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!