Zach Klipsch is a dynamic camp leader. He's strategic, energizing, competitive in a good way and extremely dedicated to the camping movement. Zach recently became the executive director & CEO of the Sherman Lake YMCA and is ready to make an already great camp and facility even better. Beyond his contributions to camping, Zach is also the father of five kids. How does he do it? Read below to find out!
How do you thrive as a camp professional in the weeks leading up to camp?
I was talking with Tesi (my wife) about this last night, when I told her I was doing this interview. I told her this was one of the questions and she said, “You kiss your wife and kids goodbye!” I think she was partially joking. I answer this question much differently now than I would have five years ago. Then, it really was kiss my wife and kids goodbye--I’m saying that somewhat tongue and cheek. When I started working in camping, we got into this camping business as a family, and my wife knows what that means. Yes, there are times I feel guilty, but that guilt doesn’t come from her. That comes from me and my own stuff. Even when I was gone from before breakfast to after bedtime, she knew that was part of the job that we ALL signed up for. For young camp professionals who may be newly married or have a new family that can be really hard.
I think the personal side is even more important than the professional side--are you finding ways to keep them involved? My wife loves what we do, but she’s not interested in being the camp nurse or cook like some spouses do. We have five kids, so it hasn’t allowed her the opportunity to do that. You have to prepare your family and your personal life to be ready to blend in with the professional life, because if you’re not intentional with it, it will fall apart.
What are things that you can do to prep your personal life with your professional life?
Make sure your spouse and family are in! Dave Sherry [executive director, Des Moines Y Camp] told me that after every summer he would have a meeting with his family and ask them if they still want to do this “Camp Life”. I do this ever year with my kids and my wife and I ask them if we still want to do this. I think if you have a family, your family has to take the job. It can’t be the individual that takes the job and the family tries to comes along for the ride.
Also, during the summer, find times within the day that you’re able to see your family. If there’s housing on site, jump on the bike or golf cart and find times to swing in. I don’t spend a lot of time at home but I will have a quick chat, or my wife will come up to the dining with the kids and have a meal--little times--even if there’s not deep connection, but some connection. But you have to schedule that because there’s always going to be something in your day that you can do, whether that be announcements or dishes or phone calls or one on ones with staff--there’s always something. You have to schedule time--finding those times is so important.
The other thing is finding staff you can trust so that you can have a night or two off in a week. When I was first at Camp Abe Lincoln, we just weren’t there yet. The stress was constantly building because I was kind of always there. But as we built a staff team we could trust, I could pull away more and more, and I started to go to baseball games with my kids and dates with my wife. If you don’t trust your program director to be on site as a lead without you there, then you have the wrong program director. It took me a while, being a control freak, to realize that the person might not do it exactly the way I would do it, but that doesn’t make it the wrong way. Or it might not be 100% how I would do it, but it was still working.
Having a little time away is going to make you better at your job, and come back for another five or ten years, but you need to plan this. You wouldn’t let 200 kids show up to summer camp and say we’ll figure it out! You have to do the same thing with your personal life: You have to plan it--otherwise it would be a jumbled mess just like summer camp would be unplanned.
This summer will be your first as the CEO of the Sherman Lake YMCA. As your career has progressed, you’ve had first summers at other new camps. What are your words of wisdom for someone starting the summer at a new camp?
I don’t know if they’re words of wisdom--they might be just words! I think knowing and trusting your gut. Your gut is going to tell you if this is not correct or if this is not up to par. And there’s going to be other things that you’re just not going know how it will play out. Maybe the way that you’ve always done it isn’t the best way. If you’ve seen one camp, you’ve seen one camp--you haven’t seen them all. Try to get better for yourself--there are going to be things you can bring to your new camp and there’s going to be stuff at your new camp that you haven’t even thought of. You can experience the best of both worlds.
You do have to watch out for things that are a. unsafe, or b. not in line with core values of your organization. You need to draw a hard line on safety and kids’ protection, and not buy into the phrase “oh, it’s tradition!” And trusting your gut and knowing where your camp is going to be a product of you in some way or another. You have to know what your passions are about and think about whether you’re there for 3 years or 25 years--what is your legacy, what you are going to leave behind in that camp?
Anything else I didn’t ask you about that you wanted to share?
Make sure people know they should call other camp people and vent or air their frustrations. Sometimes we are so afraid people are going to judge us for having low numbers or having something happen to someone at camp. Take it as work; as a product of what you do but not who you are. Any time I’ve had an issue and reached out to someone at another camp, they have been very supportive.
The Summer Camp Society is a semester-long learning cooperative for emerging camp professionals designed and facilitated by Sarah Kurtz McKinnon and Jack Schott. 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.