A Letter From Our New Assistant Director - Klee

I’m unsure how to even begin to express my excitement for this upcoming year. Stomping Ground quickly became one of the best things to happen to me since my first summer on staff in 2016, and the part of my year that I look forward to most. I can’t believe I get to live this excitement year round, and learn from two of the most impressive, creative, and intelligent bosses I have ever had. Since day one of working for Jack and Laura, I was immediately engrossed in how intensely they care about the work they do and the risk they took in starting this crazy idea that is Stomping Ground. Jack and Laura consistently go above and beyond when it comes to supporting their staff, providing kids with the best possible experiences, and never settling for less when it comes to making camp better… I AM #IN.


One of my favorite parts of this past summer was running a week-long option for kids called “Staff Orientation.” We had about 10 campers and the first day they each received a folder and clipboard with their name on it, just like staff arriving to Stomping Ground for the first time do. Throughout the week we had campers fill out mock application forms, role-played some difficult situations counselors may face, and had a discussion panel with Jack, Laura, one of our board members, and a couple other staff members as well. The outcomes were hysterical, ridiculous, and certainly memorable. As a group we came up with some awesome outrageous activities to play with campers, and dreamed up some big ideas for Embers, village time, and night games. Our discussions and activities were usually pretty silly, one camper actually cried from laughing so hard which I will never forget. But the last day of the option, we did an Embers activity that Laura leads with all of staff each night of staff orientation. The group sits in a circle, and we pass around a bucket of beads for each person to take one. As the bucket is passed, people have the opportunity to share a moment they are grateful for, or an “ah-ha” moment of realization that they had from the day. Each person then receives a string to put their beads on. During this activity, campers shared some learning moments from the week, one of my favorites being, “This week I learned that I actually really want to be on staff someday, and my favorite part about camp are the counselors.” This was one of my favorite options I ran all summer because like camp, it was the perfect balance of bizarre, crazy fun, and magical moments that allowed us to connect on a deeper level and recognize the unique opportunities that can’t happen in many spaces besides summer camp.

Some outrageous activities from this summer. They can get wild!


Something I am greatly looking forward to this year is staff recruitment. As I have mentioned before, I spend a lot of my time begging some of my bestest friends to come work at Stomping Ground. I love talking about the possibilities that camp can provide for staff members, and genuinely believe it provides people with some of the most important and innovative skills it takes to get a job “in the real world.” I look forward to visiting colleges and universities, and partnering with local organizations to recruit staff who are invested in the mission of Stomping Ground, and simply want to spend their summer having fun and meeting incredible people.

Know someone that would make a great camp counselor? Send me an email.


Another part of this position I am excited about is maintaining the partnerships Laura has created between Stomping Ground and other nonprofits in Rochester. I had no idea how big of a part this is in Laura’s work, and am already realizing the impact she’s had on so many organizations. In just my first week on the job, I had several coordinators from organizations Laura volunteered at ask me if I would be continuing the work Laura had started, and how much of a help and impact Laura made on their organization. I am grateful I have Laura for support as I navigate these relationships, and am excited to learn from professionals who have similar ideas on how to better create and improve our community that Stomping Ground builds.


Jack and Laura are constantly reminding me that while I will have concrete responsibilities and things I just have to get done in this position, this job is ultimately what I want to make of it and they want to help me figure out what I am most passionate about when it comes to working for camp and nonprofits in general. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my first year after graduating college, or a more ideal “real job” to take after college. I feel incredibly fortunate that Jack and Laura are just as invested in me helping Stomping Ground improve as they are about helping me figure out the kind of work I want to do in the future.


I can’t wait to connect with all of the campers and their parents this year and hear more of their stories. I love Stomping Ground so much, and am going to work so hard this year to make Stomping Ground even better than it already it is. IT IS SO GOOD TO BE TOGETHER.

****Klee and Laura will be calling our our existing families this fall for feedback and to connect. If you want to chat sooner send Klee a text/email or give her a call. We are beyond excited to welcome Klee to our team. LOVE Jack


Klee - Allison Klee
Assistant Camp Director

2018 Summer Reflections with Laura

After camp ends I always feel a bit sad. It takes me a few weeks to recalibrate and stop dreaming about things that happened during the summer. I revel in the later mornings, sitting during meals and taking naps when I want, but I sorely miss the high paced fun and collaborative energy we thrive on during the summer. Looking back on our six weeks of camp I feel fortunate enough to say for the fourth summer in the row, we had the best summer yet. 

A New Year Round Assistant Director - Klee

This fall also welcomes several new changes. Allison Klee (or “Klee” what everyone calls her at camp) is coming on board as our first year round staff member. Her role as assistant director will include camper recruitment and communication with families, staff recruitment, staff hiring, and partnership development.  Klee has worked at Stomping Ground for 3 summers. This past summer Klee was the Panda, or village director for the Robinhood and Viking villages. She managed the staff, navigated camper issues, communicated with parents and built culture in both villages. She also is always pitching in with Kate and the program team to set up evening programs or special events. 

One of the best parts about working with Klee is how fast she moves. When she sets her mind on making something better she becomes laser focused and quickly makes the changes to get results. For example. This summer during ArtsFest we wanted to find a way to spice up the schedule and make it more applicable for teenagers. We decided that we would open up the main boardwalk of camp after 10pm and keep it open and staffed until 12. Our idea was that teens, once we closed each night and cabins finished embers, might be interested in hanging out with each other outside of their cabins or villages. We put Klee in charge of this time which we quickly started referring to as “the After Party”. Klee went to town making themes, orchestrating staff to help make sure that each night was memorable and catered to all kinds of kids and their interests. I can not wait to see what Klee does now that she is working to make Stomping Ground better year round. 

Returning Campers

This summer I found myself being extra grateful for some of our returning campers.

As we think about how culture is created at camp it is becoming obvious that the campers who come back each summer are the ones holding onto Stomping Ground traditions that are valuable to them. Arguably even more than the staff, campers help to set the tone and use their agency to change and adapt the program to fit their needs. It is the returning campers who sign up to lead activities, or join in on the kid board meeting, or pitch in to clean the makerspace. 


It is also returning campers that helped create some of our new traditions

My favorite new tradition of the summer is business time. Each morning all of camp gathers at the picnic table to hear a brief weather report, any changes in the schedule, and announcement and reminders from staff. Then campers have a chance to share things they might be trying to start or lead throughout the day. For example, maybe Wyatt is leading a Slaps (card game) tournament at 11 and people who are interested should meet at the crab apple tree, or Pepper is leading a game of Zombie tag and to head to the Explorer Pavilion at 10 am etc. This new tradition sets us up to have even more camper directed play and camper empowered play happening at camp. 

Summer Staff


My post summer reflection would not be complete without the recognition of our summer staff. I feel so privileged to have worked with such a dedicated and generous group of people. The friendships and connections that happen as a result of working so closely together for 7 weeks are unparalleled. This particular group of people inspired me to dream big about what is possible with camp and to work hard to create a space that is inclusive and compassionate for everyone. 

Columbia Social Work Program

This fall I will be attending Columbia University to study social work. **Editor’s note: Laura will still be working for Stomping Ground throughout her time in school.** In two years I will graduate with an MSW and a concentration in social enterprise administration. I desperately want to better serve the campers that join us each summer.  I want to increase the impact that Stomping Ground can have by partnering with agencies to welcome kids to camp that don’t typically have this kind of opportunity. I firmly believe that camp is one of the best places to build empathy for one another, to learn to take other’s perspectives, and to build respectful and compassionate relationships. I think that communities like camp have the ability to radically change the world by proving to one kid, and one family at a time that more is possible.  I am looking forward to building the network and gathering the knowledge to further our mission and increase our impact. 

I have been in NYC for about a week now. I just finished orientation, settled into a new apartment, and started classes. I can not wait to update you along the way! Thank you for partnering with us as we continue to change, improve, and realign the community of camp. 


(585) 489-8880

Preventing Ticks and Lice

Summer camp is awesome, and it means being in the woods with lots of other people. That means there are some different strategies and habits we need than what most of us do during the rest of the year. Two of those big habits are around little creatures that love us, but we might not love as much. This post is all about ticks, lice, how to prepare for your camp experience, and some of what we do at camp to make sure these little creatures don't ruin a great time in the woods. 


We get it, lice is gross! No one wants lice and we are going to do everything in our power to keep camp lice free this summer!

When campers arrive at camp our medical team will do a lice check as a part of the camper entry process. We know this is not the most fun… and can be kind of overwhelming for some campers so that is why we wanted to give you a heads up. (ha heads, get it!)

Our camp policy is that if your camper has lice they can not be at camp. They will need to go home, get treated and can come back to camp after 48 hours contingent on there being no more lice. We are doing this to avoid lice spreading at camp which can happen quickly and be really hard to control. 

Please check your campers head for lice before getting in the car/plane/bus to come to camp. We don’t want to turn anyone away. Here is a video explaining how to check for lice at home.


Yikes, more teeny tiny gross bugs! We are aware of how scary it can be for a parent to send campers away to camp where there are ticks. Ticks are a real risk at summer camp, again we are going to do everything in our power to keep your kids safe from ticks this summer. First, here are some tick myths and facts 

Myth: Ticks jump from trees! 

Fact: Ticks like to hang out in shaded areas, under fallen leaves, and in tall grasses. We will take special precautions to check for ticks after hikes, not play in fallen leaves and mow our field regularly. 

Myth: All ticks carry Lymes disease.

Fact: Only a small percentage transmit Lymes disease. First a tick bites an animal like a chipmunk, squirrel or deer and if that animal has Lymes then the tick carries the disease to the next host. You can test the ticks to see if they carry the disease. If we remove a tick from your camper we will notify you immediately and keep the tick with our medical team in case you would like to test the tick for lymes.

Myth: The best way to remove a tick is with fire or vaseline. 

Fact: The safest way to remove a tick is to pinch with tweezers or a tick remover near where the insect is attached and then slowly pull and wait until the insect lets go. This will insure that you get the whole insect removed. (gross I know) At camp only our medical team will be removing ticks. They are trained and know how to do it safely. If a counselor finds a tick on a camper or a camper finds a tick on themselves they will be sent to our nurse or EMT to have it removed. 

Things you can do to be prevent ticks this summer 

  • Pack long white socks
  • Buy and pack a tick/bug repellant. We recommend anything with Permethrin in it. You can even spray campers clothes before camp!  
  • Teach your camper how to do a tick check, You Tube it! Here is one we like

As a camp staff we will encourage campers to check for ticks regularly! We will help look in camp appropriate places, and encourage campers to examine their bodies in the showers. Thank you for your trust and your patience with us. We care about your campers well being and safely.

In Conclusion  

Coming to Stomping Ground is hopefully an incredible experience and there will be a amazing amounts of fun, friends, and memories made. We will do everything possible to keep kids safe and coming to camp, like riding in a car or playing soccer, isn't without risk. At Stomping Ground, kids will probably get bumps, scrape their knees, and play in the dirt. We aim to create safe, but realistic experiences for kids. We will remind campers to check for ticks, teach them how, and help them understand what they are looking for. We take this very seriously. 

I can't wait for his summer, swimming in the lake, exploring magical lands, making things, and yes, even tick checks have a special place in my heart reminding me of our home away from home. I can hardly wait to see you this summer. 


(585) 489-8880

Inspiring a Generation of Radically Empathetic Decision Makers

An open letter to Stomping Ground Staff.

Your job this summer isn’t about dodgeball, swimming, friendship bracelets, night games, outrageous activities, embers, or the hundreds of other things you will do this summer. You job is way more important than that.

You are inspiring a generation of radically empathetic decision makers.

We aren’t going to sit back and complain about divisive politics, world leaders, inequality, angry neighbors, or disgruntled teachers. We are going to do something about it. This summer our job is to play dodgeball, go swimming, make friendship bracelets, run night games, put on outrageous activities, and connect over embers not because any of those activities in and of themselves matter, but because they are a piece of the sandbox designed to inspire radically empathetic decision making.



We believe that by living in a radically empathetic community where conflict is resolved restoratively, campers and staff will be inspired to be more radically empathetic decision makers.

While at camp the staff focus on three main building blocks to make this possible.

Hard Work


We don’t work hard because hard work is intrinsically good. We work hard because this is an ambitious and challenging goal. One that we take incredible seriously. As staff we give our summer to co-creating this experience with kids.

Sometimes that means plunging toilets, not getting enough sleep, moving heavy things, and it almost always means working long hours. We do this because it’s worth it for the campers and because it’s incredibly fun. We make lifelong friends, try new things, learn, grow, play, and more.

Working at Stomping Ground is hard and, for the right people, it’s 200% worth it.

Building a Radically Empathetic Sandbox


We talk a lot about sandboxes. What we mean is building the structure to play/live in. Lots more on sandboxes at camp here. A Radically Empathetic Sandbox at Stomping Ground is built on four core values that let individuals thrive in the community.

We call these our ABCG’s, autonomy, belonging, competence, and generosity. First Nations People had a similar concept of growth needs in the Circle of Courage and phycologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci call these psychological needs in Self-Determination Theory.

The sandbox at camp represents the systems, structure, and culture we live in everyday. It is our consent based programming, restorative justice conflict resolution, and the way we treat each other.

Building and maintaining the sandbox is a huge part of what we do as staff. In many ways, we give up some of our autonomy to create an autonomous environment for kids. Over time campers become a huge part of setting the culture, influencing program, and resolving complex conflicts.

Awe Inspiring Moments

We don’t remember all things equally. We remember moments, and these moments shape how we see ourselves and the world. As staff, we spend a lot of energy trying to recognize and create magical moments that kids will remember and take with them when they go. We look to create intimate, outrageous, meaningful experiences with and for kids to help inspire radically empathetic decision making as we all reenter the “real” world.

In the sandbox analogy these awe inspiring moments are the addition of fun toys, hoses, and grownups helping the kids in the sandbox build cool castles and other creations. We aren’t forcing them to build what we want, but we are offering different experiences, that they might not have thought of.

The Goal...

We make decisions based on the circumstances and the narrative of how we see ourselves and the world. When we need to make a decision we interpret what is happening, based on our past experiences and our world view, then we decide.

At camp we hope to create the opportunities for all of us to build a more empathetic narrative so when we make more empathetic decisions. The goal isn’t for the staff to force empathy on the campers, but rather for all of us to live empathetically together and create experiences that help us develop a radically empathetic narrative.

Our goal is to inspire a generation of Radically Empathetic Decision Makers.


Jack and Laura



Introducing Our New Board Member

Sitting By the Lake at Stomping Ground

Our teens like to hangout on this little bench that over looks the lake. It isn’t fancy, but it has become their thing. I like to sit with them, when I can, and just talk about stuff. 

One day last summer I was sitting with maybe 6 teens and they started talking about school: going to high school, unschooling, going to the Philly Free School, travel schooling, homework, Montessori, Waldorf, you name it. It was fascinating to hear them share what they loved and hated about their education. One of the kids in the group came from a family with more money than I could dream of, another camper struggled to afford school supplies, others were middle class. But in that moment they were just young adults discussing the merits of our education system, sharing their experience and recognizing their differences. They showed so much empathy and believed in so much possibility. 

It was amazing. I just sat and listened. 

Those teens didn’t solve our national education problem, but they had a chance to connect and talk about big ideas. These are the moments I live for at camp. These the moments that almost never happen anywhere else. 

Making These Moments Possible

There were a lot of moving pieces that went into making that moment possible, but one of the biggest came from people like you. People that gave us the chance to say yes to scholarships for half the teens in that conversation. 

To be honest, I don’t know much about fundraising, donor acquisition, or endowments. I don’t know much about managing a board or developing a giving strategy. I just like hanging out with teens by the lake. 


Ten summers ago I was hanging out with some different teens by a different lake. I was the CIT (counselor-in-training) director at Camp Stella Maris when I met this fiery, self-conscious, scared, excited, passionate, brilliant, 16-year-old. She had no idea how cool she was. She was nervous, laughed uncontrollably at my bad jokes so she wouldn’t have to be the center of attention, and was one of the most compassionate teenagers I have ever met. She was amazing. Her campers couldn’t have loved her more. The other CITs couldn’t have said nicer things about her. 

She had no idea how special she was.

Liz Huberlie Blaszkiewicz


Liz Huberlie Blaszkiewicz, the nervous teen, is now the head of digital fundraising strategy at the University of Rochester, recently married, a badass gymnast, and a super powerful woman. Last year she pushed us to run our first Day of Giving and helped us raise over $26,000 to bring kids to camp. Liz is also the newest board member for Stomping Ground Camp Inc. Liz has become the our driver for making conversations like the one I described above possible. She helps us bring hundreds of kids to camp that could never afford it. 

Liz, thank you for coming on this journey with us, for trusting your weird old CIT director, and for all your love and guidance. We love you!

Schott Jack.jpg

(585) 451-5141

More Kids More Impact

A Quick Numbers Update

Holy moly! When Laura and I dreamed about starting camp we had to really trick ourselves into believing it was possible. We desperately believe in reimagining a more perfect world through camp and there aren’t many camps out there doing what we want to do, but starting camp was/is scary. You can read more about our origin story here.

The short story is in 2015 we ran one week of camp with about 60 kids. This summer, just four years later, we are on pace to run 6 weeks of camp with over 500 camper weeks. Camper weeks are how we budget. If a camper comes for one week they count as one camper week, if they come for two they count as two camper weeks.

Running Stomping Ground is a roller coaster, and Laura and I want to share three things.

One: Say Thank You

Running Stomping Ground is our dream coming true before our eyes and none of it would be possible without your support. As a camper parent, camper, staff member, Day of Giving donor (more on 2018 Day of Giving soon), friend, sharer of Facebook posts, or someone sending love we appreciate you. You have made Stomping Ground possible and we have been lucky enough to ride the rollercoaster of that process. THANK YOU!

Two: Let You Know That Spots are Limited

If you have followed us for a while, you know we avoid salesy tactics or tricks to get signups. We want people who want to be at camp to be there and do everything in our power to share that. We hope to build an authentic relationship with our parents and campers not one where you might be scared that spots will run out so you make a purchasing decision you might regret. In past years that has been easy because we have had a lot more spots at camp than we needed. This summer that is a little different, especially for Session 3 - July 15-20th and Session 4 July 22-27th. They each have about 10 spots left.

If you are interested in camp this summer or know people on the fence, please call Laura (585) 489-8880 to see if we would be a good fit for your family. We have a bunch of sessions with space and time to wait and see, but I know the summer schedule can get hectic.

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Three: A Little More About Our Numbers

We don’t spend much time talking about numbers and registration updates on the blog. Mostly we write about what we care about and how we try to bring that to life at camp. For us that is the fun part, but the reality of running camp is that this thing is becoming a fairly complicated business. On the one hand that is super frustrating, and on the other it just means we get to have more kids come to camp and hopefully make a larger impact. I never thought I would say this, but the business of running camp has been really interesting to learn and think about.


Ok! Some Numbers…

Camper Weeks By Year

2015 - 64
2016 - 196
2017 - 384
2018 - 390 (Current)

We have grown by leaps and bounds each year and this week we passed the total number of registered campers in all of 2017. Camp itself won’t have more campers at a time than we did during are largest weeks last year, but we are running more weeks and will have more full weeks in 2018.

At the end of March last year we had 203 camper weeks registered and in April, May, June, and July we had another 181 register. This year we have almost double that number of campers registered today, with a week left in March. Last year at this time we had about half of our total campers registered, and the other half registered between now and camp. If that trend were to hold true for 2018 another 300-400 campers would try and register between now and summer. Unfortunately we don’t have that many more spots available for campers. We have another 150 or so spots in main camp sessions, and about 100 in our teen programs.

We are excited for this and nervous to have to turn people away. Our plan is to continue to provide updates like this and create waitlists for our closed out sessions. Thank you again for all your support and love. You are what makes Stomping Ground Stomping Ground.

With Love! (So much love)

Jack and Laura

(585) 451-5141

Building a Network - Becoming the Most Useful Summer Job

Visiting New Paltz

A couple of weeks ago, Laura and I were in SUNY New Paltz hoping to recruit some staff. Klee, one of our summer staff members, had organized an event at the honors college. We had pizza and were all set to give a presentation about camp, show a video, and talk about the life long memories, friends, and impact you can have working at Stomping Ground. Then we started talking with the students. 

It was clear that they weren’t there for Stomping Ground. They were there because they didn’t know what was next. They were nervous about how to set themselves up for a career that let them be who they wanted to be, make an impact, and also make a living. So we stopped talking and started listening. Instead of pitching camp we started brainstorming how we could all help each other. 

It was awesome. It gave me empathy into what life is like for driven, compassionate, and unsure college kids in 2018. 

On the drive home, Laura and I couldn’t stop talking about how awesome the students we met were and thinking about ways we could help them. Becca wants to be an actor, I know an actor in NYC, maybe we could connect them. Jackie isn’t sure what she wants to do, she desperately wants to do something that matters, but her parents are nervous that she won’t make a living. This problem solving space is where I love to live. 

Partnering with Staff After Camp


Stomping Ground is all about partnering with kids to help them get more of what they are wanting, to help them accomplish their goals, and realize their dreams. That’s what our staff do each summer with kids. We have talked a big talk about this, but I think we need to take a hard look at how we can be more useful to our staff at camp and after they leave. 

The most useful job you could ever have

Our dream is that someday working at Stomping Ground is one of the most useful jobs you could ever have. We understand that our staff are choosing between high powered internships, Teach for America, starting their own business, and more. We want to create an opportunity that they are choosing not just because we are more fun, but because we provide more value for their long term career. It’s a big dream.

There are a lot of factors that go into deciding what to do over the summer, and we will never be perfect for everyone. What we hope to do is create an opportunity where if you would love working at Stomping Ground because of the kids, the community, and the impact than the choice should also help your long term career. It should help not only because of the experience, but also because of more tangible aspects like connections, skills, and more. 

The Stomping Ground Support Network

Our first step in the process of creating the best career advancement opportunity is the Stomping Ground Support Network. This is a group of people ready to help current and former Stomping Ground staff. 

We launched it last week and have been amazed by the response. So far in our network we have lawyers, teachers, venture capitalists, social workers, professors, graduate program recruiters, consultants, speakers, scientists, school administrators, entrepreneurs, camp directors, financial advisors, nurses, and more. 

These folks signed up ready to help you think about getting started in their fields. They are camper parents, staff alumni, friends, and people who just want to help. In many ways they are just like the Stomping Ground staff. They want to make the world a radically more empathetic place and believe in thinking differently about partnering with kids. With that goal and mission they are ready to help you start your career in finance, law, pharmacy, teaching, you name it. I am beyond grateful for these supporters and cannot wait to connect our amazing staff with these amazing professionals. 

It's All About Relationships

A staff applicant asked me last week what the biggest thing I have learned since starting Stomping Ground was. I stumbled. Then I stammered through something about trusting kids and staff to create empathetic communities. I am sure I didn’t make much sense. I think what I meant to say is more like this...

The biggest thing I have learned since starting Stomping Ground is that everything is about relationships. I probably would have said I knew that years ago, but I believe it more and more everyday. Stomping Ground works because of the relationships we build at camp. The relationship between a nervous first time camper and their compassionate staff, the relationships in a cabin of kids from different backgrounds, the relationship between long time camper parents and Laura, the staff relationships each summer, and more. Relationships are the cornerstone of camp, but more than that, I am coming to understand that relationships are core to every aspect of life including our careers. 

Networking vs Relationship Building 

Networking has a terrible connotation with most of my millennial friends. It seems somehow sleazy or not genuine, and it can be. But it also can be just about connection, about authentic friendship building and shared understanding. That is what we hope to create at camp and through the Stomping Ground Support Network, a shared understanding and commitment to helping each other. I am sure the network will grow and change, and I hope we can find ways to bring value to the volunteers in the network and the staff looking to start their careers. 

Looking for a great community, impactful job, and powerful network? Let’s talk about working at Stomping Ground this summer. Stomping Ground Staff

Learn more about the Stomping Ground Support Network. 

Schott Jack.jpg

(585) 451-5141



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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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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