Reflections on our third summer of camp
It has been a few weeks now since camp has ended and I know I am still trying to transition to a slower paced day. I miss the unending excitement and the fun of coordinating a million moving pieces. I miss everything from greeting the administrative staff in the dining hall, to checking in with campers at the breakfast buffet line, to frantically scrambling to add last minute face paint to a costume for an evening program.
This summer, before camp started, I told myself that I was going to move slower and take more time to enjoy the moments at camp. This summer, camp started off with such a whirlwind that we could barely stay ahead of the constant flow of problems, from a stomach bug outbreak that left several campers sick to constant thunderstorms and flooding. It felt like we couldn’t catch a break!
However, I would not trade this summer for the world. I absolutely loved camp this summer. Looking back at the 6 weeks I spent there it was by far our best summer yet.
Some things I am grateful for:
We hired 43 staff members and only knew 18 of them personally before the summer started. We knew that going in we would have a lot to do to onboard that many people to the Stomping Ground culture. It was clear after the first few days of staff orientation that we had hired hardworking people that were willing to help push Stomping Ground to have the best summer yet. There were definitely moments where some staff butted heads, or we needed to redirect people to stay on track, or push people to work more creatively, or spend their off time more wisely.
I learned a lot about managing people this summer. I am grateful for those moments where we bumped heads because those moments helped me become more convinced of our philosophy. We talk all the time about conflict leading to growth and redefining a world where conflict is something to be embraced and not run from. This summer I am glad I had a chance to walk the walk, but damn is it hard in the moment.
In the thick of summer I forget how much of the day to day operations run smoothly because of Jack. While I am caught up with a homesick camper, or a staff that is struggling with another staff, Jack and Kate are off coordinating an entirely new schedule for the afternoon because thunderstorms are about to roll in. Or Jack and Reb are working with the site manager Larry to unclog a swamp that has settled into the middle of the main field. Jack is the kind of person who can one moment can be thinking about camp from a thirty thousand foot view, orchestrating how someday we might fundraise to buy our own site and then the next minute hop up on a chair in the dining hall to give the announcements for the evening program and where the after lunch staff meeting will be held.
What I love about Jack’s management style is that he is never too busy to talk one on one with a camper and connect with them about how their day is going. He is constantly reminding me and the rest of the staff how to be the best version of ourselves. I love working with you Jack!
Endless parent support
At this point in our evolution we do not have an office manager or anyone to help with the paperwork, emails, camper accounts, phone calls, social media or any of the other loose ends that fall through the cracks in our office processes. I am so grateful for the patience and flexibility that our camper parents grant us during the summer weeks. I can only imagine what it must be like to have a child of yours at camp and not be able to contact them or hear about how they are doing. It becomes tricky to have campers call home on our one land line, or send picture updates to worried parents. Our parents have been so supportive and understanding. Thank you! Jack and I work with other camp directors all the time and constantly hear horror stories about the parents who send their kids to other camps. We have a hard time relating. I love getting a chance to connect with our camper families. One of my favorite parts of running camp are the hours I get to spend on the phone or the texts I get about how campers are doing throughout the year. Our parents are the best. Thank you for your support, understanding, and commitment to Stomping Ground!
Plans for next summer
We are currently in the process of talking with the Girl Scouts (who own our facility) about when we can run camp next summer. In addition to the typical Stomping Ground program we are looking into adding a two week session and a new one week program called Arts Fest. Our idea behind Arts Fest is to dedicate a week of programming to the arts for teens. Musicians, visual artists, writers, dancers from all over would take over camp for one week. Daily activities would be structured more like studio classes and there would be spontaneous art projects happening all the time. Evening programs would be concerts or gallery openings or artist lectures. One reason for this was our artist in residency program that we launched this past summer was such a success that we wanted to double down on that kind of a partnership between the arts community and the camp community. I spent four years at art school and am constantly balancing my love for painting, drawing, and creating with my love for kids, community, and building a more empathetic world. I am floored by the idea of possibly being able to combine them in a more concrete way at camp this summer. More details on all of this soon. We are jumping through hoops with the Girl Scouts and can’t confirm dates or programs yet. We should have more details by the end of this month. I will be giving all of our current families a call to hear more about how your summer went and get feedback this month as well.
Another focus of this fall and winter will be fundraising. After a successful Day of Giving this past spring we are hoping to dig into some more fundraising events and opportunities this year so we can bring more kids to camp that normally couldn’t afford it. Last summer we brought over 100 kids to camp on some form of scholarship and gave away just under $50,000 in scholarships. This year we want to do more. It is core to our mission to provide camp to anyone interested regardless of financial limitations. We will be reaching out to more agencies and networking with more social workers to bring kids to camp from urban centers that would traditionally not have access to a camp program like Stomping Ground. Stomping Ground works because we have people from tons of different backgrounds, experiences, and locations. As we continue to grow, we remain dedicated to continuing to bringing more campers from underserved communities and more campers families who just need a little help.
2017 was the best summer yet. I plan on working to make 2018 even better. Thank you for your love, support, and understanding as we keep trying new things and working to create an empathetic world through camp.