I have been working in the summer camp and youth-development world since 1990; I got my first internship at a small church working with teenagers when I was in college. At that point, I didn’t know where my career would take me, but over the course of the past 20 years, I spent my life working directly with children age 5 to 16 in youth programs and summer camps. In the last eight years, my focus and passion have been in developing staff members.
During all these years in the summer camp world, I estimate I have attended over 40 camp conferences of various sizes and have heard countless speakers talk about a variety of topics that pertain to the camp world. In my early years, I was drawn to active workshops that centered around leading songs and games and to team-building workshops. There is nothing wrong with these workshops, but at some point I believe I know enough to be considered an expert when it comes to leading songs and games as well as an adequate team-building facilitator.
I no longer directly lead a summer camp. I am now in a position where I influence over 20 camp directors and their camps. I will occasionally lead a song, game or team-building activity, but now my time is spent increasing program quality, measuring quality, strategic planning, high-level staff development and motivation. What have I done to prepare myself for this next level of leadership that I am expected to provide? Not much, because the trainings that I needed were not at the conferences I was attending.
I am not saying that all camp people should stop attending camp conferences, but I am saying that we should expect more out of the conferences we attend. What is there for that next level of leadership when you are still connected to camp, but no longer leading the day to day? What are you reading and studying that will help increase quality, improve retention and deliver great customer service? Isn’t it about time we invest in others by investing in ourselves?
Dave Bell has directed day and resident camp programs for more than 15 years. Currently, he is the Director of Association Programs for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. He is a former American Camp Association Southeast Section board member, a certified Y-USA Day Camp Director Trainer and a Y-USA partner YMCA camp consultant. Reach him via e-mail at Dave@CampLeadership.org.