This blog post is an excerpt from Not the Way You Have Always Done It, a book I recently published with Steve Maguire. Learn more about it here.
There’s a lot to learn during staff training, but some of the most crucial time you can devote is toward having staff members work together on maintenance projects. Even if you have the best facility crew in the country, save up some maintenance projects for the camp staff to do together, like spreading woodchips, raking trails, painting and more.
First off, maintenance time is an excellent bonding time for the staff. As they work together on simple maintenance projects, they have time to connect with each other and have conversations. Deliberately pair returning staff with new staff during these projects so staff members have another chance to create connections with their coworkers. I’ll never forget my first staff week as a camp counselor, when I was given the tedious task of weeding the sand volleyball court with Peter Marsden, a longtime returning staff member. Although the job itself was rather annoying, it was the first time I felt like I had made a friendship connection with another counselor. After that shared experience, Peter became someone I could go to with questions and trust.
Maintenance projects also serve as great large-group bonding activities. Not all of them are pleasant, and many require a great deal of problem-solving. Allowing a team of staff members to accomplish a task like getting all of the sailboats from the storage shed all the way down to the lake allows them to practice working together and gives them something to celebrate.
Finally, when staff work on maintenance projects, they begin to understand that they need to take ownership over camp. They first learn necessary skills to help upkeep the facility (even the basics, like how to use a staple gun) but they also learn that camp is our camp, and it’s all of our responsibility to take care of it. It’s hard work getting a camp up and running for summer, and hard work to keep it maintained. Giving staff a taste of pride and ownership in that work during staff training will certainly pay off in the long term!
PS - I’d like to give credit to Coert Ambrosino, who reminded me how important this is!