Active, Involved And Interested

Familiarity breeds contempt–or, at the least, apathy–when it comes to training returning camp staff members who are so intimately familiar with the rules, regulations, policies and procedures that they could literally rewrite the staff manual.

Hardly a unique problem, all camps face the issue of how to keep returning staff actively engaged in training and orientation programs. For example, at Camp Hamwi, a three-week residential camp for youth ages 5-17 with diabetes, sponsored by the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, approximately 85 percent of program staff each year have multiple years of camp service (in 2008, the average number of years of service was five). What’s more, many of those staff began as campers at Hamwi and later became counselors, so they have been with the camp for many years, even decades. As a result of this extended service, a common, recurring complaint on the camp evaluation forms was the monotony of orientation and pleas to make it more interesting, fun and informative for those returning each year.

Charged with the need to keep peace with staff while keeping pace with the mandates and necessities of camp preparation, CampHamwi’s Leadership Team, led by camp director and social services director Darlene Honigford, was formed. Comprised of former program and camp co-directors, the team has spent considerable time over the last several years implementing and assessing new models of orientation delivery specifically designed with returning staff in mind. This has resulted in higher rates of satisfaction and participation for these seasoned camp veterans.

Overall, we have developed five different approaches to presenting the material. Some of the information and approaches are better than others, and we work to mix and match strategies to highlight the material and keep staff engaged.

Tests Prior To Camp

Some of the material covered in camp orientation centers on the history of the camp and camp grounds, counseling suggestions and ideas, daily procedures and general camp rules. Instead of requiring veteran staff to sit through a rehashing of these topics, the director created a fill-in-the-blank and short-answer test focused on the necessary information. The current staff manual was included. Along with the required hiring paperwork, the test answers were turned in and graded prior to orientation, with the results stored in the staff member’s personnel file. Anyone not reaching an 80-percent proficiency level was required to redo the test until a satisfactory score was achieved. Requiring prerequisite work was a success in two ways–it limited the amount of time returning members had to sit through previously acquired information, and freed up blocks of time for more pertinent activities.

Round-Robin Sessions

For years, the typical method of orientation was to gather all staff in one large group in the main lodge, where a single speaker would give seminar-type presentations for a set period of time. For variety in the present situation, camp leadership team members–including the camp, medical and program directors, along with senior staffers–work together on the first day to break the content into manageable, relevant, 60- or 90-minute segments. From there, the blocks of content are categorized by program, medical/dietary and general camp topics, and, using a blank orientation template, placed strategically to avoid the problem of content overload. (We wanted to avoid, for example, having too many programming sessions together, or inadvertently scheduling an entire morning with all medical sessions.)

These content areas are then assigned to the appropriate expert, who has designed a custom-tailored presentation of the material. The second step of this process requires that the entire staff be divided into thirds. Each presentation is given to one group at a time in a different location on camp grounds. At a pre-determined time, groups switch to attend the next content-area presentation. Not only does this break the large group into smaller groups, which facilitates staff relationships, but the built-in movement helps eliminate the boredom and apathy that comes from sitting too long.

Returning Staff Experts

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  1. KOOL Staff Orientation
  2. Preparing Campers — A Checklist
  3. Preparation Points
  4. Signs of Life & Warning Signs
  5. Reasons To Return
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