Travis' Interview on Cairn's Rock Talk Live

A little bit of my summer camp origin story

Several times a year the Cairn Alumni group organizes a Rock Talk Live event.   Often there are interviews with Cairn alumni who talk about their camp experiences and how they have helped.

Last month I was interviewed.  I'm thrilled to be able to share the video here - I had a chance to talk about how camp has affected my life.

What was it about camp that impacted your life?

An Open Letter to Cairn's S.T.A.N.D. Campers

A Cairn Camper grins during a   S.T.A.N.D. exercise

A Cairn Camper grins during a 

S.T.A.N.D. exercise

For a wonderful week in August, I was privileged to spend time with the Staff and Teen Campers of Glen Mhor Camp, one of the Cairn Family of Camps in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.  It was a glorious week filled with learning, love, and laughter.  How impressed I was with these young people who were so eager to share, to express themselves, and to support one another.  

It was our pilot program of S.T.A.N.D. and I really had no idea what to expect.  Everything was planned and ready to go and it all seemed to flow together rather nicely in my head but I had truly no idea how it would all turn out.

The setting was breathtaking and the camp’s programming was awesome.  Even the weather was perfect (well except for that one incredibly hot day - you know, the day we celebrated Christmas during our morning hour of S.T.A.N.D., complete with hot chocolate, hot Christmas cookies, surrounded and squished in by Christmas decorations, and it had to be over 100 degrees!). Despite the heat, the camp staff was so engaged and eager to help make it a positive experience, and the campers were incredibly receptive to grow and change and make their mark in the world.  

Some of the amazing things I witnessed? -   campers greeting one another, introducing themselves and starting great conversations; folks holding doors open for one another, asking people to join their groups, and helping each other out without being asked; everyone graciously congratulating the winners and appreciating one another’s efforts in competition; folks discussing difficult issues with maturity and depth, and campers and staff brainstorming ways in which they will leave their legacy.  

In fact, one of my favourite stories came on the first full day of camp.  After our session on Social Graces, a cabin of young men (true gentlemen actually) saw the food truck arriving just before the lunch hour.  They asked the senior staff member if they could cut their program time at the climbing wall short so they could help the kitchen staff unload the food truck.  

On the last night of camp, we had a great opportunity through a generous camp alumnus named Donovan “Bocca” Romanyk.  His production company, Where It’s At! TV, came to camp and broadcast a one hour live-streamed show in which campers talked about what they had learned through S.T.A.N.D., how they were going to put their new skills and knowledge to work, and showcased some of their amazing talent.  It is hard to put into words how proud I am of these teens.  They absolutely blew me away.

These campers and staff made my first experience running S.T.A.N.D. exceptional and phenomenally inspiring. In the words of Natalie Merchant, “I want to thank you for the generosity, the love and the honesty that you gave me.  I want to show my gratitude, my love and my respect for you.  I want to thank you”.

I dedicate this first installment of S.T.A.N.D. online to all of them.  

“Thanks for the evenings, friends.”

Click for more S.T.A.N.D. Leadership Training articles.

Does Your Summer Camp Staff Have Excess Baggage?

Now is the time to plan your camp staff training sessions

It is that time of year again (hooray!) when we begin to plan sessions for our leadership trainings.  Finding new and creative ways to discuss the same topics each year can be a bit difficult - especially when we have so many returning staff members.

Here is a session starter we used at our May Orientation Weekend that we then revisited at the end of June during our pre-camp training period to discuss camper issues.  
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Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 6

I am Approachable because of Summer Camp

Summer camp counsellor practice being approachable.

Summer camp counsellor practice being approachable.

A camp is a business.  The camp organization may not always visually look like a business that operates out of a tall office tower, but there are some similarities between the two.

In any business, there are junior employees, mid-level employees, and senior employees (who are sometimes business owners or camp directors).  One common problem felt by the junior employees is that they want to do good work for their bosses without looking like they need too much coaching.  Not only do they want to look good (perhaps it is more so avoiding looking “stupid”), they are also sometimes afraid of the senior employees, who have lots of experience and knowledge that make them experts in their field.

In staff evaluations at camp, the area staff (senior staff) would regularly hear feedback that encouraged them to be a little more approachable and open to the CITs.  This was sometimes strange to hear as we thought we were always open, friendly, and available for all staff to approach us. I’ll ask this question then:  Were we, as senior staff, not as approachable as we should have been, or were the junior staff just too shy and scared to approach us?

At the time I always thought the correct answer was the latter.  I do believe both senior and junior employees need to work together to create an environment that is safe and accommodating for everyone.  When the junior employee can feel more confident knowing the senior person is available and open to listen and support, they are more likely to approach that person.

Camp taught me this lesson about the employee hierarchy and the communication challenges that sometimes exist.  I am still confident that camp is the friendliest place on earth, yet I do recognize, from my own experiences as a young counsellor, that it can be scary to talk to a more experienced and popular senior counsellor. We sometimes get tricked into thinking the senior staff will ask us to do stuff for them, when really they are looking for us junior folks to show initiative and volunteer to help out or ask if anything needs to be done.

It might only take a quick interaction, initiated by the senior staff while entering the dining hall to say “Hey, anytime you have something on your mind or any question, come talk to me”.

Lead by example.  Become approachable by approaching.

Last weekend I launched my book “The Cabin Path: Leadership Lessons Learned At Camp” and I invite you to grab a copy for yourself at!