Summer 2019 Reflections with Klee
Where to begin about our friend, our camp director, our dance party extraordinaire, our experiencer of love explosions, Allison Klee? Klee works unbelievably hard all year round to make camp possible and is here to share a bit about one of her favorite interactions from the summer, some grateful and “Aha!” moments, and what she’s looking forward to for the rest of the year. We love you Klee!
Last week, Laura, Jack, Ray, and I finally had the chance to really dig in and debrief the summer and talk about what this year will look like. We will have countless more of these kinds of conversations as the year unfolds, and it felt so good to get on the same page after what is always a frantic time of year. We talked through challenges, our favorite memories of the summer, and what we’re looking forward to this upcoming year.
This summer was our best yet! We had the most campers ever, the most staff ever, ran the most camper weeks, and grew ArtsFest and our other teen programs.
A lot of our conversation was focused on self-reflection and assessing how we worked as a team, how we managed our own teams at camp, and how we can improve working together to best manage staff.
In so many ways the staff make camp. We owe it to the counselors, the kitchen staff, our medical team, and our leadership staff for making this summer possible. Thank you for the magical moments you created, committing to silly characters for the night programs, helping campers work through conflict, playing soccer in the pouring rain, staying up late with homesick kids, and most importantly, connecting with campers and letting them know that even when they’re not at camp they take pieces of Stomping Ground with them when they go.
One of my favorite memories from this summer took place during Waterfront. For a lot of kids, the swim check at camp is pretty stressful and becomes very disappointing for campers when they don’t pass and get to swim in the deep end. Unlike a lot of other systems at Stomping Ground, there isn’t much we can do to change things for kids, and at the end of the day what George, our waterfront director, says, goes. I was standing by the docks monitoring swim checks when one camper came off looking really angry. I took him aside and asked what was going on, and he told me the swim check was unfair, he was mad he didn’t pass, and he did not want to go swimming again. We walked away from the waterfront and sat at a picnic table. For a long time he just sat with his head down, not wanting to say anything. I sat next to him with my head down too, just waiting to get to a point where he was less angry and we could talk. After a few minutes of this, another camper in his cabin walked up to the picnic table. They asked him what was wrong, and didn’t get much in return, so they sat down across from him and mimicked his body language like I was. In most other situations I’d probably say something like, “Hey, would you mind giving us some space? He seems really mad right now.” But something about how this camper approached him seemed like they knew what the right thing to do was, and might really help the situation. After some silence I said, “I know the swim check is really hard, and you’re really angry you didn’t get the results you were hoping for. I’m sorry you didn’t pass.” He perked his head up, and just looked at me, a little less angry. After I said that, the other camper said, “I didn’t pass either. Want to go play in the Fungeon?” The camper nodded his head and before they left to play together, we hung out for a while longer just chatting at the picnic table.
Something about this interaction just felt so special to me. These are the moments that are unique to Stomping Ground. These two campers come from two completely different backgrounds. Different cities, different races, different wealth status, and being at camp gave them opportunities to not only meet people different than them, but to connect on a deeper level and form meaningful relationships with people they don’t normally interact with. I know this interaction may not seem too life-changing, but I think it is very telling of the community that Stomping Ground creates; one where we recognize that mistakes are going to happen, things don’t always turn out how we want them to, and when that happens we don’t run from it or ignore it, we talk through it together practicing radical empathy. To work in a space that trusts kids and meets them where they’re at is so empowering. In a lot of other spaces, I would have been pretty stressed to be in the middle of a lot of people with this upset camper. At Stomping Ground, to be able to let people be who they are, react how they need to react, and support them through this means so much to me.
Working at camp is kookie, wild, and different than any other job because after walking away from the moment I just described, the next thing I know is that I'm getting a costume on for the option I’m running called “Jonas Brothers Band Camp.” I got to run this option with two of my best friends this summer and four incredible kids. We planned a flash mob to perform at lunch to a Jonas Brothers song. It was amazingly fun and goofy. The kids were so into it (even though only one of them knew who the Jonas Brothers were…) and after lunch they didn’t stop asking if we could do it again during dinner. These parts during the day make the difficult situations and tough conversations easier to come back from.
Another part about this summer that was new for me was doing a lot more of the administrative work than I have before. Running up to the office after playing a night game to return a parent phone call, or running less options with campers to make sure paperwork is completed gave me more insight on the “behind the scenes” work that goes into running camp.
For this reason, I get pretty heated when I hear that people don’t think working at camp is a “real job” or that it’s fake and not like the real world. This job has taught me so much about working “in the real world.” While we talk a lot about magic moments, silly activities, and playing make believe at camp, there are still moments that don’t feel magical or fun at all. In my job I am lucky to be trusted with hiring staff, talking with parents about difficult situations, and working with campers when they want to talk about things they don’t feel comfortable talking about at home. Not many people my age get that kind of professional experience in their first couple years working “real jobs.”
This year is going to be wild! We’re embarking on a capital campaign to hopefully buy our own camp property and there will be plenty more to come on that in the coming months. We are hoping to open registration by October 1st. We are working with owners of the potential new site and the Girl Scouts to figure out the best option for Summer 2020. To help our campaign, you can donate here:
To learn more about the capital campaign and more ways to help, visit this site: https://www.buildingastompingground.org/fun
What I learned from talking with Ray, Jack, and Laura is that our decision to be on this team and go on this crazy ride will never change- it’s the one on one interactions and moments we share with campers during the summer that keep us going year-round. It’s the moments created that we believe can’t happen anywhere else on the planet, the feeling you get sitting in a cabin late at night talking with kids about our favorite parts of camp, and running around with a costume on thinking to yourself, “I can’t believe this is my job.” These are the moments and the feelings that keep us going and pushing through tough decisions during the year. Thank you parents, staff, campers, and supporters of Stomping Ground for making these moments possible.