Top 10 Ways to Aggravate a Camp Director

10. Forget your buddy tag

And then forget it twice.

And then forget it twice.

9. Use an emergency signal for non-emergency reasons

Still can't go to high school football games, can you?

Still can't go to high school football games, can you?

8. Call the camp office…requesting the return of your child’s lost sock

"His initials should be written on it."

"His initials should be written on it."

7. “Forget” to disclose your camper’s complicated food allergy until opening day

"Oh!  One more thing...not sure if I put this down on the health form, but..."

"Oh!  One more thing...not sure if I put this down on the health form, but..."

6. End a Friday phone call with “have a relaxing weekend!”

All my homies I'm relaxing with this weekend!

All my homies I'm relaxing with this weekend!

5. Ask them what they do the rest of the year

How much time do you have?  Where should I start?

How much time do you have?  Where should I start?

4. Drop their walkie talkie in the lake and "forget"

This is the "after" photo

This is the "after" photo

3. Apply for a summer position, get hired & quit right before staff week

Trying to keep your composure when receiving the news.....

Trying to keep your composure when receiving the news.....

2. Be the counselor who falls asleep during the staff week child abuse prevention talk

I wish you were the counselor that quit in May

I wish you were the counselor that quit in May

1. Ask them when they are “going to get a real job”

It doesn't get more real than this.

It doesn't get more real than this.


Want to spend time with people who "get it"?

Join Steve Maguire, Jack Schott, Scott Arizala, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon and Dr. Chris Thurber for Directors' Camp 2017 this fall at Camp Wingate*Kirkland on Cape Cod!

Learn more and register today: www.directorscamp.com


"I really love this time of year": A Presummer Interview with Eli Cochran

Friends,

Jack Schott and I are starting on a new interview project as part of The Summer Camp Society to learn how some of the best camp pros we know get their head in the game before the roller-coaster of summer starts.  We begin this series by talking with Eli Cochran, the executive director of YMCA Camp Ernst in Burlington, Kentucky.  Eli is a role model, friend and a true champion of the camping movement.  We are excited to have stolen a few minutes from her busy schedule to get her wisdom for this blog series.  Enjoy!

What is your best advice of how to prepare professionally for camp in these last few weeks?

I think that probably the #1 thing to do is to make sure the team that is surrounding you is a group of people you trust.  Not just that you trust them with your own life, but you trust them to answer questions the same way that you would, so that you can let some things go and know that they will be handled as you would want them to do be.

But how do you do that?

I think then the number one thing is building relationships—but how do you do that at the last minute?  That’s really hard.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to do it leading up to now in early May, then you need to figure out what you need to do to bridge the gap between you trusting at least one other person versus feeling like you’re all in it by yourself.  To survive, there has to be somebody else that you can lean on…but it’s better if there are five other people!

How do you get prepared for camp?

I have been thinking about looking forward to eating all my meals in the dining hall again because I love that!  But thinking about what I want to have on hand to eat which is a healthy choice, whether that means having something in my office or having something the kitchen team prepares that’s healthy for someone who is eating in the dining hall for four months.  So that is really a pragmatic thing!

I also like to spend a little bit of time thinking about culture and what needs to be done to set the tone for the summer.  Whether it’s an inspirational theme for staff meetings each week or it’s a book I’ve read recently that I think I want to share with folks, I think that sometimes there’s a gap in what we as camp professionals learn at the conferences we go to or in all of our reading or study or sharing, and it’s not as easy to translate that to the counselors who are actually delivering the mission every day.  

I like to review the things I learned in November or January at conferences that I really want to impart, and think about how do I do that in a creative way that fits into or particular culture at this camp.  I have to plan that in early May because if I leave it til the first week of June it’s too late!

As crazy as it really is, I really love this time of year.  When the leaves come on the trees, it means summer campers are going to be here soon!  To keep it in perspective, I have also been thinking about times during each week of summer camp where I am going to be directly with kids.  Like at 3 o’clock on Mondays I’m going to go meet with the teens in the Crew program and I know that it’s on my calendar.

So you’re making a plan for when you’re going to interact with the kids?

Sometimes it’s a plan for a formal leadership talk, or sometimes I know that on Tuesday at 4 o'clock I want to go play foursquare with the nine year olds.  Otherwise I sit in my office and there are always going to be more emails to answer and problems to solve, and the time is just going to slip away.

What do you do to prep personally for camp?

Well I just got back from California last night, so I highly recommend a vacation before the crazy time.  Even if it’s the last day off you’re going to take—whether it’s organizing the garage or being at the beach—having your last minute of personal time so you can really fully be in [to camp] when it starts.  I think the only way to do this is to be fully in.

Do you have any advice as a parent?

I’d say it’s a lot easier when you’re kids are older, so hang in there!  To the parents of young kids—just hang in there because it will be worth it.  Having my kids grow up at camp has been a really amazing gift, and it was hard when they were really little.  But they’re not little any more, so that’s made it a little easier!

Anything else you want to add?

I remember I like to think back to when I was a teenager and thinking about when I was ready to come serve at camp for a summer, and just remember that I was excited to be here, and I don’t want to forget that—I don’t want to lose that.  I have a picture of my three closest friends at camp from when we were teenagers and I always look at that.  I’m going to have a whole bunch of those kids working here this summer, and this is why we do it.

Eli (R) and friends at Camp Ernst, circa 1994

Eli (R) and friends at Camp Ernst, circa 1994


The Summer Camp Society is a semester-long learning cooperative for emerging camp professionals. We empower emerging leaders to give all kids the best possible camp experience. 

The first cohort group will start the program in September 2017. Join us--we are accepting applications now through June 1.  Click here to learn more.

10 Easy and Free Ways Alumni Can Support Camp During the School Year

10. Always have a supply of camp brochures on hand. 

Be sure to give them out when you see any friends who are parents or any kids in your life.  Explain to them how camp changed your life, and tell them you’d love for them to have the same experience.  Leave them on information tables or displays at your place of worship, local school, community center and anywhere else you can think of!

9.  Always have a supply of the camp director’s business cards or, better yet, a staff recruitment flyer for the camp on hand. 

You need about 100 of these.  Stat.

You need about 100 of these.  Stat.

When you meet a person you think could be a great camp staff member—whether that’s your neighbor’s grandson who always comes over to mow the lawn or the friendliest ice cream scooper at the neighborhood shop, tell them about working at camp and hand them a card.  Invite them to apply.

8.  Clean your house and gather items in good or excellent condition that would help camp.

If you can part with them......

If you can part with them......

Generally helpful things include: sleeping bags, magazines used for collage (like National Geographic), age-appropriate books, quality art supplies and costumes.  Generally unhelpful things include: boats that sink and extra copies of 50 Shades of Grey (true stories).

7. Be sure to “follow” your camp on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

When the camp makes a post, be sure to like or love it.   On Facebook, share!  On Twitter, re-tweet!

6. Go through your old camp photos and share them with camp. 

If they’re printed photos, scan the best ones.  Label each with the year and the people in the photos, then digitally send to the camp office for their archives.

5.  Once you have those photos scanned, also upload a few to Facebook or your social media of choice. 

Or, just use Facebook's convenient "Memories" function.  Tag your fellow alumni and go crazy reminiscing about your {appropriate} memories in the comments. 

4. Write, video-record or audio-record your “camp story”.

Oh, there are stories to tell!!

Oh, there are stories to tell!!

It doesn't have to be fancy--just honest and heartfelt! Send it to the camp office for their historical records.

3. When you travel, wear your camp gear.

Camp Hayo-Went-Ha does a great job of posting alumni travel photos!

Camp Hayo-Went-Ha does a great job of posting alumni travel photos!

Take a picture of yourself in front of a landmark in your camp shirt, and send it to the camp office.  They’d love to post it on their social media or in their newsletter.  You also never know what other camp alumni you will see in airports or places around the world!

2.  Write online reviews for your camp. 

Here's a good place to start: Google your camp’s name.  Summarized information about the camp should come up on the right side of the screen.  Scroll down past the basic information about the camp, and click the grey box that says “Write a review.”  Hopefully you’re feelin’ the five-star option.  Also post your review on other sites like Facebook and Yelp!

1.  Send the year-round camp team a thank-you note (and, maybe some cookies). 

Tell them thanks for all that they do—all 12 months of the year!

Got more ideas?  Please leave them in the comments.  Camp alumni rule!


Top 10 Things Camp Directors Should Do Now that the Summer is Over (in this order)

1. Put up your out-of-office message

I mean, probably not exactly like that...but you can dream....

I mean, probably not exactly like that...but you can dream....

2. Shower.  Please shower.

...because this may have happened to you at work

...because this may have happened to you at work

3. Sleep.  Please sleep.

This means to go easy on the coffee/5-Hour Energy/Red Bull...

This means to go easy on the coffee/5-Hour Energy/Red Bull...

4. Grocery shop for EVERYTHING, mostly vegetables

(Bonus: try to remember how to cook stuff)

bigstock-Full-shopping-grocery-cart-in-50236352.jpg

5.  Re-connect with long-lost family members and friends

...better late than never.

...better late than never.

6. Go through that pile of mail

....and personal email....

....and personal email....

7. Find a way to show off that Chaco tan before it fades...

Or just buy one of these amazing Chaco tan bumper stickers from Adrienne Langer on Etsy!

Or just buy one of these amazing Chaco tan bumper stickers from Adrienne Langer on Etsy!

8. Extra challenging: Try to engage in a conversation with someone about a topic other than camp

9. Consider finding a hobby, such as reading for pleasure

This could be you.

This could be you.

10. Figure out a snarky response to the following question: “So what do you do during the school year????”

...and use it as you START PLANNING FOR 2017!!!

And maybe get this t-shirt? 

And maybe get this t-shirt

10 Things Every Camp Director Needs to do before Summer

1. Tune up your car & tune up your body

These are things you probably won’t have time for at camp but will make you feel so much better going into the summer.  Your car deserves a little love and so do your teeth, your hair and heck, even your nails if that’s your thing.  If you’re really into following my lists, go ahead…get a massage!  You won’t regret it.

2. Eat favorite foods you can’t get at camp

This sounds really dramatic and last-suppery…but seriously!  Now’s the time to eat the foods you will miss during the camp season because they aren’t served at camp or in the remote surrounding areas.  For me, that’s Thai food from Tuptim, my favorite Thai restaurant that is housed in an old Long John Silver’s (please refer to photo)!

3. Every time you find yourself doing a task, ask yourself, “Is this something that can be delegated?”

Now’s the time to prioritize.  I remember finding myself two days before staff training scanning and photocopying hundreds of health forms.  That is silly for two reasons…first because the computer can now do that for us (holla CampDoc and CampMinder, etc.) and second because I had a million more things that would be a better use of my energy for camp than making copies.  Remember, there are lots of people (staff and volunteers!) who want to help—you just might have to ask.  Make sure you’re sticking to your job description.

4. Spend time with your friends and family members

With Dad @ classic car show before camp!

With Dad @ classic car show before camp!

You may feel like there is a LOT to do before the start of camp.  And there is!  But if you think you don’t have time now, you really won’t have time once the staff and then the campers get there.  Carve out some special time to spend with friends and/or family members before the beginning of staff training.  Schedule a day off and take the whole thing (Gasp!)!!  You need this and so do your people.

5. Remember that as soon as your 50 seasonal staff arrive, you will have 50 times the help that you had before!

Something magical happens when those seasonal staff arrive.  There’s so many of them, and they are READY to go!  While you have been working on camp planning for months, it’s their first taste of CAMP.  Not only do they come in large numbers, they’re energized.  Use this to not just help you get stuff done but to inspire you for that final push before camp begins. 

(My mentor and predecessor Becca Schnetzer would always remind me of this, which would calm me down immensely in those last few days before staff training!  Thanks, Becca!)

6. Put up that out of office assistant message

“Hi!  Thanks for the note.  We are now at camp getting ready for the summer season and training our wonderful staff.  I check my emails about three times a day.  If you have an urgent need, please call the camp office at 231-555-5555.  Otherwise, I will do my best to return your email within 24 hours.  Thanks, and happy camping!”

The pressure to be tied to your e-mail is now off!  Feels nice, right??

7. Stuck on something? Seek out digital resources and online community

Just another example of a resource from Jack and Laura at www.gocamp.pro and www.campingcoasttocoast.org!

Just another example of a resource from Jack and Laura at www.gocamp.pro and www.campingcoasttocoast.org!

Check out resources like www.deepfun.com and www.ultimatecampresource.com for games and activities as well as online communities like the Summer Camp Professionals Facebook Group and www.gocamp.pro for advice and resources from peers. 

8. Attend at least one potluck/barbecue (this is what non-camp adults do in the summer during the evenings)

elf-on-the-shelf-idea-for-kids-with-food-27.png

Wow!  A fascinating phenomenon!  Attendance will help you understand life on the other side (anthropological necessity).

9. Go out in nature, and write your vision for the summer

Actual photo from McGaw YMCA Camp Echo.  How is it even possible to have such a beautiful workplace?

Actual photo from McGaw YMCA Camp Echo.  How is it even possible to have such a beautiful workplace?

So much of the time we are consumed with training our staff and helping them set goals that we fail to do so for ourselves.  This year, I was introduced to the concept of Visioning, which is championed by the leadership at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, which is renowned for its commitment to customer service and servant leadership.  Here’s what Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s co-founder/owner, has to say about the process:

“Though we spend most of our work lives responding to problems and opportunities as the world presents them to us, visioning comes from the inside out. It's about what you believe, what gets you excited, what you truly want to accomplish.”

Read this article and give it a go (instructions are about halfway through the article)

10.  Look at your old camp pictures to remember why you do this

Mudpit, 2007.

Mudpit, 2007.

The more removed you get from the day-to-day interactions of camp, the harder it is to remember what camp means on the smallest yet most important level: the personal experience of each child and staff member who comes through your gates.  It’s the 13-year-old who learns how to swim, who never thought she could do it.  It’s the 16-year-old who feels for the first time in his life that a group accepts him for being who he is.  And it’s the 8-year-old who is yet to find out that her friends in her first cabin will be her friends for life.

Go through your pictures and remember your stories.  Remember that as the camp director, your efforts make these moments happen.  And feel really good about that.

The Top 3 Reasons Your Camp’s Neighbors Think You Are Weirdos & 5 Things You Can Do About It

1. They happened to be cruising by on their pontoon boat during your very loud and very intense Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker skit

2. They’ve seen you at Walmart with a cart fit for a doomsday prepper (50 lbs. oatmeal, 45 containers hand sanitizer, 10,000 tablets Benadryl and six BB guns, among other necessities).  You were also by yourself but mysteriously wearing a Walkie Talkie...

Just another typical day at the supermarket...

Just another typical day at the supermarket...

3.  They witnessed the time you sent two counselors in full body paint to the ER with the camper who broke his arm (although they were relived to find out that the painted teens were not the child's parents, they still told all of their friends)

Moments away from an ER run...

Moments away from an ER run...

Was that you, or was that me?  Nevermind....Whether or not you have sent two fully-painted counselors to the emergency room, now is the PERFECT time of year to hatch your plan to work on building up your relationships with your camp’s neighbors.  Here are some tried and true strategies to not just get to know your neighbors, but to build lasting relationships with them:

1. Invite them to camp: And not just in the open house kind of way. 

When the fire department came to a staff week dinner, our awesome chef also made them a custom cake with a thank-you message.  I will spare you all of the selfies we took on the fire trucks.

When the fire department came to a staff week dinner, our awesome chef also made them a custom cake with a thank-you message.  I will spare you all of the selfies we took on the fire trucks.

Identify your town’s key players, and invite them for dinner.  I’ve invited out local volunteer fire department for dinner during staff training week.  It’s a blast, and it serves multiple purposes: First, the fire department comes for a walking tour of the site.  They become more familiar with the lay of the land and can point out any fire hazards they might see (this is great to do before your fire inspection).  Then, they can have a delicious dinner with the staff—we show that we appreciate their hard work and what they do for camp.  Finally, they can bring their trucks onto camp for a test run!  This is really helpful and the staff members are as giddy as 8-year-olds when they get to climb on the trucks and pose for selfies. 

After one of these dinners, we learned that our canoe launch is the perfect location for pumping out of the lake in case of a fire at our facility or any of the nearby homes.  We gave the fire department permission to do so in an emergency.  This was a great realization for us and for them!  You could even have the fire department participate in one of your emergency drills and provide you with feedback.

Bonus point: invite your local police department for a similar dinner.  It can serve the same purposes, as well as one more important purpose: Now your officers know your staff, and your staff know the officers…providing an extra incentive for everyone to behave this summer.

2. Go to their events

The local cottagers’ association picnic?  Representatives from your camp should be there, in crisp branded shirts.  The Fourth of July Parade?  What a great time for a selection of campers to march.  Decorate the mini-bus, the camp pony, the tractor—whatever they want to do!  Prepare a banner and pass out stickers or other goodies to the revelers, and have plenty of brochures on hand.  What a great chance to have a presence in the community as well as be visible for prospective camp families!

 3. Read the news

Subscribe to the local paper or get digital news alerts (Google Alert) for your town.  When news happens, see how you can respond.  Get in the routine of always send congratulatory cards to new public figures (especially folks like the chief of police, mayor, school superintendent, etc.) welcoming them to their new role in the community and inviting them to visit your camp.  You never know what good will come of it: you want to be partners with your local law enforcement, of course, but one of my best results was when I connected with the superintendent of our local district: he was not only a “camp person”, but a US Archery instructor!  He volunteered his time during our staff training to work with our archery staff but also helped repair much of our equipment.  What a good friend to have!  On top of these small habits, also think big when (heaven forbid) there are crises in your town.  Your camp may have the resources to provide food, lodging and safety in case of a natural disaster or otherwise.  Always read bad news with the lens of “how can we help?”.

Bonus point: Get in the local news.  Oftentimes when camps try to get PR, they think about getting it in the towns where their campers mostly live.  There are a lot of opportunities to get your stories told in your local media outlets as well.  Make connections with journalists at local publications and send them tips or even great photos.

 4. Hire Local

One of my most colossal disasters was in my first year as the camp director.  We were building five new cabins that year, and I signed off on using the same contractor for the project that had done some major work there just a couple of years before.  The problem was that this contractor was from downstate.  He brought up his own team of not just carpenters but electricians, plumbers, etc., had them stay in a local motel, and then, when the project was done, they all went home (with all of their money).  He may have been a little bit less expensive than some of our local contractors, but the cost savings was not worth it.  It ticked off our loyal contractors in the area, and when we needed help on camp, they were reluctant to do so.  It took a long time to rebuild the relationships we had burned by only using our local contractors at our convenience.  I never again hired an out-of-town contractor for a big job.  If our electrician can be there for me on Memorial Day when I’ve got a group coming and the power mysteriously won’t turn on in the bathhouse, I can return his loyalty by asking him to bid on our larger projects. 

This goes for your local grocer, t-shirt printer, doctor, etc.  Always be looking 1, 5, and 25 years down the road when you’re making these types of decisions.

5. Develop local scholarship opportunities

A few years ago, an elderly camp alumnus passed away.  His widow wanted to make a contribution to the camp.  In his later years, he had retired in the same area as our camp, and had been active volunteering with the local school district.  Rather than a basic memorial plaque, I suggested that the memorial contributions be put toward scholarships for campers who were from the local school district.  This was wonderful.  Even though the campers were from just down the road, they still benefited tremendously from their experiences at camp, and we loved having them.  An article was written in the local newspaper about their scholarship awards, and the program still continues.  It was a tremendous way to honor our alumnus and also show the community that we care about their kids, too.

Conclusion (just in case you didn't want to read the whole thing)

Overall, it’s all about meaningful, honest RELATIONSHIPS that, once developed, become mutually beneficial.  I guess I could have just said that in the beginning!!

What are your tips for developing strong relationships with your camp’s neighbors?  Leave them in the comments!

The Top 12 Signs that being a Camp Director has made you a Safety Freak

1. You know the location of the AEDs in all buildings you frequent.  Whenever you walk by those AEDs, you check to look for the “OK” sign to make sure the battery is fully charged

You also point out this process to anyone you're with

You also point out this process to anyone you're with

2.   You also check fire extinguishers in public places to make sure they’ve had their annual service

And you probably check your smoke detectors every couple of weeks, too

And you probably check your smoke detectors every couple of weeks, too

3.   When a flight attendant hands you a pack of peanuts, it seems downright dangerous

WHY IS SHE SMILING?????

WHY IS SHE SMILING?????

4.   When you put a BandAid on in your own home, you feel naughty for not documenting it somewhere

Have you also considered purchasing a personal copy of the ACA's Camp Health Record Log??

Have you also considered purchasing a personal copy of the ACA's Camp Health Record Log??

5.   You’re the only adult on the boat wearing a life preserver (You clearly can’t break ACA guideline PA.24, even on time off)

Nice catch!

Nice catch!

6.   Your personal vehicle always has at least a quarter-tank of gas (enough to get to the hospital, obvi), a first aid kit and road flares

And you probably made the kit yourself with your favorite first aid supplies.

And you probably made the kit yourself with your favorite first aid supplies.

7.   You debate whether or not to accept a ride on the 15-passenger van airport shuttle

"No...it's cool...I'll walk...I could use the fresh air..."

"No...it's cool...I'll walk...I could use the fresh air..."

8.   You have a personal theory about the best way to treat beestings, swimmer’s itch, head lice and mosquito bites.  Anyone who tells you you’re wrong will be sorry.

"Massage mayonnaise into your hair and cover it with a shower cap before you go to sleep. Wash it out in the morning and use a fine comb to comb out any dead eggs. If needed, repeat 7-10 days later."

"Massage mayonnaise into your hair and cover it with a shower cap before you go to sleep. Wash it out in the morning and use a fine comb to comb out any dead eggs. If needed, repeat 7-10 days later."

9.   A trip to the beach is the furthest thing from relaxing, especially when you see this sign:

And don't even get you started about the dangerous nature of waterparks...

And don't even get you started about the dangerous nature of waterparks...

10. You’re oddly proud of your excellent 9-1-1 skills

Bonus point: local 9-1-1 dispatcher knows your name

Bonus point: local 9-1-1 dispatcher knows your name

11. You’ve asked a stranger’s child at the pool who their buddy is

Starting to panic just looking at this picture...

Starting to panic just looking at this picture...

12. You'd NEVER go outside without shoes, and all of your sandals have a backstrap

Tevas: The original safety sandal

Tevas: The original safety sandal