11.16.2007

Creating Memories.

Do not stray from the path, my friends!
(another rant)

My first big paying gig at a camp (HA!) was a wonderful little YMCA Day Camp in the middle of the woods. This spot had *traditional* written all over it, and yet... well, it was about as bland as can be. The camp director at the time was clearly burned out. He was incredible with the parents, but seldom entered the woods or participated in the camp day.

THIS IS FINE... I suppose... as long as he's taking care of the pain that is administrative duties, that means there is a greater opportunity for the next level (which we called "Unit Directors") to really manage and bring out the best in camp. That did not happen.

IN FACT, the lackadaisical attitude of our fine director was infectious. The Unit Directors spent their days at the pool... meaning no one was supervising in the woods...

AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED...? Guess! Lots of the staff members took advantage of this sparse supervision. Chaos ensued... Camp was crummy.

There were a small number of us who actually went above and beyond - and we were the few who kept the camp afloat...

This camp hit an incredibly common speed bump in the history of camps: namely burn-out.

BURN-OUT happens. There is no avoiding it... but there is preparing for it. You see, this director really lost focus about what his goals were - what the mission of the camp was. I'm under the impression that mission statements should be rewritten every year. I know that's somewhat drastic, but in the camp world, senior staff has a fairly high turnover rate. Seeing as the senior staff really sets the bar for the rest of camp, they need to own that statement.

Once I became director, my first goal was rewriting the mission statement by committee. Essentially we made seven points that were direct goals for each child that entered camp. The main one of these goals was "Create positive memories."

Rewriting the mission statement allows for clarity and a refresh of what's important. My burnt out director was suffering from "the motions," where each year was so similar to the last that the excitement was gone. That is the key in coping with burn-out - CHANGE.

"Create positive memories" is such a strong idea because it can really alter the entire philosophy of the camp. Kids who have been at camp may have years of the same old activities - meaning that those "positive memories" are being overwritten and skewed with uninteresting repetition. Has a four-year veteran of your camp seen and done everything that can be done... several times?

Memories are strange things. I have a couple strange experiences with kids telling me about how great a one-summer-only specialty area was, even though we regarded it as a failure. Why do they remember it that way? Perhaps because it was unique, different and changed their camp experience that summer from the *norm*.

That director lost focus about what was important. Had he thought about creating positive memories, he may have figured out the rut he was in and how it affected the entire camp. A simple solution of change could have made the mediocre / bad years at that YMCA into some of the best years yet... though, we cannot rewrite history, only learn from it.

Rewrite your mission statement and get focused. If you're set on creating lasting memories, be sure to accommodate everyone - even those lifelong campers who have been around forever. This summer is the best summer that your camp has ever seen... until next summer ;-)

1 comment:

Dig said...

Thanks for expressing a valid argument for not soley relying on a "5 year rotation", repeating a series of 5 preselected themes and not altering them. The kids coming through may change, but volunteers may get bored and telegraph this to their clients, the campers.