to get into pairs.  Have them discuss their answers to the following questions:

  1. Who is the most others-centered person you know?  What impresses you about him or her?
  2. How have you been served by a person or group in the past 6 months?  Have you experienced a significant act of kindness and service?
  3. Share an experience you have had with serving someone or something that has been beneficial in your life.

After you have had ample time for discussion, divide into groups of 3 or 4.  Within 15-30 minutes, have each group perform a small service project around the camp where they practice at least one random act of kindness (they may choose to leave a note for the kitchen staff thanking them for all the hard work, they may choose to clean the bathrooms, or they may set and decorate for the next meal, etc.)  The purpose is to show that we can find a simple and creative way to serve in a short amount of time.  Gather together before you are all finished and have each group share their experiences.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You.

It's All About Building Camp Community


As we mentioned in our last newsletter, we're going to take some time this Fall to share activities which help to build small, medium or large sized groups.  They are terrific for teen campers for Leaders in Training (or C.I.T.s), and staff. Here are a few more for you to compile for next summer:


Great for the first time folks gather at camp and not everyone is arriving at the same time

Before anyone arrives, put up poster-sized sheets around your meeting space with ‘get to know you’ questions. Use large newsprint sheets or large whiteboards.  Be sure to have plenty of writing utensils for everyone to have at least one.  As your people are arriving, explain that they can go around and write down their answers.  They can either write their names beside the answers or not.  These are great conversation starters and everyone can participate, even those who are shy and afraid to share their opinions out loud in front of a group.  You can have fun with the questions or write down serious ones (ex. of all the famous people, who would you like to have dinner with?  What is your favourite cereal?  What is the best book you’ve ever read?  If you could have one super power what would it be?  I believe God is…..) You may choose to take up some of the answers when everyone arrives or simply leave them up for awhile so folks can have a chance to read them.

Creative Answer

Another one for differing arrival times

Leave this note on a table near your poster area. “Pretend that we know nothing about you.  Using only this card and writing utensils, teach us all about yourself.  This is to be done as an individual exercise.”  If your teens/staff members do not spot it, point it out to ones who appear to have finished answering poster questions.  Have index cards ready to be used and paper clips to attach the card to the collar of the writer's shirt for the remainder of the evening.  These spark great conversations!

Silent Interviews

Divide the group into pairs (play or do not play so that the numbers come out evenly - try to mix the group into pairs of folks who don't know each other well. Ask your participants to introduce themselves to their partners. Instruct the group that from this point forward, speaking is not allowed. This includes whispering, mouthing words, and making sounds!

Inform the group that they must tell their partner 3 things about themselves without speaking (similar to a charades game). These things cannot be physical characteristics.

Once all the partners have finished miming to each other, call everyone back into a circle. Tell them not to share their answers with their partners just yet. Ask for each pair to orally introduce their partner to the group, as well as the three things that they learned (or think they learned).  This activity is great as a mixer but also provides a few giggles along they way.

For more articles about building staff community please check out this link.

A Time for Saying Thank You

Say Thank You to Your Camp Staff with Class


If you had incorporated the Guardian Angels idea at the beginning of the summer, now is the time to be sure each person on staff takes the time to write a letter of thanks. Hopefully, they have received several letters by this time from the person who has been their Guardian Angel throughout the summer. Ask the staff to write a short letter explaining what summer camp has meant to them and how they have grown.  Be sure the letters are mailed out this week before the Fall gets underway.

Your Turn to Say Thanks - In September, take the time to send a hand written note to each and every staff member.  Thank them for the summer, for all their hard work and dedication and be sure to note something special that you appreciated about each individual.  This make seem a time consuming task but the dividends will be well worth it.  If your staff is simply too large for one person to write all the cards, divide the task among a few of your full time people.

Letting people know how much they are appreciated is such an important part of Camp.

Hope your summer was simply amazing!

Supporting your summer camp staff

Keeping Summer Camp Staff Going Strong

We are always looking for new ways to support our staff members.  Here are two quick ideas:


Pen Pals

We spend so much time with email and text messaging these days, we forgot how special we can make people feel with a good old fashioned piece of snail mail.

Why not ask people to write letters to individual staff members.  Give these names and job descriptions to people outside your camp who would like to support your summer.

Examples of the people to ask are:  women’s groups at church, parents of staff members (have them write to someone other than their own child), parents of campers, agency employees, board members, etc.  These words of encouragement go along way in making staff members feel supported and appreciated.  It may be hard to find enough letter writers for every member of your staff so why not ask your volunteers to write at 5 - 10 letters.  They can spread them out over the summer so it is not a big job all at once.

Praise Board

Place a bulletin board in a prominent place at camp like your staff lounge.  Place short letters of praise for individual staff members on it.  Make sure that these are specific to something you have recently witnessed or been told about and not just general statements like “so-and-so did a great job today”.

This is an excellent way to praise creativity, good decision making, going the extra mile, dealing well with difficult situations (this is why you may not want your praise board where campers would see it).  Staff will truly appreciate seeing their name on the board, will be recognized by you and their peers, and will work hard to get their name on the board!  You may also want to have all staff members contribute to this board.

Happy Supporting!

What are you doing this summer to offer your staff some extra help?