Things I Wouldn't Know If I Didn't Go To Camp - Part 5

Becoming a role model

I have to say that yes, if I didn’t go to camp, I’m sure I would have found other ways to learn about the various topics in my “If I Didn’t Go To Camp” posts.  However, I will acknowledge that because I did go to camp, it was the first place I learned many of these lessons and my camp experiences helped me accelerate my growth in many areas of leadership.

One area is being a role model.  Becoming a role model doesn’t only happen once you join staff.  Oh no, it happens much before.  When you’re a camper, you influence campers who are younger than you.  Maybe it’s your perfect swish from the foul line on the basketball court that grabs an interested camper’s attention.  Maybe it’s your bulls-eye count on the Bob’s Bullseye tracking sheet at the Trip Hut.  Whatever it might be, you lead before you’re in a leadership role.

On the first night of each camp session after the opening campfire, the campers would be sent to begin their bedtime routine.  The camp director asked the oldest boys and oldest girls cabins to stay back though.  In her three minute speech, the director empowered the oldest cabin groups to be leaders and role models.  She asked these campers to lend a hand to the younger campers, especially when they needed help.  Maybe it was helping to lift a canoe or kayak back onto its rack, maybe it was to walk with them to the dining hall and make conversation, or maybe it was to cheer them up when they could sense a camper was homesick.

When you do join staff, your role modeling continues.  The campers follow your lead.  You are the coolest person they know.  What I thought role modeling was at first, was setting a good example for my campers.  What I learned later on though, was how powerful I was as a leader, and the way I found out was one I never could have predicted.

In an earlier post (Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 1) I talked about the role of night nurse at Camp Huronda.  When the camp sessions changed over, the two counsellors who were selected to become the night nurses would need to reverse their daily pattern to become nocturnal.  This included staying up all night during “changeover” (the night between sessions with no campers on site) and going to bed around 8am the next day, or as late as the counsellor could stay awake.

There are three small cabins tucked away behind the trip hut field where area staff and night nurses usually reside.  These were my absolute FAVOURITE cabins.  One afternoon, I was sound asleep after a full night awake when I was awoken by banging on the door to my little cabin.  I heard someone yelling outside “Gilby, Gilby, Gilby!”  I was aware of what was going on and said “come in”.  I had a feeling I knew who it was, even from my subconscious awakening.

It was my previous camper Adam!  As soon as he got to camp, he asked if I had returned and he found out where I was so he could come say hello immediately.  WOW.  I will never forget that moment.  I realized then that I truly had become a role model for Adam.  I too was very happy that he came back to camp.  So, I gave him a hug, and told him we could catch up at dinner because I would sit with his table.

I went back to sleep until my alarm went off at 5:00pm knowing it was going to be a great two weeks.  It was quite a humbling feeling having a camper so excitedly return to camp looking for me.  I learned this lesson many times, but I think this was one of the most memorable ones.  I had the pleasure of working on staff with Adam a couple years later when he joined staff as a counsellor in training and could be the leader to others that I was to him.

Things I Wouldn't Know If I Didn't Go To Camp - Part 4

Breaking Down Challenges Into Smaller, More Manageable Pieces

Three whistles, a siren, and a foghorn.  The three signals of a waterfront emergency at camp (when I worked there).  As a staff member, when the signals sounded, it was our job to find the missing camper as quickly as possible.  

A missing camper is a terrifying thing.  And it is at this time, when a camper may need us most, that we have to overcome our fear and anxiety for the situation, and perform out best search as a team, on land, and in the water.

With a heavy load of responsibility on our shoulders, we learn a critical lesson for leaders.  Finding a missing camper is challenging, and the protocol we deploy as a team of staff members is one of the most tactical and strategic out of all of camp’s protocols.

I’ve already used the word team in this blog post twice.  That too, like the search procedure was tactical.  As a staff, we would not be effective at all if we just started yelling and running around camp looking for the missing person.  We also wouldn’t be working as a team either.

The emergency search protocol is a team event, where the big challenge of finding a missing camper as quickly as possible is broken down into more manageable chunks (or roles).

There are a few major divisions of responsibility that help us act more quickly and increase our effectiveness.

The first is identifying who on staff, in the event of an emergency, would be a runner (ground search) and who would be a diver (water search).  The runners would be further split across three land routes, and deployed in a beginning-end or end-beginning fashion in order to have the most coverage of the surface area of camp’s property.

The divers would also be split.  The swimming area was divided into four lanes, and each lane had a different depth at the bottom of the lake.  The divers would always be in the same lane, with their own team for lane 1, lane 2, lane 3, and lane 4.  There would also be divers who covered the boating docks, the shallow end, and the shoreline.

No single person was responsible for finding the missing camper.  By splitting up the staff across the various roles, we acted as a team.  Acting as a team made the bigger challenge much more manageable.

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

Community at Summer Camp is Intentional

Previously, we shared an acronym we developed to help us give the best to our staff during training. We shared one activity under each heading. This outline is to get you started thinking about training.  We encourage you to take time in the next few months to put all your pre-camp activities into one of these 4 categories to ensure you have a balanced training programme.  We promised to add more ideas in the coming weeks so here you go:

C          COMMUNITY - laying the foundation

Puzzle Piece Name Tags: Draw a puzzle on bristol board or wood with as many pieces as you have staff.  Cut out each piece and sand if necessary.  Hand one out to each staff person.  Have supplies set out for staff to decorate their own piece.  Encourage them to personalize their piece with symbols that are meaningful to them.  You may choose to have a hole in each piece so that they can be used as name tags.  At the end of the day, have the staff put the puzzle together.  Make note of the fact that each individual was required to make the puzzle complete and that all people have gifts and talents to bring to the community.

A          ATTENTION – supporting staff

Group Journal:  This is a great idea by Catherine Ross in her “How to be a Camp Counsellor” book.  She suggests that each cabin has a group journal in which campers can write every day and counsellors can answer every evening so that the campers can read it when they wake up.  Why not do the same with your staff.  Start the idea at Leadership Training and have a staff journal in which you invite any member of staff to write their thoughts, questions, etc.  Have the director and assistant director (maybe head counsellor too…whomever you wish) take turns responding to the journal entries so that staff can read them in the morning.

M          MAGIC – the special little touches

Singing to One Another: during leadership training, divide your staff into smaller groups and ask them to prepare a song to sing to the other groups.  Tell each group separately so that they are not aware that the other groups are doing the same thing!  You may wish to divide the groups into different camp areas (waterfront, adventure, office staff, counselors, etc., or mix the groups so that people get to know one another better)  Have each group work on a song about camp, friendship, supporting one another, etc., and have them perform at the last campfire of training.

P          PLAY – spend time with them

This group activity works well after a particularly difficult or important, but not so fun, session during leadership training.  If they have been sitting for a while and dealing with serious issues or simply so many sessions that they need a break, staff enjoy this opportunity to play and enjoy one another's company.  It costs very little and take very little time to prepare. It also helps staff remember the joy of childhood.

Bubbles: everyone loves bubbles.  Have lots of bubble soap and things to blow through (wire works great).  You can make different shapes and bubbles within bubbles.  If you make your own bubbles, don’t forget a drop of glycerin.