It’s Hammer Time

The last few weeks before camp opens are hectic for anyone working on maintenance and facility projects. What seemed like plenty of time in the fall has now become a mad dash to be ready for the first-session campers. Some items have to be ready, like patching holes in screens and replacing toilet parts. But some would be better if you didn’t do them.

Put your campers to work!

I don’t mean not do them; I mean have someone else do them, and not just because it would save time for other projects. (I know better than that.)

Many camps have volunteer weekends in the spring to “open up” for the season, or accomplish a special project or two. And every time I mention this to a group of camp property managers, I hear several snickers. “I hate those volunteer events,” one says. “It takes me longer to get ready for them and clean up after them than it would just to do it myself,” another adds. So I share an example of a group of two-dozen camp moms (and some grandmothers) who get together the second week of May each year to plant seeds and flowers at Camp Takodah in New Hampshire.

By summer, there are mounds of color in front of every building in camp. The director invites at least one of the volunteers to be present at each check-in day, as so many parents comment on how beautiful and well-cared-for the camp looks. He asks the parents, “Please go thank Emily Jones over there. She and her group of volunteers do the plantings!” As a result, Emily* obtains new volunteers for her group, and new donations of perennials at every check-out day. Nice.

Yet the ­real story begins the following winter when a parent sees one of these volunteers at the PTA or in the grocery store, and says, “I just don’t know what to do with my kids this summer,” and every flower-planting volunteer responds, “Oh, you have to send them to our camp!” Yes, camp-maintenance director, you can plant the flowers yourself. But there’s no way you can sell so many new parents on filling a camp with their kids. And those new campers will pay for the tools and materials and staff that you’ve always wanted. The more volunteers, the more meaningful the projects, the more enthusiastic salespeople they become. They’re part of your family.

Put Off Until Tomorrow

Camp people love to make lists and set goals, and we become obsessed with having something “new” each year. Maybe it’s a holdover from trying to please our own parents, but I think we put too much attention on the “new” and not enough on everything being “fixed.” (In fact, when you add something totally new, it tends to make everything else around it look even shabbier than it did before!) Parents don’t mind “rustic.” They detest “dirty and run-down.”

Here’s why I think you should put off some projects until after camp starts, because campers will have the thrill of their life helping you build them. Some of you have great memories of learning skills at your dad’s side, “helping” him when, in fact, he was spending three times as long because he saw the joy it brought you in saying, “Look what I did!” But today that experience is fairly rare. Camp parents often spend less time with their kids because they think that a nice house and an expensive college are more important than showing the kids how to use a hammer or wrench or a cordless drill. (You know I’m right because so many of our counselors are clueless with tools!)

For a kid (and the kid in all of us), using tools is fun. Building useful stuff is fun. Working together on a project builds friendships and lifelong memories. Learning new skills builds confidence and the courage to try new things. And doing all this with a caring adult gives kids a sense of worth and strength of character.

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