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?

Final Thoughts on S.T.A.N.D. Leadership Training for Teens

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!

Marshall Davis Jones: Touchscreen

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 (  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: 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.

Email Topaz

Click here to read the rest of the S.T.A.N.D. articles.

S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Do All Things with Integrity

Developing Integrity in Teen Leaders at Summer Camp


Our last morning session together began as all had, with the teens lining up outside in cabin groups and listening to the song of the day I had chosen.  When they entered the lodge this time around, we had placed the long dining hall benches in a large circle in the centre of the room, enough benches so that every participant could stand on one in the circle.  Behind each of the benches, I had placed construction paper sheets and big, colourful markers - enough for everyone.  

As always, I frontloaded the morning in the courtyard, explaining that they were to enter in silence, gather behind the appropriate benches and sit in circle.  I once again combined cabin groups up in yet another different pairing and had them sit down together and await instruction.

We discussed how great it would be if we could clearly see what people stood for the minute we met them.  I posed the question, asking if people could tell what each of them stood for upon meeting them for the first time.  After the appropriate pause to let that thought sink in, I asked each of the new groupings to discuss with one another what they stand for and why.  At first, it took some time for them to get going but, with the help of the encouraging staff, they began to open up and share their ideas.  

With fitting music playing in the background, I asked each person to then take 1 sheet of coloured construction paper and choose 1 word or short phrase to represent one of the most important things they stand for.  I gave them a few minutes to think and complete the task and asked that they be respectful of others and do this entire part of the activity in silence.  

As you may have noticed (and will further in my next instalment), music is a really important part of training sessions for me.  I spend a lot of time researching and choosing songs that fit my themes.  I find they are helpful in gathering, wrapping up, and in times when I ask for silence from the participants.  

When everyone was ready, I asked them to stand upon a bench in the circle and hold their sheet in front of them with the word(s) facing them.  Again, it was important that this be done without any talking. I frontloaded what would happen next.   When a new song began to play, I had a staff member begin by turning over his page.  The person on his left did the same and then all in turn until we had completed the circle and all the words were displayed.  When the last person had revealed her sheet, that first staff member came down off the bench, placed his paper in the middle of the floor and returned to his place.  Again the person to his left did the same until everyone had added their sheet to a colourful and meaningful quilt of paper that lay in the middle of the lodge floor.  This entire exercise was done in silence with me using hand gestures and the music playing in the background.  It was compelling to read what they had written.

My goal was to complete this exercise twice more.  The second discussion was to be what they do not stand for, will not tolerate.  I was going to ask them to once again to choose a word or short phrase to describe something they do not stand for, write it on a new sheet of construction paper and then circle the word(s) and put a diagonal line through it to show that it is a behaviour they will not permit or accept.  We were to go through the whole experience again of revealing our sheets one person at a time standing upon the benches and then adding the new words to the quilt on the floor.  

The third time, there was to be no discussion in small groups prior to writing on their last sheet.  I was going to ask them to write down a word(s) which represents something they wish they had more courage to stand for and no one was to see what they had written.  We were to repeat the entire circle activity one last time but, prior to turning over their pages, I was going to collect them all, mix them up, and then hand out a sheet to each person so that no one would know whose was whose.  I was planning to tell them this in advance so that they would have felt confident to write what they truly felt.

Young STAND Leaders at Summer Camp

I say “was going to” because I cut the session short and I’ll explain why shortly.  I decided at that point to do the wrap up of the morning and finish early.  I asked everyone to take a seat on the benches.  Beside the quilt on the floor, I had placed 3 rings of webbing in a circle.  Each one overlay the other slightly so that there was a point in the centre where all 3 overlapped. I drew their attention to them and explained that there are ways that we act and things that we do (I placed a sheet in one of the webbing circles with the words “do” and “act” on it), there are things that we think and say (again “think” and “say” were printed on a sheet and placed in the next webbing circle) and things that we “believe” and “feel” (a 3rd sheet in the last webbing).  When all 3 of these overlap, we have integrity.  

I placed a large banner over all three webbings which read integrity and we shared in a large group discussion about the importance of integrity - how it is defined, how it can be hard sometimes to live with integrity, and why it is so important that we try.  I explained that if what we say and think, act and do, believe and feel are all in alignment, we can accomplish great things.  I asked them to once again examine the quilt on the floor and explained that, in order for the words that they placed on their sheets to be how they blanketed every act, every statement, how they treated every person that they met, they must have integrity.  I then took the banner and placed it across the middle of the quilt.  I asked them to think of what amazing changes and differences they could make if their people and their places were cared for in this way.

At this time, one of the great moments of the week occurred.  I reinforced that it can be very difficult to live each day with integrity of spirit and encouraged them to be strong but also to lean on others for support.  I stated, “you do not have to do it alone”.  As I had prearranged with the staff the day before, one counsellor then stood in the circle and said “I will stand with you”.  Then another staff member stood and repeated the same phrase and then another and another until all the staff members were standing, united in belief that these teens could change the world.  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

At that time, I shared that the camp’s L.I.T.s were participating in their graduation ceremony down in the chapel at that very moment and, because all of the staff were up in the lodge helping with S.T.A.N.D., no one representing camp was there to sit in the pews and support these young people who had spent the last 4 weeks working so terribly hard to become future counsellors.  It didn’t seem right to me that we had spent the last week training these teen campers to be intentional leaders and were not present to celebrate and acknowledge those who had given up a month of their summer to do just that.  All agreed! complete and utter silence (they had gotten really good at this with me this week!), the entire camp walked together down to the chapel and filled every nook and cranny of the space to be with the L.I.T.s, their directors, and the families of the graduates as they received their certificates and honoured their accomplishments.  It meant a great deal to these members of the camp community and to their leaders and, in retrospect, to the teen campers as they not only saw the possibilities for themselves at camp but knew they had given something very special to some very deserving people.  

Well, that takes us from S through D.  So much happened in that week that I just can’t fit it all in 5 instalments so...there will be one more about this grand adventure.  In it, I will share many of the special touches that were added throughout the week to round out the experience.  

I must say that, as I sit down to write about these days, many months later, it makes me miss these campers and staff a great deal.  It was a tremendous week and I will never forget the many moments, big and small, that we shared.  

If you have any questions leave them in the comments section or email Beth.