It is the first night of camp, most of the campers and staff have found their way back to their cabins and are settling in for the night. Laura is walking around with her flashlight and walkie talkie checking on the villages. As she heads into the youngest boys village, there is commotion and noise coming from one cabin. She opens the door to find one young camper holding all of the fake money from a monopoly game. He catches Laura’s eye and gives a knowing smirk before yelling, “JACKPOT” and throwing all of the colorful pieces of paper in the air. The other staff look at her obviously frustrated and concerned that the commotion will disrupt their intention to settle down for bed. Maddy, a brilliant 18 year old staff member swoops in and picks Mark up in her arms. His whole body calms down, his edges soften and he relaxes into the familiar place of being held. 

Mark is part of the foster care system and his life is in constant flux. Maddy’s instinct to be comforting and nurturing was exactly what Mark needed to feel secure, connected, and like he belonged. We find out lots more about Mark over the next couple weeks and won’t get into the details here, but will say he has a lot of chips stacked against him. BUT at camp he can just be Mark. He can just be a kid. 

We met Mark years ago working at a different camp, but Mark is why we started Stomping Ground. Mark and each camper that come to camp have a story, have a history, and a future. The best part about working at Stomping Ground is getting to be a place that values each individual for who they are in each moment.



I went to school for Industrial Engineering, the study of processes, at the University of Pittsburgh and Laura for Painting and Drawing at SUNY Purchase. After graduating we had no idea what to do or how to “spend the rest of our lives”, so we ran away. In classic millennial fashion, we packed up Laura’s 2000 Honda Civic and hit the road. We wanted to see the country, find ourselves, have an adventure… I think mostly we wanted to be together and didn’t know how. I had never been west of the Mississippi and we thought let’s take three months and have a road trip. 

So there we were, a packed up Honda Civic, no money, a hazy trip planned, and we have an idea. All throughout college we had worked at Camp Stella Maris outside of Rochester New York. We loved our time there and had interacted with a few other camps. We thought...

“Summer camps have beds... We need to sleep… How can we make this work?”  

We started cold emailing camp directors, offering to volunteer in exchange for a place to crash. Surprisingly camp directors from all over the country not only responded, but took us up on our offer. It was amazing. We documented our journey and shared the best parts of each camp with other directors. It turns out no one had really done this before, and our three month trip turned into a two and half year research project visiting over 200 camps and 47 states. We end up speaking at dozens of summer camp conferences (yes there are conferences for everything) and building a little business doing freelance work for camps. 




At one of these conferences we met Scott Arizala. Scott is camp famous. He travels the country speaking and working with camps, mostly on meeting kids where they are and being more inclusive. Scott asked us the question we heard all the time, “What are you doing with all this information? Are you going to start a camp?” We laughed. “You can’t start a camp without millions of dollars and we don’t have that, or rich relatives.” “Sure you can. I did.” He responded, “You can rent a camp like you rent a car. Come work for me and I’ll help you start yours.”

When he said work, he meant volunteer, but that’s just what we did. Scott and his business partner Sylvia van Meerten founded Camp Tall Tree, a camp for kids with autism and their siblings, in 2013. We volunteered with them for a week. Then we partnered with James Davis, a director we had worked with and new best friend, to start Stomping Ground. 

Quick aside about James. James was the director at the Vanderkamp Center outside of Syracuse, New York, when we met him. More on that visit here. He had previously been a professional poker player, now runs dailyfantasysportsrankings.com, is an unschooling dad, and shares that journey on his podcast with his wife Taylor. Needless to say James was an interesting camp director. We were hooked and spent the summer of 2014 working with him at Vanderkamp. 




With James, Syl, and Scott ready to be our initial board, we jumped in. We built a website, found a facility to rent, and started recruiting campers and staff. That first summer, 2015, we ran for one week and had 64 campers. It was awesome, and it was hard. We learned a lot, and the biggest thing we learned was that Stomping Ground will always be about mistakes. Making them, owning them, and working through them. 

Mistakes have become a cornerstone of camp. As adults we love to talk about how it’s good for kids to make mistakes and learn from them, but rarely do we let kids see the mistakes we make. That first summer we thought things would be perfect. Quickly we learned otherwise. The food was always late, staff got lost leading kids to activities, we messed up the schedule, made plans we couldn’t keep, and a million other mistakes. It was messy.  

It forced us to be honest. 

We often had to look our campers in the eye and admit we messed up. At the time this felt like failure. 


Stomping Ground isn’t perfect. We have changed the schedule of camp every week that we have existed. Sometimes activities, we spend hours planning, end up flopping. Campers get frustrated, staff get frustrated, I get frustrated. It rains. It thunderstorms. We have to cancel activities. We try new things and sometimes they aren’t perfect. This imperfection has become a cornerstone of who we are as a camp because it is real

It’s hard to admit that we aren’t perfect, but it allows us, campers, staff, parents, board members, directors, all to find new and interesting ways to partner together. Being able to make mistakes in a safe supportive community allows all of us to try new things, learn, and find authentic connection. 

Brene Brown, research and author, once said “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn't feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” By accepting and owning our mistakes we hope to start the path to the feelings of worthiness within our community. I hope you will consider joining us this summer.


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Questions to Ask Camp Directors Before Sending Your Child to Camp

It’s the middle of January and there is definitely a buzz amongst families about where to send your kids to summer camp this year. With so many options out there how do you decide?

Camp is an opportunity to help your kids build lasting friends, find confidence, and become an intricate part of a community outside of their neighborhood and school. Summer camp is also a great opportunity for kids to practice being independent and making decisions. It is a place for kids to see what the world could be like and be inspired to make an impact. I digress, if you need more reasons to send your kids to camp check out this or this.

I talk to families and parents every day. Some families whose kids have been going to camps for years and others who are nervous about sending their child to camp for the first time.

Each summer camp is unique. Camps offer different programs, with different directors, different staff members, and different camp cultures, how do you really tell what camp is right for your child?


These are the 10 questions I would ask before sending a child to camp that might be hard to find on a website or might be worth just hearing the director explain. I think the answers would give you a clearer picture of a summer camp program.

  1. What kind of food do you serve?

  2. What is the daily schedule like?

  3. How do you hire/train your staff?

  4. What happens when there is an argument at camp?

  5. What makes your camp unique?

  6. What is the goal of your programing?

  7. What things did you learn last summer that will make camp better this coming summer?

  8. What is the staff to camper ratio?

  9. How do you make camp accessible and inclusive?

  10. What was your favorite moment of camp last summer?

Our Answers Below

1) What kind of food do you serve?

Our summer chef’s name is Zach. During the year Zach teaches culinary arts at a school in the inner city of Milwaukee. His food philosophy is all about cooking wholesome kid friendly food from scratch. We hire, with Zach, a large kitchen team to help with the food prep. More and more we are partnering with local farms to bring food fresh from the surrounding area. Some of our favorite camp meals are buffalo chicken mac and cheese, homemade pizza pies, quinoa patties, tacos, roasted veggies, lentil curry and of course vegan chocolate cake! We always have a vegetarian, vegan and gluten free option available.

2) What is the daily schedule like?

Our daily schedule is pretty standard to regular camps but with one simple yet HUGE difference. Downtown Stomping Ground. But first here is the daily schedule.

8:30 - Breakfast
9:30 - Free Choice 1
10:30 - Free Choice 2
11:30 - Free Choice 3
12:30 - Lunch
1:00 - Village Time
2:30 - Free Choice 4
3:30 - Open Waterfront
5:00 - Change for Dinner
5:30 - Dinner
6:00 - Open Ballfield
7:30 - All Camp Games
8:45 - Village Time

Downtown Stomping Ground is located in the center of camp. It is comprised of our Makerspace, the Grove, the Adventure Playground, the gaga pit, and the Magic and Legos tent. During the free choice options, open water front, and open ballfield the areas of Downtown Stomping Ground are staffed and open for campers to wander between. In these spaces campers can choose what they want to get up to. Want to make up a board game with friends, build forts, or create a puppet show? There are sure to be friends and staff there to partner with you to start all kinds of stuff!

3) How do you hire/ train your staff?

We hire staff from all over the country and now from the UK to come and work at Stomping Ground. Staff find us through friends, partner organizations, and online. Our staff go through a rigorous interview process as well as character references and background checks. Once staff are hired they come to camp 10 days early for Staff Orientation. We bring in guest speakers, run workshops, share skills and wrestle with big ideas about youth development. We also turn into a family that loves and cares about each other. Staff Orientation is a combination of learning, skills development, and a ton of fun. All of this prep is in effort to make our camp the most welcoming place when your kids arrive.

4) What happens when there is an argument at camp?

Conflict is a natural and normal part about living in community. We hope to take away the shame and blame associated with conflict and instead celebrate the innovation and creative solutions that can often come as a result of empathizing and working together. Our conflict resolution system is based on restorative justice. We use peace circle not only to build community but to help opposing sides see each others point of view. We are not perfect and neither is this system, but our goal is always to mitigate harm, prevent future harm and build community. To learn more about our justice system at camp check out this blog post on restorative conflict resolution.

5) What makes your camp unique?

Our values, intentional community, and commitment to improvement are the cornerstone of Stomping Ground, but we also have some ridiculous programming ideas.

One thing that makes our camp program unique is the “Outrageous Activities” that we run. Mixed in along with the traditional summer camp activities like boating, pottery, kickball, and arts and crafts, we pride ourselves in creating out of the box, one of a kind activities. For example last year campers went on a journey to Narnia, built a giant trebuchet, when mattress boating, and went extreme bird watching. We love dreaming up quests and adventures that will be memorable and create a shared experience you can not find anywhere else in the world. The magic of these activities is that they are entirely optional and only campers that are excited choose to participate. Other folks choose from archery, canoeing, Downtown Stomping Ground, or dozens of other options.


6) What is the goal of your programing?

At Stomping Ground we hope to create an inclusive community of self-directed individuals practicing radical empathy and reimagining a world where more is possible. We are focused on building a strong community where kids feel seen and heard, where they are given dignity, respect and agency, so that they can be their best selves. This partnership model encourages collaborative problem solving and fosters empathy.

7) What did you learn last summer that will make camp better this coming summer?

Last summer was our third summer of camp. We learned a ton! As we become bigger and bigger each year we are creating better and better systems to communicate with parents and set expectations for what a week at Stomping Ground will be like. We talk alot about how one of the magical parts about camp and living in community is that making mistakes is ok. Together we celebrate the learning and progress that mistakes often mean. We share what works and what doesn't with our campers so that we can all benefit. Being transparent about mistakes and failures helps to normalize them and create a culture of innovators and change agents!


8) What is the staff to camper ratio?

We have a 3:1 camper to staff ratio. Our staff include the cabin/tent staff, the kitchen crew, the admin team and the medical team. No one is ever alone at camp there is always a helpful compassionate staff there to help!

9) How do you make camp accessible and inclusive?

We offer a sliding scale to all of our families. Running camp is expensive and we want to make it affordable. We are proud to have never turned away a family for financial reasons. If a family has a question or concern about affording camp please call us! We will work something out. However, we don’t think that just putting an affordable price tag on camp goes far enough. We want to bring in families and communities that would have never considered camp in order to make our community as vibrant and diverse as the world we live in. We partner with agencies, schools, and other non-profits to find reach out to families and offer them a week in our camp community. We can always do more and would love to talk with you if you have any ideas. This is all possible because of our amazingly generous donors. Thank you!


10) What was your favorite moment of camp last summer?

My favorite moment of last summer was leading an hour of building cardboard armor with about 13 campers. We built chest plates, swords, clubs, helmets and a dragon out of cardboard. It was epic.

I love making things and building alongside kids is often really inspiring. After covering ourselves in our cardboard armor, we snuck up through the woods to stand at the tree line. Kate, our program director, was standing on a picnic table near by leading an activity break out.. On my count we attacked, while Lord of the Rings music played in the background of course. It was quite the show!

As a director I think one of the most important things that I do is mold and keep our culture. I value the one on one connections that staff and campers make. Finding ways for our staff to step into campers’ worlds and helping them to accomplish their goals creates meaning and impactful each day all summer.


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Working at Summer Camp: A Counselor’s 7 Roles

Being a camp counselor is tricky.

In any given day, you might need to help a camper brush their teeth, lead an awesome activity, be a shoulder to cry on, plunge a toilet, make up a skit, help mediate conflict, and lifeguard at waterfront. Most of the specific tasks aren’t in and of themselves super complicated, but being able to seamlessly switch from comforting an upset camper to dancing in the rain can be overwhelming.

On top of that, at camp we are asking for a paradigm shift. Instead of adults exerting power over kids, we strive to partner with them. We try to remove preconceived notions of what kids should be doing and instead help them get more of what they are wanting. To do this we are candid with kids about what we think is possible and brainstorm with them how we might move forward. We try to find authentic ways to share our wisdom while intensely listening to the wisdom of each camper. We aren’t perfect, but are constantly striving for balance, while not being a dictator or a doormat. More on dictators and doormats in an upcoming post.

Points of Tension

So when do you step in? When do you stop campers from fighting, teasing, or being unsafe? James wrote an awesome piece about Being in the Moment at Summer Camp that breaks down when to insert what we call points of tension. A point of tension is pulling someone out of the moment they are in because of some harm they are causing to themselves or other members of the community. We do this when things aren’t safe, actions are interfering with other folks, or property damage could occur. As a camp counselor, similar to being a teacher or parent, so much of what we do is up to using good judgment.

In an never ending attempt to create a more transparent partnership based community amongst our campers and staff, we are trying to breakdown the different roles a camp staff might play during any given day. The idea isn’t to standardize behavior, but instead to create different mindsets for different situations and allow you to use your judgment within a simplified framework. During most situations at camp you will be borrowing from multiple roles, equal parts Caretaker, Facilitator, and Nurturer at bedtime in a young tent or a combination Entertainer and Playworker during downtime in the cabin. This list isn’t conclusive and will change overtime, but hopefully it will give you a framework as you are thinking about your role this summer.

The Adult 

You are always the adult. We talk a lot about empowering kids, partnering with them, and creating a choiceful community. This is important and core to our mission, and at all times you are the adult. Being the adult is your legal responsibility. This means constantly looking out for safety, both emotionally and physically, supervising campers, and remembering that we are here to do a job. Camp only works if kids and staff are safe. You got this!

The Entertainer

Often you are called upon to be the catalyst for fun. This is the role for when you are leading activities, doing skits, starting dance parties, or just sitting in the cabin telling jokes. As the Entertainer you are way on the leader end of the leader-follower spectrum.

The Playworker

On the other end of the leader-follower spectrum is the Playworker. As a Playworker you are following campers lead, participating in their creations, and removing hazards while not interfering with reasonable risks. As a Playworker you are an improv companion constantly saying “Yes And!” as campers dream up ideas. This role is most common in the different areas of Downtown Stomping Ground. This doesn’t mean not engaging with kids, instead it means following their lead while also looking out for potential hazards they may not be aware of. More on Playwork here.



The Facilitator

As the Facilitator you are helping campers understand the realities of life at camp. This often looks like explaining the rules to games, helping them understand how meals work in the dining hall, or coordinating with your co-counselor about how showers will work. Nigel likes to point out that being a Facilitator often looks like asking kids for help. Asking them to welcome kids into the cabin, help carry water, or lead an activity. Kids can do far more than most adults give them credit for. In any given activity you will often switch between Entertainer, Facilitator, and Playworker. Imagine you are leading soccer. You arrive dressed in as funny soccer coach telling a story and blowing your whistle in weird ways (Entertainer). Next, you explain how the game will go, help set up the teams, and hand out pinnies (Facilitator). Then, you just play, all the while constantly making sure everyone is safe (Playworker).

The Nurturer

Camp can be challenging. Kids miss home, get in arguments, scrape their knee, or just get upset. As a counselor you will often be called upon to be a Nurturer. To be someone that helps kids work through conflict when it arises, to comfort them if they are upset, write them a quick note, or just give them a high five when you notice they are a little down. A huge part of camp is knowing each camper individually and looking for ways to build them up in an authentic way. You have so much power to make an impact at every moment during camp. Use it!


As the Nurturer you are mostly focused on kids emotional needs. Making sure they are comfortable, happy, and ready to roll. As the Caregiver you are focused on their physical needs. Making sure kids remember to get their meds, are eating enough, drinking water, doing tick checks and more. The Caregiver often overlaps with the Nurturer, because so many physical and emotional needs overlap, as well as the Facilitator because a huge part of taking care of physical needs at camp is helping campers understand how camp works. How to get their meds, where to brush their teeth, or when the next meal is. Don’t count out the magic of overlapping the Caregiver and Entertainer. Brushing teeth while making funny faces, showering with fun music, or waking your group up as a troll can be some of the most fun at camp while also taking care of physical needs.


At different points during the day we are all called upon to just get things done. This looks like setting up the dining hall, plunging toilets, setting up big events, or just moving things. At camp we use a phrase for this, “What’s Next? How Can I Help?” (Thanks Steve Maquire!). The idea is when things need to get done look around and ask yourself and those around you, “What’s Next? How Can I Help?” By creating this culture we all work together to get things done as quickly as possible.



This summer is going to be transformative. Parents are trusting us with the most important job in the world, taking care of their child, and you are going to give those kids the time of their lives, a chance to be themselves, try new things, and realize how amazing they are. You will create an environment where empathy is at the cornerstone of everything we do and we will all leave greater than we came. We won’t be perfect, you, me, and the kids will all make mistakes, but together we will create the world we want to live in for a few weeks this summer.

If you are interested in reimagining a world where more is possible this summer apply below or just send me a quick email, text, or call.


Schott Jack.jpg

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Laura's Reflections on 2017

All over the world right now people are looking back at the year and reflecting on big moments, happy memories, sad memories, thinking about how things have changed, or how they have stayed the same. We look to media outlets to sum up the big news events, or Facebook to remind us about special occasions. The new year for me brings waves of gratitude as well as waves of anxiety. Wow, another year gone by, and did I make the most of it, or should I have focused my energy differently? Was I involved in the things that matter to me the most? Did I make a difference?

The Women's March

One big moment for me this year was attending the Women’s March on Washington. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the volume of people who made the trip to stand up against injustice, inequality and oppression. It was moving to see all different kinds of faces, and people who could be united under those values. I know that politics has been more divisive in the past year than in anyone’s recent memory. I also know that collectively WE are done hearing about it. However, as a result of the political climate, I think that I have grown closer to those that share a common ground and hold common views. I’m trying like most folks to focus my energy on listening to those that have radically different views than mine. I also know I could have done a lot more of this.

The Last Night of Camp

Another big moment for me this past year was the very last night of camp with campers. This moment snuck up on me. The first 3 weeks of camp were a blur, with an outbreak of the stomach bug, having to hire some last minute staff and a host of other unforeseen hiccups. I spent too much time worrying and not enough time enjoying what makes camp meaningful for me. Therefore, on the very last night of camp I could not get enough of the late night campfires, the staff, the karaoke in the bath house, the view of the lake and the chaos of the walkie talkies. I walked from village to village jumping in on games of ghost in the graveyard, or joining in on 13 year old girls discussing dreams and aspirations while huddled with pillows and blankets on the floor of a cabin.  I am holding on to those moments and looking forward to building new ones with new friends and old this coming summer.

Because of Camp

Because of camp I have my best friends, people who inspire me to dream bigger and reach further. Because of camp I have connected with families and staff who I would have never encountered. This is what camp means to me. A chance to build community with people outside of our neighborhoods and schools. A chance for kids to mingle with other kids older and younger than them and hopefully come away with new perspective and new supportive connections.

I hope that as you look back on the year you have feelings of peace. I hope that you know that by being a part of the Stomping ground family you ARE making a difference in kids lives each summer. Whether you are a staff, the parent of a staff, a camper, a camper family member, or a donor, you help make it happen. Thank you for reposting our stuff on Facebook, or liking our photos on Instagram. Thank you for donating your time, money, and old supplies, and for encouraging your kids come and work on our staff team, or sending your kids to our program. We are a community of people building a better world together.

If you, your family, your kids, or loved ones have a special memory from Stomping Ground this summer, please consider donating or asking others to Stomping Ground to ensure that more kids, staff and families will have memories to treasure for the coming year. We feel blessed to have such a supportive camp family. Let’s grow this thing, and make it bigger and better together.



let's make the world a radically more empathetic place

Laura Kriegel.jpg

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Why I Beg My Friends To Work at Stomping Ground

A post by Allison Klee (everyone just calls her Klee). Summer Staff 2016-2018 (and forever?), hardest working person on the planet, maker of this video, dance party counselor, graduating college in three years, Stevie Nix enthusiast, and an incredible friend. 

I spend a lot of time trying to convince my friends to work at Stomping Ground but I think I’m pretty bad at it because I get so overwhelmed trying to explain how awesome it is, I end up just freaking out, and they don’t take what I say too seriously. That being said, I’ve tried writing this a bunch of different ways and deleting it every time because nothing sounds good enough when talking about camp. I know one thing for certain: I love Stomping Ground because of the staff, the campers, the support that come from both. Maybe even more than that, the feeling that what I’m doing matters and is important to people. That it is bigger than just me.

Stomping Ground’s Secret Sauce

I’ve worked a lot of different part-time jobs including food service, retail, party planning, catering, etc. I’ve learned a lot of important things at all of them. However, there is no greater support or staff camaraderie in any of these positions that compare to summer camp. I’m sure a lot of camp counselors would say this. AND, what Stomping Ground has to offer that is unique, is Jack and Laura (the founders and directors). It’s only December and I’m pretty sure they’ve already written me five different recommendation letters and been my references for everything from AmeriCorps programs, to on-campus employment, to internships, to a mother from Care.com who specifically listed an experienced camp counselor as a preferred quality of her child’s babysitter. But it’s more than recommendation letters and endless trust and support. Jack and Laura are two of the most hard-working bosses I have ever had. They deeply care about what staff members want to get out of camp, and go out of their way to make sure staff feel welcomed. You want to be an actor? Cool, Jack and Laura will immediately start brainstorming with you about organizing theatre projects at camp. They take it one step further. Not only will they help you change camp to fit your interest, help your resume, or let you try things, they instantly open up their network and help you after camp. Want to be an actor? Cool, Jack and Laura know some people in NYC recruiting for a play, do you want to chat with them? Maybe shadow them for a day?

Real Experience?

I’m saying all of this because when I beg my friends to work at camp a lot of them say they need “real” experience in their field, or do internships to figure out what the field they’re interested in even is. Why not experiment in a place that’s devoted to experimentation? Better yet, why not take advantage of an opportunity to try new things and implement your biggest ideas with other people who are amazing at talking about big ideas? Plus Jack and Laura are great at helping camp look good on a resume or connecting you with some good people.

Loving kids and getting to hang out with them 24/7 as a camp counselor is the obvious draw to working at summer camp. But what’s hard to put into words is everything else that comes with it. There’s something about going to bed at night realizing that you’re getting paid to write songs with 10-year-olds, or have a kid look at you with 3-day old paint in his hair and pancakes in his hand and say, “this is the best week of my life” or walk by a kid playing in a pile of dirt and not think to yourself, “why is that kid playing in a pile of dirt?” There’s something about these moments. Something I can’t explain, but you can feel it.


Quacking on the Playground

At a campfire, another staff member Brian put it perfectly for me. He said, “I’ve done a lot of interesting things in my life but laughing with a girl quacking on the playground at camp will always be the best thing I ever do.”  

I know I’m only 20 years old and haven’t done pretty much anything cool, but I’m pretty sure working at Stomping Ground has been one of the best things I’ve ever done, and one of the best things I’ll ever do.  


Allison Klee
Staff 2016-2018

What Working At Stomping Ground Has Taught Me

A post by Nigel Sullivan. Summer Staffer 2016-2018 (and beyond!?), Great Guy, City Year Volunteer, Grad School Goer, Lover of Ohio, and An Awesome Friend.

It is hard to quantify what I have learned in my two summers at Stomping Ground. To give some context, I spent parts of 6 summers working at the camp I grew up at in Kentucky and 1 summer at a camp in California. Those opportunities taught me so much about how to be a successful counselor and how to operate as a staff member in a summer camp context. Although Stomping Ground is a summer camp, it is not like the other camps I have worked for.

Start With Trust

First off, the community is based on trust. We are allowed to trust the campers to make good decisions, but are there to support them in case they make mistakes. I had to unlearn a few things when I arrived at Stomping Ground..."campers can have their phones?...campers can be barefoot?...campers can sit with other cabins during meals?"...all of these things and more would have been red flags at my past camps. It would be unthinkable to let a camper be barefoot for any time when not swimming. To my wonderful surprise, however, campers not only embraced this freedom, but most of the time got to find the boundaries of their own comfort themselves…

"Actually, I don't want to be on my phone all the time...I'll be barefoot, except on gravel, that hurts!...I want to sit with my sibling who is in a different cabin at breakfast, but then I'll switch back to my cabin-mates at lunch..."

These sensible answers were child-created and staff-supervised, and almost always, things would work out. Campers would make decisions that made them more comfortable, safer, and having more fun. This was a concept that was foreign to the other camps and the schools I have attended/worked for. Children, when given enough freedom and support, make good calls a lot of the time.

Kids Know Themselves And What They Like

Something else I have learned is that children know what is fun for them better than anyone else. Sure, we can design great games and employ killer icebreakers, but at the end of the day kids know what is fun to them. At Stomping Ground we let them have the opportunity to choose what is the most fun. We might plan the coolest night program of all time, but if a camper is tired and wants to relax in a hammock, it is a no-brainer at Stomping Ground. We let the camper choose to opt-out of the game and engage in camp the way they want. This seems so simple, and it is, but suggesting this at either of the camps I worked at previously, I would get coached to convince the camper how fun the game is, with the choice either being 'play the game' or 'talk with a higher up'. A camper opting out of a game they don't want to play isn't misbehavior, it is choosing what is best for them in the moment, and at Stomping Ground those choices are allowed to be made by campers, and that is a wonderful and democratic idea.

Constantly Trying to Be More Inclusive

Another thing that has made me fall in love with summer camp again at Stomping Ground is their commitment to diversity in their campers and staff. I know so many camps and other organizations claim to be inclusive and welcoming, but Stomping Ground has really proven to me that they care about hiring a diverse staff, and recruiting campers of a diverse socioeconomic background. Making Stomping Ground accessible to people across different dimensions of identity has led to a richness of experience that I cannot express concisely. Seeing campers come from distinct socioeconomic backgrounds, distinct schooling backgrounds, and distinct racial identities, and come together, befriend one another, find their place at camp, and encourage connections elsewhere is a glorious process. Their commitment to inclusion for individuals on the LGBTQ+ spectrum has been a boon to camp as well.

The Next Big Idea Is Something We Haven’t Thought Of Yet

The main lesson I have learned from Stomping Ground is that the next big idea is just around the corner. With enough perspective, enough friendly faces, and enough brainstorming, we can make small changes day in and day out and incrementally change the world. Jack, Laura, and Kate are the three hardest working camp professionals and the three most open-minded camp professionals I have ever met. They are encamped in their values, but they welcome feedback and incorporate ideas seamlessly. Best of all, they give the freedom for staff and campers to incorporate their own ideas as they are discovered. Jack, Laura, Kate, and other staff imagine what camp can be all year long, but they know as well as I that the missing ingredient is the camper. And that's why we love summer so much. Campers are in on the creation of a better world, one day and one decision at a time.

In a time when we need more pillars of strength to hold on to, and more creative minds working together to create a better world, I feel blessed to be a part of a community that helps bring everyone's voice to the table, especially the campers. When camps say that the campers are their priority, at Stomping Ground, I really believe it.


Nigel Sullivan
CREW Leader 2018

Adventure Playgrounds, Playful Cities, Capable Kids

Just Play Project Ithaca

Last night, Laura, a few of our summer staff and I, had a chance to hear Lenore Skenazy, Peter Gray, and Rusty Kieler speak in Ithaca NY about creating a playful city. About passing legislation around letting kids play more freely, designing for play, and giving kids back their childhood in today's litigious society. It was inspiring, heart breaking, and energizing. In our ever more divided and stressful world we need spaces for play now more than ever. Learn more about the work in Ithaca and the history of adventure playgrounds below.

We ran into one of our long time campers at the event!

We ran into one of our long time campers at the event!


Let Grow - A new project collaboration between Lenore Skenazy, Peter Gray, Dan ShuchmanJon Haidt, and Tracy Tomasso dedicated to challenging the idea that kids today are somehow more physically, emotionally and psychologically fragile than any generation before them. They help the culture see for itself how capable kids can be once we stop overprotecting them.

Just Play Project

Just Play Project -  Founded in 2017, The Just Play Project is evolving into a national model of how the support of child-directed play can be a catalyst for community development. They are redesigning Ithaca NY to be a capable kid community. 

Imagine a world that was built just for kids. What would it be like? How would it be different from a world built by and for adults? 

For starters, we’re confident it would be a whole lot more fun. 

While adults love rules and guidelines, children love to explore and create. When an adult would say something can’t be done, a child would say it’s a good idea to at least try. Children, in that regard, are much more resilient than most adults are, especially when it comes to failure.

But it’s hard for parents and adults to watch their child fail. It’s hard to watch them take risks that make you feel uncomfortable or nervous. This is exactly why, in a world made by adults, children’s playgrounds were invented. The equipment placed on the playground has been picked out to strategically manage these risks, to allow children to move but in a way that feels organized and safe. In other words, in a way that makes sense in an adult world.

In 1931 a Danish landscape architect by the name of Sorensen noticed the irony of these playgrounds; although they were built “for” kids, the truth is that it was really only the adults who built them that wanted their children to play there. Children, on the other hand, were much more interested in playing anywhere but these parent-approved spaces.

This thought in mind, Sorenson imagined a different kind of playground, one where “children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality.” Fondly named a “junk playground,” Sorenson believed that this type of unruly space would give children living in the city the same experience that children who grew up in rural areas received. 

Like this, the Adventure Playground initiative was born.

It took twelve years for Sorenson’s idea to take shape, the first adventure playground opening during World War II in Denmark. A groundbreaking idea that was met with great enthusiasm (by the children who played there), the adventure playground drew a lot of attention. Among those drawn to its unique structure was a woman by the name of Lady Allen of Hurtwood. Visiting Denmark from her native England, she was impressed by the concept, dedicating herself to bringing the movement back home to the UK. 

Our adventure playground at Stomping Ground in action.

It was Lady Allen who helped this movement take hold, decisively renaming the “junk playgrounds” with the much more enticing “adventure playgrounds” as they are known today. The concept of adventure playgrounds spread across Europe, with Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, and Germany being their most active supporters.

Today, there are over 1,000 adventure playgrounds across Europe.

The United States is slowly catching on, with more and more of these unique, children-oriented play spaces popping up around the country. And, as more and more American children find themselves in an entirely urban, adult setting, the timing of it couldn’t be better.

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Radical Empathy at Foodlink

Jack and I and few Stomping Ground staff recently lead some team building for an all staff retreat at Foodlink. Julia the CEO asked me to speak a little about camp and the idea of radical empathy before we played the games. I was super nervous about it. I've had the privilege of speaking in front of lots of people before, Jack and I speak at camp conferences all over the country. We have given keynotes at conferences and lead dozens of workshops for camp professionals across the US and Canada. However this room was different. Typically we take notes, make a plan, and then improv based on the room. This event seemed different.

So I wrote out a script for myself. I didn't end up reading from it because I thought that would look inauthentic. I want to share it with you now in the form of a letter to the staff.

Letter to the Foodlink Crew

Every Tuesday afternoon I have a chance to volunteer on a Curbside Market Truck. (Curbside is a program of Foodlink, a food bank in Rochester NY. This program facilitates delivering fresh fruits and veggies to places all over the city of Rochester and surrounding counties that do not have easy access to fresh, healthy produce.) I have grown to love the staff and volunteers on Curbside and the small interactions I am starting to have with the other staff I meet around the Foodlink building.

The very first time I rode on the Curbside truck was only about a month ago. We stopped at Warring Road, Harris Park and Cedarwood Towers.

I was overwhelmed with the gratitude people showed, helping each other in an out of the truck, handing bags back and forth, catching up with while they picked out peaches and broccoli heads.

Sure there was some squabbling, or impatient folks as they waited for a spot on the truck, but for the most part folks were so grateful for the fruits and veggies! At first, I was not sure what I was supposed to do, how could I be helpful? It seemed to me that besides opening up the back doors, setting up the table and handing people bags, I was just kinda standing there.

Ray like all of the other Curbside drivers is patient and goes above and beyond customer service to apply compassion to even the smallest interactions he has.

At the first stop, Waring Road, I was so moved by the folks responses to the truck. You could tell who the regulars were because the march right up and fill up their bag. The newbies were cautious and sometimes, I could tell, overwhelmed that this pop up grocery store just appears on the street like the night bus from Harry Potter.

I asked one woman if she needed me to hold her child while she shopped. She took me up on it and I got to ogle at this toddler while mom perused the truck.  That’s when it clicked for me. What makes curbside market work, it is the small empathetic actions that build trust and community. Those moments when someone shares your headspace and then takes the time to connect with you on it.

A quick video if our first trip to thank the Foodlink crew

At camp we talk about Radical Empathy. Radical Empathy is actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others emotionally and cognitively. To fundamentally change our perspectives from judgmental to accepting, in an attempt to more authentically connect with ourselves and others.

Jack and I started camp 4 years ago. We feel so lucky to be able to build something from scratch together and to be able to pour all of our current thoughts and passions into it. I am constantly blown away by what a week at camp can change.

Kids come to camp with all different understandings of the world. Because summer camp has an unfair advantage of being really really fun, and away from parents and adults, we get a chance to peel back layers of expectations and rules and reimagine what more is possible.

Camp is just an idea without the kids that take part in it every summer and the parents that trust us to pull it off!

Foodlink is just an idea without all of you

That is what inspires me about the staff I have interacted with at Foodlink. I love that the team here is constantly reimagining how to get more food to the places and people in the community that need it. I am so inspired by the love and creativity that propels little ideas to have big action and big impact.

At the core of what you all do, is give radical empathy to the community, and you do it through food. You bring food to them without judgement. You find ways to feed the community by empathizing with what the community needs. Finding where and why some places do not have fresh fruits and veggies and then reimagining how to get them there.

You find root causes of hunger and start programs to elevate and therefore alleviate. You put teams of passionate nutritionists in the field to have them empathize with what cooking looks like if you don't come from a family or a community that cooks or has access to cooking equipment.

It is in the smallest moments that you have the biggest impact.

The smiles, the favors the willingness to chip in, or waive a fee. To learn folks names, to check in with them personally about their pets, their loved ones. Providing decency and sharing our humanity.

I am inspired by Foodlink and the work you all to, because when you see a problem, you attack. You wrestle with solutions until one fits. You all radically empathize with the community you serve in different ways. You don't settle or stop or get satisfied.

I love coming here on Tuesdays. I know don't see the daily grind and all of the countless hours of work that goes into making it so I can go on the food truck and make groceries accessible, but I know that all of you add up to some really radically empathetic moments. You bring together communities in parking lots and apartment complexes all over the city of Rochester.

I am beyond inspired by the work you all do. I admire you so much. Thank you.

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Why Registering Now (Soon) Really Helps Us Run Camp

It is getting colder, the days shorter, and for most people summer is a distant memory and a far off dream. At Stomping Ground we spend all year thinking about the summer. Thinking about how to make the summer more fun, more impactful, and how to help more families know about camp. It is a strange combination of planning a birthday party, music festival, professional conference, and wedding for ten months of the year. Then, like those once in a blue moon events, everything has to come together just right and holy cow is it worth it.

Campers come from all over the US, and the world, to live, learn, and grow with us each summer. It is amazing and mindblowing what happens each summer. More happens in a single day during the summer at camp than in a month during the rest of the year. We serve hundreds of meals each day, run dozens of activities, remove a few splinters, eat a couple hundred apples, pretend to live in imaginary lands, and spend hours hanging out in Downtown Stomping Ground.


Because we believe so much in free choice at camp it would be easy to think that all that just happens. But the exact opposite is true. Because we believe so much in free choice at camp everything has to be meticulously planned so that when kids choose to play in the makerspace or build a fort in the adventure playground there is a system in place that makes that work. That there are enough supplies, staff, and structure (not control) in those spaces. It is a lot of work and planning to make camp appear to be effortless. AND it is awesome and worth it.

I don’t mean to say this like we are complaining about the work load or looking for pity. We love this job. I assume, having not done most jobs, that I have the best job in the world. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time. I am writing this hoping I can shed some light on why it helps us when families sign up for camp so far in advance.

By signing up early you help us pay our year round bills, make better plans for how many staff to hire, make it possible for us to dream up bigger and better program ideas, and most of all help us sleep at night! Lots of camps do giveaways for early signups. If you sign up before Dec 1st you get a t-shirt or something like that. We tried that a few years ago, but found that when campers signed up after the deadline we still wanted them to have the shirt. That sending families a gift after registering felt like the right thing to do regardless of the time of year. Now that’s what we do. Anytime you register for 2018 Laura will send your campers a super cool 2018 baseball tee. That seems to fit our philosophy better, but makes it trickier to entice early sign ups.


My hope if you are reading this article and already know you want to send your child to Stomping Ground this summer that this might help give you a little nudge toward signing them up. If you aren’t sure about camp this summer, please send Laura an email or give her a call to see if Stomping Ground is right for your family.

Thank you for indulging a little self centered article. Without you Stomping Ground can’t exist. You are Stomping Ground.

Thank you!

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The Reason Why Adventure Playgrounds Will Transform Your Child

When parents consider the idea of moving and finding a new home, some of the first things they look at are the neighborhood and the schools. Is the neighborhood safe? Are the schools rated well? Will the environment help to get your child ahead? Ready for college? Ready for a successful career?

And this happens no matter how old the children are.

Wanting the best for children is good and natural but, what if our understanding of “what’s best” has been misinformed?

What if there was something different we should be looking for? Something different we should be offering children to help them develop?

The truth is that children today receive very few opportunities to really play. And play is, perhaps, one of the most important aspects to a child’s development, giving them the confidence and skills they need to really succeed, and not just at a desk job, but at life in general.

Even as early as the 1970s, experts were beginning to see the need to give children a chance to play, recognizing that schools and playgrounds offered very little when it came to creativity, imagination and, most importantly, risk taking.

Today, with the push to perform better on standardized tests and to improve international rankings in subjects like math and science, kids have even less time to really play. And, when they are offered chances to be outdoors, it usually comes with a hefty price tag, uniforms, and drills, priming children even as young as five to be the next great high school, collegiate, or professional athlete.

All of this, of course, is fine and good until it consumes your child’s life, giving them zero opportunities to get dirty, imagine, and play creatively without adults managing their every move.

Thankfully, there’s a movement happening around the world, one started by those same experts in the 1970s, that is helping children rediscover the art of play.

Known as “Adventure Playgrounds,” these seemingly chaotic or messy spaces are actually bona fide kid therapy, reintroducing children to skills that are otherwise left unpracticed, such as managing risk taking, actively solving problems, and building self-confidence and pride that comes with the freedom to create.


Created with loose parts so that children can build freely, adventure playgrounds typically include things that, at first, may startle some parents, such as real tools and lighters. But, through these potential risks, children discover an intelligence that allows them to manage what they take on, choosing activities that feel possible based on their own capabilities.

Seeing a child playing with a saw in order to create a wall for a fort make can make any caring adult uncomfortable.

But it’s through these opportunities, all within a controlled environment that has been cleared by “playworkers” to ensure there are no hazards, or dangerous elements that children are unaware of, that your child develops real-world skills, ones they need to not only keep them on the right track as they get older, but also ones that are necessary for making a real difference in the world.

Learn more about adventure playgrounds and other environments that promote healthy risk taking, choice, and play.

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A Podcast by Campers and Cait

Artist Cait

This past summer one of our artist in residence, Cait Molden helped campers create the first ever Stomping Ground Podcast! Cait is a writer and comedian based in NYC. She helps to produce several other podcasts as well, Check out her work here http://caitmolden.com/

Cait was our first artist in residence this summer and really helped to pioneer the program. There were several moments throughout out the summer where Cait went above and beyond her role to create memorable learning experiences with kids. Cait was willing to test stuff, help to write the script on what it looks like to have artists at camp with us.

Cait is an established podcaster in NYC and has a pretty impressive resume of work, but to the kids she was Artist Cait as opposed to Kate, the program director. The ability to make artist human, to bring working artists into the community and let they work side by side with kids is the point of this program. The artist residency program, like everything at camp, is a work in process and Cait blew us away with what the possibilities of the program can be. 

We are so grateful for her time this past summer and have already started talking about what it would look like to get Cait back for several weeks next year! 





The podcast that Cait and the Stomping Ground Campers produced is about 19 minutes long. It is reflective, silly, nonsensical and informative all at the same time. Listening to the podcast really gives you the feel for what camp is like. There are so many voices, each with their own perspective on the camp experience. 

It was not until after camp had ended that I had a chance to listen to the podcast in its entirety, I was immediately brought back to the summer.  Podcasting as a medium is such a unique way to get a feel for a place and time. 

Some things to listen for:

  • Staff members being interviewed 
  • campers describing the daily schedule
  • A “random” dialogue segment

This podcast was such a success! I can’t wait to see what comes out of the artist residency program next summer. If you know anyone who might be interested in learning more about being an artist at camp have them contact me at laura@campstompingground.com or (585)489-8880 


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(585) 489-8880



Kids Need Structure... Not Control

When I talk with other youth development professionals, camp directors, teachers, and social workers, about Stomping Ground they often remark about how unstructured our camp is. They say “Wow that sounds great for some kids, but lots of kids need more structure.” or “That works great with a small number of kids.”

Mostly I smile and politely change the subject, but sometimes I can’t help myself and I ask them what they mean. For the most part, what I hear are false trade-offs. That, you can’t have freedom and support or that kids need to learn grit by being pushed not pushing themselves. Most of the time people confuse structure and control.

Structure is about being consistent, reducing anxiety around the unknown, and building a safe space for kids. Control is to determine behavior, to decide for kids how they are to behave or act.

When we create communities focused on controlling young people, we can effectively bully them into acting in the ways we believe are best. We can force compliance, but we rob them of decision making power, of freedom, and of the joys and learnings that come with those. Controlling people can be useful for short term results especially in tense crisis situations. Building structure without being controlling is challenging, but it is the cornerstone of living in a free society.

“Consider the conventional response when something goes wrong (as determined, of course, by the adults). Are two children creating a commotion instead of sitting quietly? Separate them. Have the desks become repositories for used chewing gum? Ban the stuff. Do students come to class without having done the reading? Hit them with a pop quiz. Again and again, the favorite motto of teachers and administrators seems to be “Reach for the coercion” rather than engaging children in a conversation about the underlying causes of what is happening and working together to negotiate a solution.” - Alfie Kohn

Kids spend most of their lives being told what to do. This happens mostly because it is faster and easier. Imagine trying to be a teacher with 35 seven year olds staring at you all day and trying to ask each of them what they are hoping for while at the same time preparing for the seemingly endless battery of tests they all need to pass. Of course that teacher exerts control.

In much of our current system adults need control just to survive, but we can do better.


According to Peter Gray Ph.D., Professor of Psychology (emeritus) at Boston College, "Since about 1955 ... children's free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children's activities," What this looks like is kids spending less time making decisions, less time figuring out what they care about, and less time finding their own limits. Less time learning to self regulate. It’s no wonder millennials are terrible at making decisions, we never got any practice.

What we need are more structured environments where kids can play, live, and lead their own adventures.

Building the Sandbox

Think about toddlers playing in a sandbox. They have a handful of toys, maybe some water, and a bunch of sand. They can sit and play for hours. There is a clear structure of what makes up the sandbox and as grownups we don’t need to intervene or lead the activity. We may join, we might build a sandcastle with the toddlers or we might not. We might play with them or we might just let them play. Kids need more sandboxes.

They need more sandboxes that grow and become more intricate as young people grow and become more capable of taking care of themselves.

Adventure Playgrounds

Adventure Playgrounds are great examples of these sandboxes. Adventure Playgrounds are essentially just junk, tools, and the permission for kids to do their own thing. They typically have clear boundaries and grownups, playworkers, are present to remove hazards but not dictate how kids spend their time.

We need leaders and decision makers

The world needs people ready to make decisions, lead, and know themselves, but we have built a system where those skills seem to happen by accident. We need to build a new system with new structures that intentionally foster independence, connection, and decision making. We need thousands of sandboxes ready for kids to play, learn, and grow with structure not control.

Stomping Ground exists to build structure for kids. To build a living sandbox where we can partner with kids to help them accomplish their dreams. Check out some of our articles about how we do just that.

Creating Real Choice
The Psychology of Building Connections
Are Freedom and Support Mutually Exclusive?
Building a Culture of Choice

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Creating Real Choice: Downtown Stomping Ground


One day, we all wake up and no one tells us what to do. One day, we all wake up and realize that we have to choose what our days will look like. In fact, we GET to choose what our days will look like. Today, there are more options than ever before. More types of peanut butter, more books, more ways to entertain ourselves, more ways to earn a living, more ways to connect with old friends and more ways to make new ones. A huge part of living in our world is learning how to make decisions that are best for us and what we care about. THIS IS SO HARD!

What does best mean? What do I care about? WHO AM I!?


Ok, that was a little dramatic, but a huge part of growing up is starting to answer these questions. Realizing that you have power and choice over who you are and what you will do is exciting, challenging, and formative.

Kids learn how to make decisions by making decisions.

They learn that ignoring friends means those friends might ignore them, or that hanging out in the hammock all day laughing with friends might mean they miss out on archery. They learn how to weigh those options and decide for themselves what is best for them in those moments. Sometimes they make mistakes. Since we let campers choose things for themselves, we’ll frequently get kids who are sad because they missed out on tie-dye, or soccer. We do our best to help or comfort campers in those situations and sometimes we can all work together to fix them. Sometimes we can’t. And that’s okay.

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Decision making is a skill.

A skill that kids and adults have to practice to get good at. It involves weighing all the options, dreaming up new ones, thinking about the stakeholders, assessing risk, negotiating, and more. Decision making is hard. Soon our campers will decide if they want to go to college, go on a date, drink their friends’ beer, get in a car with their drunk friend driving, study for a test, or just say thank you. I’m not going to be there for most of those decisions and neither will most people reading this. What’s more, I don’t pretend to know the right answers to most of those questions. My hope is that by being able to decide to skip archery or go to the makerspace all day, our campers have a chance to practice making decisions, and to practice making mistakes. I don’t know the right answers for our kids, but I do know that we all make decisions and we all make mistakes. Why not practice this in a safe supportive community?

What it looks like at camp

Laura wrote an awesome piece about balancing partnering with kids and helping them accomplish what they are hoping to accomplish and about providing space for choice and self-direction. It is a delicate balance and more of an art than a science, but we have some systems in place to help. The cornerstone of partnership and self-direction at camp is Downtown Stomping Ground.


Downtown Stomping Ground is simply the center of camp. We have our Makerspace, Grove, Adventure Playground, gaga pit, magic cards, legos, Settlers of Catan, and other loose parts for kids. While you are downtown, you can move throughout the area and get up to your own stuff. You can just hangout, play, make things, or just take a nap if you wanted. Downtown Stomping Ground is open most of the day. Some kids are there the whole time it is open. Each day, campers can sign up for dozens of really fun activities, like tie dye, archery, swimming, Christmas in July, big night games, soccer, and a million others, but the key to the schedule and what makes Stomping Ground different and truly self-directed is that kids can choose not to participate in any of our activities and just get up to their own stuff. They are given a menu and have the choice to pick activities other people design or make up their own in Downtown Stomping Ground.

My hope is that all the hours in Downtown Stomping Ground and the millions of decisions that are made at camp will help kids learn three things. One, that mistakes happen. Two, how to make better decisions. Three, how to support and be supportive when mistakes and decisions are happening. In the end I hope this summer we can all get up to our own stuff. We can start to choose what we love to do, make decisions, and make mistakes. I’ll see you at Downtown Stomping Ground!

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Reflections on our third summer of camp

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It has been a few weeks now since camp has ended and I know I am still trying to transition to a slower paced day.  I miss the unending excitement and the fun of coordinating a million moving pieces. I miss everything from greeting the administrative staff in the dining hall, to checking in with campers at the breakfast buffet line, to frantically scrambling to add last minute face paint to a costume for an evening program.

This summer, before camp started, I told myself that I was going to move slower and take more time to enjoy the moments at camp. This summer, camp started off with such a whirlwind that we could barely stay ahead of the constant flow of problems, from a stomach bug outbreak that left several campers sick to constant thunderstorms and flooding. It felt like we couldn’t catch a break!

However, I would not trade this summer for the world. I absolutely loved camp this summer. Looking back at the 6 weeks I spent there it was by far our best summer yet.

Some things I am grateful for:

The Staff

We hired 43 staff members and only knew 18 of them personally before the summer started. We knew that going in we would have a lot to do to onboard that many people to the Stomping Ground culture. It was clear after the first few days of staff orientation that we had hired hardworking people that were willing to help push Stomping Ground to have the best summer yet. There were definitely moments where some staff butted heads, or we needed to redirect people to stay on track, or push people to work more creatively, or spend their off time more wisely.

I learned a lot about managing people this summer. I am grateful for those moments where we bumped heads because those moments helped me become more convinced of our philosophy. We talk all the time about conflict leading to growth and redefining a world where conflict is something to be embraced and not run from. This summer I am glad I had a chance to walk the walk, but damn is it hard in the moment.


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In the thick of summer I forget how much of the day to day operations run smoothly because of Jack. While I am caught up with a homesick camper, or a staff that is struggling with another staff, Jack and Kate are off coordinating an entirely new schedule for the afternoon because thunderstorms are about to roll in.  Or Jack  and Reb are working with the site manager Larry to unclog a swamp that has settled into the middle of the main field. Jack is the kind of person who can one moment can be thinking about camp from a thirty thousand foot view, orchestrating how someday we might fundraise to buy our own site and then the next minute hop up on a chair in the dining hall to give the announcements for the evening program and where the after lunch staff meeting will be held.

What I love about Jack’s management style is that he is never too busy to talk one on one with a camper and connect with them about how their day is going. He is constantly reminding me and the rest of the staff how to be the best version of ourselves. I love working with you Jack!

Endless parent support

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At this point in our evolution we do not have an office manager or anyone to help with the paperwork, emails, camper accounts, phone calls, social media or any of the other loose ends that fall through the cracks in our office processes. I am so grateful for the patience and flexibility that our camper parents grant us during the summer weeks. I can only imagine what it must be like to have a child of yours at camp and not be able to contact them or hear about how they are doing. It becomes tricky to have campers call home on our one land line, or send picture updates to worried parents. Our parents have been so supportive and understanding. Thank you! Jack and I work with other camp directors all the time and constantly hear horror stories about the parents who send their kids to other camps. We have a hard time relating. I love getting a chance to connect with our camper families. One of my favorite parts of running camp are the hours I get to spend on the phone or the texts I get about how campers are doing throughout the year. Our parents are the best. Thank you for your support, understanding, and commitment to Stomping Ground!

Plans for next summer

Arts Fest

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We are currently in the process of talking with the Girl Scouts (who own our facility) about when we can run camp next summer. In addition to the typical Stomping Ground program we are looking into adding a two week session and a new one week program called Arts Fest. Our idea behind Arts Fest is to dedicate a week of programming to the arts for teens. Musicians, visual artists, writers, dancers from all over would take over camp for one week. Daily activities would be structured more like studio classes and there would be spontaneous art projects happening all the time. Evening programs would be concerts or gallery openings or artist lectures. One reason for this was our artist in residency program that we launched this past summer was such a success that we wanted to double down on that kind of a partnership between the arts community and the camp community. I spent four years at art school and am constantly balancing my love for painting, drawing, and creating with my love for kids, community, and building a more empathetic world. I am floored by the idea of possibly being able to combine them in a more concrete way at camp this summer. More details on all of this soon. We are jumping through hoops with the Girl Scouts and can’t confirm dates or programs yet. We should have more details by the end of this month. I will be giving all of our current families a call to hear more about how your summer went and get feedback this month as well.

More Scholarships

Another focus of this fall and winter will be fundraising. After a successful Day of Giving this past spring we are hoping to dig into some more fundraising events and opportunities this year so we can bring more kids to camp that normally couldn’t afford it. Last summer we brought over 100 kids to camp on some form of scholarship and gave away just under $50,000 in scholarships. This year we want to do more.  It is core to our mission to provide camp to anyone interested regardless of financial limitations. We will be reaching out to more agencies and networking with more social workers to bring kids to camp from urban centers that would traditionally not have access to a camp program like Stomping Ground. Stomping Ground works because we have people from tons of different backgrounds, experiences, and locations. As we continue to grow, we remain dedicated to continuing to bringing more campers from underserved communities and more campers families who just need a little help.

2017 was the best summer yet. I plan on working to make 2018 even better. Thank you for your love, support, and understanding as we keep trying new things and working to create an empathetic world through camp.

laura kriegel.jpeg

(585) 489-8880

Why we play big games at summer camp

Every night of summer camp ends in basically the same way: we gather as a community for a “big event.” Typically this is an immersive all-camp game, and on the last night of the camp session we’ll get together for a closing camp fire.

What exactly does this look like, and why exactly do we dedicate each night of our summer camp sessions to these big events? Let’s dive in.

What are the night activities like?

Our night time activities can take many different shapes, but they often involve the creation of a brand new world for our summer campers to inhabit. We’ve taken campers to ancient seas ridden with sea monsters, kingdoms where knights and warlocks duel for supremacy, whimsical lands inhabited by their favorite movie characters, and more. Some games involve a lot of running around, others are more focused on problem solving, and most involve all sorts of little ways for campers of all ages and interests to interact in ways that appeal to them.

Part of one camper’s group might be off finding pieces of a code to create a serum to cure a zombie-creating disease – hiding from zombies and avoiding catching the plague themselves – while the others are back at the laboratory deciphering that code. Some campers might lure a raging sea-monster into a net while others try and outwit a ragtag band of pirates to learn the secrets of their buried treasure.

Games involve cooperation, imagination, getting a little exercise, and usually have some sort of climactic ending. They’re totally optional if they don’t suit the fancy of any particular camper, but typically become a thing to look forward to each day for many of our campers.

Now it might seem obvious as to why we’d play these sorts of games every night, but we’ve found more benefits from them than we even expected when beginning to roll them out several years ago. In no particular order, here are the top 5 reasons we play big games at camp every night.

1)      Ending each day with a shared experience.

Our campers decide how they spend pretty much every moment of their days, and while this helps each camper get the personalized experience they are looking for, it can be nice to come together for some pure fun each night. Even campers that opt out of our night time activity will often spend that time hanging out and connecting with one another since there isn’t a whole lot else going on. After each game we come together for a brief time where we’ll circle up for our night-time “It’s good to be together” ritual , and we find it’s just a great way to put an exclamation point on the day.

2)      We love the mixed-age interaction.

As I mentioned earlier, each of our games is designed to appeal to kids of various interests and ages – this means we can have 17 year olds and 6 year olds working together collaboratively to accomplish a goal. We’ve worked hard to create our community based on the latest in cutting-edge child-development research, and all indicators are that the benefits from having a mixed-age community are profound. Throughout the day kids of all ages tend to interact, but these games give campers of all ages a common purpose and even greater incentive to work together. We’ve seen so many beautiful interactions between our oldest and youngest campers during these activities, and these alone would make the night time games worth it even if they offered no other benefits.


3)      Night time activities give campers a chance to do something they’ve definitely never done before.

Each of our games is custom-made by our camp staff with the express intent of giving campers the authentic feeling that they’re having a unique experience. While we recognize that coming to camp alone is very different than anything else a camper will do throughout the year, breaking out the costumes, make-up, and game sets drives home the one-of-a-kind nature of the moment that our campers are inhabiting. We find this leads to a sense of flow and purpose that kids these days don’t often get a chance to experience. Which leads me to the next point, which is…

4)      A glimpse at exploring the possibilities the world has to offer

This might seem a little grandiose, but follow me for a second. We’re told from the moment we can understand language that the world is hard, life isn’t fair, and so on – but what about all the beauty the world has to offer? By transforming our camp from a traditional looking sleep-away camp into a brand new world, we hope to help campers see that they don’t have to settle for what the world appears to be.

5)      A chance to wrestle with big ideas

Buried inside many of our games are little opportunities for kids to make decisions they might not get a chance to make. They might have to choose between cooperating or competing, helping a man in distress or pursuing untold wealth, questioning an unfair authority or currying favor with them. And after the game is over, we help kids process their experiences by talking about them. While the primary purpose of these games is to have fun and come together as a community, we like to have these little philosophical nuggets for the kids who enjoy thinking about such things. And as always, we find that deeper fulfillment comes from a more intentional look at the world around us – and these shared night-time experiences offer the perfect environment to do just that.

I’ll tell you what, talking about our night time games has me itching for summer camp season. I can’t wait to see the smiles, the wonder, and the genuine community building that comes from getting young people of all ages together with the express purpose of learning to see the world through each other’s eyes. If you (or your child) want to inhabit our little world for a week, we’d love to help you explore more of what is possible this summer.

If you want to discuss any of these things further don’t hesitate to reach out to Laura, our Camp Director, at 585-489-8880


Vulnerable Fundraising Plan

Our first annual day of giving June 1st. Stay tuned for a Facebook live campfire, videos, shenanigans, heartfelt stories, and more! 

We just became a not for profit!

Jack and I try and be as transparent, honest, and genuine with our marketing for Stomping Ground as possible. As we open up this new chapter of fundraising for camp we want to retain that level of transparency.

With that said, let me set the scene for you. It is Wednesday night, right at the beginning of May. Jack and I just had a nice big bowl of chili and are now basking in the glow of our computers. It is 9:00 pm and the house is quiet except for the typing. Jack is working on a website for another camp that is due before we kick off Stomping Ground and I am on him to finish so that he can get back to being my partner in planning staff orientation, ordering program supplies, and designing what will be different and better about Stomping Ground this summer. I just finalized the staff orientation schedule and am thinking about our day of giving: June 1st!

Jack and I spend about 80 percent of our work week working on Stomping Ground related things, marketing, hiring staff, planning the program, talking with new and current families. We then spend another 20 percent of our time trying to make enough money so that we can live while still running camp. We joke about Stomping Ground being our expensive hobby, but think of it more as an investment in our dream jobs.

Ways we make money:

After traveling the country visiting over 200 summer camps, we made a lot of friends that run camps. With that experience and a little self-directed education around marketing and design we fell into some opportunities to help our friends run and market their camps. We basically freelance the skills we developed to run Stomping Ground to other camps. Jack designs and makes websites, and I make drawing videos. You know, like the Ken Robinson RSA animate video…  but not quite that good. ( link to some of my videos ) We also do some speaking, training and consulting with other camps. It isn’t the most lucrative way to make a living or the most glamourous, but for now it gives us the freedom we need to work on Stomping Ground.

2017 will be our 3rd summer of Stomping Ground and we are getting better at having an actual budget. Jack just got off the phone with another startup camp laughing about hidden costs. We got into this because we love kids, know how to run camp, and have a unique vision for the world. Neither of us had business experience or an MBA before this and if we are being honest, a lot of the unseen, or miscalculated costs are coming out of our own pockets.

I tell this to you not because I am looking for pity, or for you to say, “Oh sh!t! Jack and Laura are heroes!” or something. No! Not at all. We have chosen exactly what we want to do and mostly how we spend our time. I’m sure that if we wanted to make more money we could (hear that mom!). But we are so happy. I can’t imagine being happier, and some of the excitement comes from having to scrape things together to get this vision of ours off of the ground.

Becoming a Not for Profit

This past winter we finally received our 501c3 Non Profit status. Big news. We are so excited, and a little anxious about how this changes things. We honestly have no idea how to start fundraising. We have talked with non-profit camp directors, non-profit executives in the community, read a few books on fundraising, and watched too many YouTube videos. We know we are going to make fundraising mistakes and are clearly novices in this area.

Our plan is to apply the same ideas we have around marketing camp - being vulnerable, building real relationships, and asking for advice, to fundraising for camp.

Before starting Stomping Ground I hated the idea of sales. I hated the idea of looking and feeling like Matilda’s dad selling used cars. Now, I love getting a prospective parent on the phone. I love asking about their child, and earnestly wondering how we are going to welcome and support this camper in our community in the summer. Talking with parents, meeting families and sharing our dreams has been our secret sauce. Marketing and sales hasn’t been slimy or strange it has been connecting with real people and brainstorming together whether Stomping Ground made sense for their families.

So with fundraising I hope we can do the same. It seems like a bit of a stretch to me to say “Give me your money” instead of “Send your kid to this empathetic, inspiring community.” But maybe we can reach the same core human need to invest in the future by helping to define it.

Investing in a more empathetic world

Families invest in us all the time, making the biggest investment that I can imagine. They send us their kids! I hope there are other people out there who would invest financially in camp. The money will go to bringing more kids into the program, funding our currently unfunded scholarships (we will give away over to $30,000 in unfunded scholarships this year). Some day this imaginary money will also go towards the huge step of buying our own site. Really, how cool would that be? Stomping Ground having a site of our own would be unreal. Jack and I have been dreaming about this since we started visiting camps 5 years ago.

Let’s be real with the numbers for a second. 500 dollars for us means a new music studio, 1,250 dollars is how much we pay our staff for the summer, 2,000 is half of our program supply budget. A dollar goes a long way to making a week unforgettable for a child at camp.  

All of these dreams of making camp what we want it to be feel closer than ever. This June 1st we will be holding our first (maybe annual) Day of Giving. The money we raise will help bring more campers to camp and give all campers a better camp experience. I hope you will consider donating and dreaming with us on creating a more empathetic world.

(585) 489-8880


It’s Good to Be Together

Every night before we break off into our villages and get ready for bed we end the night with a simple ritual.

We invite everyone at camp to form a circle, cross their right arms over their left, and touch the finger of the people next to them. Next, we will say, “It’s good to be together.” three times and twist out of the circle. Sometimes we scream, sometimes we whisper, sometimes we mix it up, but every night before bed we take a moment to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be together.

Rituals matter. They help us place a memory in time, focus attention on our values, and establish our culture.

Self-Direction, Trust, Relationships

Camp Fire.JPG

At Stomping Ground, one of our core values is self-direction. We’ve worked hard to develop  programming, put in place logistics, and create a culture where campers and staff are in control of how they spend their time. Campers can ultimately choose how they spend each moment of their day, and when the mood strikes them, they can almost always hang out in Downtown Stomping Ground, where they can get up to their own thing. We want to be sure that campers are not only spending time how they choose, but that they do not feel negatively judged for doing so.

This trust based model is built on relationships. Laura wrote a great piece earlier this year explaining how we look at freedom and support at camp. She says,

“At camp we are constantly trying to find the balance between providing kids with our feedback and reaction to their decisions without stepping on toes or controlling them. We understand that we, as a staff, have had more time on the planet and therefore may have run into similar situations as the ones campers might be struggling with. We want to listen and provide our concern where it is appropriate. This is the unconditional love and support piece. In practice it looks like active listening - taking an appropriately long amount of time to step into the campers shoes and see their struggle from where they stand.”

Because of this we spend a lot of energy and time working with our staff on the why and how of relationship building. Kate explains more of that here.

The Dreamcatcher Community


At the beginning of each week, we present our giant dreamcatcher, which represents the camp community. We spray bleach, paint, glitter, etc on the dreamcatcher and explain that camp will have ups and downs. That if we support each other, like the knots in the dreamcatcher, this can be the best week of our lives. Finally, at the end of the week we cut up the dreamcatcher and give each person at camp a bracelet from the dreamcatcher string. We encourage them to take a piece of camp with them into the rest of the world.

We believe that living in self-directed communities practicing radical empathy helps each of us be our best selves. That being fully present in our community helps each of us grow. We’ve found that when we trust kids and staff and are transparent about not only what we believe, but why we believe it, they respond with excitement, joy, and understanding. We practice these rituals to help reinforce that the people we are with and the relationships we build are at the core of what we do. That all the shaving cream wars, mud puddles, late nights, and giggling rely on each of us building each other up not tearing each other down.


Jack Schott Stomping Ground.jpg

(585) 451-5141

9 Reasons to Not Send Your Child to Stomping Ground

Spreading the word about our summer camp has been a tricky business in some ways, because while we firmly believe in our mission, we also recognize that camp (and perhaps our camp in particular) might not be for everyone. Coming out and saying “Hey! Here are a bunch of reasons you shouldn’t consider our camp!” is a little strange, though, because our future depends on finding families and young people willing to entrust us with the total care of them or their children for a week or more.

This article, hopefully, will help to give you a clearer picture of what you can expect from camp. It might tip the scales in favor of you not sending your child to camp. But we figure that being honest about our camp experience and our shortcomings will help build trust with people who want to be a part of our camp community. If our honest assessment of what happens here has you thinking twice about coming, well, we figure that’s okay too. If you have any questions or want further clarification, you should of course give us a call at 585-451-5141.

So, without further ado, 9 reasons you shouldn’t send your child to camp this summer.

1. They are unwilling to talk through conflict.

We are definitely not the camp for you if you believe that people should avoid conflict at all costs. At Stomping Ground, we’re not about assigning blame and forcing people to say sorry, and we recognize that this doesn’t line up with some youth-development and parenting strategies. We believe that conflict is an underutilized learning experience, and that hearing and empathizing with another person or persons is a more productive way to restore justice and heal harm. If you think that there is enough quarreling and bickering, and not enough listening in the world at large, then we hope you’ll join us in rethinking conflict resolution. Let’s rewrite what it means to disagree, to hurt, and practice leaning in and learning to see another person’s perspective

More information on how we reimagine conflict resolution at camp

2. Your child has an unwillingness to be supervised.

Our three agreements

Extensive work has been done on how over-scheduled and over-monitored the children of today are, and if you’ve read anything we’ve shared on our philosophy, you can probably imagine that we agree with most of it. When kids come to Stomping Ground, though, one of our staff has eyes on them at all times. Kids who are used to having a lot of autonomy sometimes struggle with this - so why do we do it? There are two reasons. First, it’s the law. We simply can not have kids come to camp and leave them fully to their own devices without being shut down by the local health department. So, we don’t. Second, though, is that it actually is a safety concern. We can’t perfectly know every child as well as the caregivers who send them to us, and while I’m sure many of the kids who come to summer camp would be totally fine exploring our grounds alone, some percentage won’t be, and we can’t know who those children might be before it’s too late. Between our lake, the expansive grounds, and good old fashioned poison ivy, it’s best for everyone if we know where our campers are at all times.

3. They would be unhappy without access to the internet.

While we have the freest technology policy of any camp I’m aware of, the reality is that our facility is located in the middle of the woods in the Catskills, and 4G just isn’t a thing. We find that even the most tech-savvy of our campers adjust to this pretty quickly, but I’m sure there are some kids out there for whom this is too intimidating a proposition, so we like to be straightforward about it.

4.  Bugs, dirt, grass, drive them up a wall.

Camp can be a messy place. Kids who like to stay impeccably clean and indoors might not consider Stomping Ground the ideal summer destination. Kids that come here often squish mud between their toes, get grass stains on their pants, and leave with knots in their hair. Campers often go on salamander hunts, collect and examine bugs, hike through creeks and climb trees. We follow up all outdoor adventures with tick checks and a chance to take a shower, but being outside is a fundamental part of the experience here. We believe there’s a certain beauty in the carefree way children can dirty themselves, and are happy to facilitate it.

5. They aren't interested in making new friends.

Camp is all about finding your comfort zone and then sticking your toe out on the other side. Campers are in a new location, with new people, and new ideas, which presents a unique chance to make new friends. People who come to Stomping Ground often find a number of people who will attempt to engage them, get to know them, and befriend them. We recognize that this level of social interaction isn’t for everyone.  What we have found, though, is that summer camp leaves campers and staff with a lasting impression of greater self worth that often stems from the great friends and connections made throughout the session. There are so many opportunities for campers and staff to connect on similar interests, find new interests, and see the world from others eyes. Camp friends often last a lifetime, just ask any of our staff members!

6. They want to know exactly what is going on at all times.

We help kids stay apprised of the daily schedule as much or more than any camp I am aware of, but nonetheless, being at camp will mean unexpected things will come up from time to time. We have programmed offerings available to our summer campers basically all day every day, but our free-flowing environment also allows for a great deal of spontaneity that can make things feel a little chaotic for our more structure-loving young-people.

7. Our bathrooms are more rustic than what your kids are used to, in all likelihood.

While we’re always trying to improve our facilities and offerings, the reality is that our bathrooms still have plenty of room to improve. This isn’t an intentional decision - we don’t think there’s a lot of value in using bathrooms that are less comfortable than the ones campers are used to - but as of right now that’s what we’re living with. Some campers are very selective about where they feel comfortable going to the bathroom, so we like to be as upfront about this one as possible.

8. Your kids don’t have the technical life skills necessary to spend a week at camp.

Being at camp means, among other things, taking care of one’s own hygiene. While we have structures in place to help kids remember to take the necessary steps to taking care of themselves, campers will need to be able to change their own clothes, brush their own teeth, and keep themselves clean.

9. You or your child are hoping really hoping they’ll learn some specific skills

Stomping Ground is not a sports camp. It’s not a wilderness camp, an arts camp, or a science camp. Instead of focusing in on and diving deeper on any one particular endeavor, we provide a wide array of activities and opportunities for a diverse camp experience, and perhaps more importantly, individual growth. During their time at Stomping Ground, campers can take part in more traditional activities like archery, soccer, pottery, and swimming. They can also sign up for more outrageous activities such as mud monsters, tea with the queen, make your own backpack, and slip and slide kickball. So if you’re looking for a camp where your kid will spend all day, every day focusing on learning one skill, we’re not the camp for you. We will provide vast opportunities for your child to pick and choose to from in order to create their ideal schedule, and hopefully, they’ll learn some specific lessons about who they are and what they are capable of.


Well, that’s all for now. I’m sure there are others we’re leaving out, but our mission is to paint as honest a picture as possible for you so you can make an informed decision. Watching our camp family continue to grow at such a rapid pace has helped us discover our own shortcomings better than we could have hoped, but it’s also helped solidify what we do believe, and who we want to be. If you like what you’ve read here, then chances are good you’ll enjoy being a part of our summer camp family.

Again, if you want to discuss any of these things further don’t hesitate to reach out to Laura, our Camp Director, at 585-489-8880


Queer and Transgender at Summer Camp

How Camp Stomping Ground Loved Me Wholly
by Elijah Thornburg

I love camp. My idea of the right way to spend summer is frolicking through forests, singing silly songs, jumping in lakes, carefully weaving bracelets, watching the stars move slowly across the night sky, roasting marshmallows around campfires, and getting to know all kinds of new friends who I will love and cherish for the rest of my life. I have grown up reveling in the joy of camp, and wanting to share it with everyone I could. 

I am also queer and transgender. Although I was assigned female at birth, I wear mostly masculine clothes, have facial hair and a flat chest, and use he/him pronouns. I am currently very much in love with a woman, but know that I could theoretically share love with a person of any gender. I have never fit into clean-cut boxes of gender or sexuality, and I never want to. That said, it can sometimes be really frightening to openly express the ways that I am different from the norm; I often have to spend time thinking about how I am going to dress, talk, and act, just to ensure my own basic physical and emotional safety. 

When I arrived for the first day of staff training at Camp Stomping Ground last summer, I was nervous. I knew that I had always been a great camper, I was ready and excited to be a great counselor, and I knew the directors were extremely supportive, but I was scared of what my fellow counselors would think when they learned that I am transgender. As the other counselors arrived and we all started getting to know each other, I was overwhelmed by the love I felt. Everyone was so kind, so warm, so fun and friendly and easy to talk to. Within just a few days, I was starting to feel at home. I felt safe, and respected, and understood. 

In the middle of a conversation we were having with the full staff about how best to support campers from a wide range of diverse experiences, I came out as transgender so that I could talk from a more credible position about how to support gender-diverse campers. A few people definitely seemed surprised, but not a single person in the room seemed uncomfortable or upset. Instead, they smiled, nodded along, and listened to what I had to say about how to best support campers. Afterward, I got a lot of hugs, and several people thanked me for sharing a vulnerable part of my truth with them. I had only met this group of people a few days beforehand; I was amazed at how easily they all welcomed me into their camp family regardless of gender identity. 


By the time campers arrived, I had settled comfortably into what felt like my new camp home. I knew I was safe, I knew I was allowed and encouraged to be whoever I was, and I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like or how I talked or if I was acting too feminine to be taken seriously as a “real guy;” I could just relax into myself and dedicate all of my energy to being the best counselor I could be. There wasn’t a moment that passed all summer where I felt uncomfortable about my gender or queer identity with another staff member. 

Once camp really started, I learned quickly that my transgender and queer identities were going to be completely irrelevant to almost all campers. I was in a tent with the youngest boys, and I’m pretty sure they would not have really noticed or minded if I had been a unicorn, let alone just a trans person. I also had only one camper ask me a question about anything to do with romantic partners; he wanted to know if I was married. I told him that I was not, and he immediately dropped the subject when he heard his friends outside playing with sticks. What mattered to my campers was not what gender I was, what my body looked like, or who I was in an adult relationship with, but rather that I was always there to help them out, to talk to them, to play games with them, to remind them to change their underwear and brush their teeth, to read them stories and give them piggy-back rides, and to get them where they needed to go.

To someone who did not know I was trans, the only obvious indicator would be the top surgery scars on my chest. I was in charge of boating during waterfront time, and I often wore my swimsuit without a shirt, but if campers noticed the scars on my chest from my top surgery, none of them seemed to care. They talked to me and interacted with me just the same as any other time, and I easily befriended all the campers of every age and gender who liked to take out boats. The only time a camper seemed concerned, she asked me, “What are those cuts on your chest?” I said, “They’re scars from getting surgery to get some stuff removed,” and she just said “Oh” and proceeded to ask me if she could please take out the green kayak. 

One of the things I came to appreciate at Stomping Ground for the first time was that I did not have to always define myself by gender first. It was important to me that my co-counselors understand my gender identity so that I could build trusting peer relationships with them, but it was completely unimportant for most campers to know I was trans. It was liberating to have fun with campers and teach campers new skills and share amazing camp experiences with campers without having to worry about my gender or queer identity. In the few situations where it seemed like the best decision to disclose either of these things to a camper – for example, when a trans or queer camper was seeking support from someone who would understand – I felt completely safe and supported in doing so. I knew my co-counselors and directors would have my back. 

Stomping Ground is dedicated to radical empathy, self-direction, and possibility. What better pillars are there to inspire the inclusion of queer and transgender campers and counselors? I believe there is a lot of value in minorities having spaces to themselves, and I have a lot of love for the camps out there dedicated specifically to LGBTQ+ people (shout out to Camp Brave Trails! If that’s what you’re looking for, head there next). I also believe that it is very powerful and positive for queer and trans campers and counselors to be part of a community that is not minority-specific, but that is intentionally and actively supportive of the whole individual. At Stomping Ground, everyone is expected to be kind, to be open-minded, to be gentle. Everyone is expected to be honest, to listen, and to include each other. The expectation creates the reality. Each camper and counselor is seen as a whole and complex person, with a unique combination of backgrounds, identities, interests, and needs. 


As much as I love Stomping Ground, it is not perfect. The most notable challenge for campers and counselors who are trans in particular is that living spaces and some bathroom and shower spaces are still gender-specific. Campers and counselors are divided into cabins and tents by gender, and the bathrooms and showers most easily accessible from most activities and villages are divided by gender. That said, it is up to the individual to decide which gendered space they belong and feel most comfortable in, and they will be supported in their decision. Campers and counselors can expect that staff will do their very best to use their correct pronouns and to help campers do so as well. There are gender-neutral bathrooms and showers available for anyone at camp who doesn’t feel comfortable in either gendered area. If a camper or counselor wishes not to disclose information about their identity, they will never be required or expected to, and whoever on staff might know will hold confidence; similarly, if they wish to share something about their identity, they will never be prevented from doing so. 

If you are queer and/or transgender and considering being a camper or staff member at Camp Stomping Ground, I can assure you from personal experience that you will be welcomed, respected, and loved. I cannot promise that it will always be ideal, or that there will be no confusing or difficult moments, but I can promise that the lived mission of the camp wants you to be as radiant a part of the community as anyone, that the staff will defend and support you, and that the campers tend to follow suit in being exceptionally kind and welcoming. If you have any questions or concerns that I could address, please do not hesitate to contact me at 16ethornburg@gmail.com; I’d be thrilled to tell you more about my own experience, provide any advice that I can, and wholeheartedly assure you that Stomping Ground is an extraordinary place. 

Elijah Thornburg
Staff 2016


The Psychology of Building Connections

Over the past three years (when I wasn’t at camp making schedules, fighting zombies, or pretending to be Albus Dumbledore), I spent my time studying school counseling. I learned about different counseling theories, skills that professionals use, and interventions that may be helpful. In class, I was learning to apply all of these concepts to the school setting, but when I would hear words like active listening, empathy, and person-centered, my mind immediately drifted to camp. I’ll admit, my mind drifts to camp throughout most of the day because I just love it so much, but I think it makes a lot of sense that I relate counseling to camp. It makes sense because both are based on one simple concept: building connections.

So the question becomes, how do we build connections? Carl Rogers, a well-known theorist and one of my favorites, proposed that there are three core conditions (well there are actually six, but these three are the important ones) that facilitate a strong connection between the counselor and client: empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness. I believe Rogers’ assertion, and I’d be willing to extend it beyond counselor and client, to people in general. In my time at camp, I’ve seen that when these three conditions are in place, opportunities for building connections arise within the daily happenings of Stomping Ground. 

Let’s go through each of the conditions, and find out what they really mean and how Stomping Ground seeks to provide a space in which they exist. 


If you follow Stomping Ground’s blog, you’ve probably read a few different posts about empathy in its most radical form. Empathy, at its core, is understanding how someone else is feeling. Empathy can be cognitive, which is mentally understanding the emotions of another, or it can be affective, meaning you share in another’s feelings and have a congruent emotional response. 

Radical empathy is one of the three pillars on which Stomping Ground was founded, so it is easy to assume that empathy is fostered within the community, and I see it in two main aspects of camp: the circle system and play. The circle system, our tool for conflict resolution, is built on and relies on empathy. In a nutshell, members of the community agree to listen to and to try to understand each other’s perspective in order to resolve conflict, rather than to punitively assign blame. You can read more about what the circle system is and how it works here.     

Play is a key factor in building empathy skills (just ask Peter Gray). At Stomping Ground, kids are given the opportunity to practice empathy through playing, imaginary role-playing, and creating together, and they can then transfer those skills to real life occurrences. This happens in more structured activities such as morning options and all-camp night games, and in unstructured periods like village time, open waterfront, and open ballfield. 


Unconditional positive regard, according to Rogers, is accepting others as they are, without judgment. Stomping Ground teaches this to the staff and models it for the campers. The staff are taught to hear another’s perspective on a situation without placing their own judgment on it. Let me give you an example. If a camper says they are really mad because they lost at GaGa, then they are feeling really mad. It’s not the listener’s job to decide whether or not the person should be mad, how long they should be mad for, or how to fix it. Instead, the listener hears and understands the person’s feelings and offers to be present with the person in that moment (this is where the empathy comes into play!). As I said, the staff are trained in providing unconditional positive regard and then model it for the campers in everyday situations. 


Rogers considers genuineness, often referred to as congruence, to be the most important of the core conditions for building connection. As you saw in the last paragraph, these conditions are not exclusive of one another, and genuineness is what ties them together. Empathy and unconditional positive regard are irrelevant if they are not genuine. In fact, sometimes genuineness is all that’s needed. When I began my internship in counseling, I was terrified. What if I don’t know what to say to be empathic? What if I don’t know what to do to show unconditional positive regard? My supervisor told me the answer was simple: be genuine. If I genuinely wanted to help, support, care for, and connect with the person in front of me, things would fall into place. Stomping Ground facilitates genuineness by simply allowing each and every person there to exist as they are. No one is forced to be or to do anything. When people are free to opt into a decision on their own accord, genuineness flows naturally.

Camp Stomping Ground provides people with the space and opportunity to form some of the strongest connections possible. And I know this because I have seen happen. I’ve seen it in the makerspace, on the soccer field, and in the dining hall. I have watched older kids stand up for younger kids, campers confront staff, and large groups listen to one person’s point of view. All of this with empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness leading the way. This is where the magic happens and this is when connections are built.