Making Tradition Last

Tradition is an important part of the camp experience. These long-standing legacies are what define a camp’s character and its story. These perennial practices are what campers think about while they are day dreaming in school all winter long and what they look forward to every spring.

Staff members discuss these curious customs whenever they reminisce with their peers, both those who work as counselors and those who do not. Traditions are those hand-me-down days, programs, songs, displays and activities that proclaim a camp’s identity and unique standing in the world.

These historical happenings express a camp’s personality and pride. Camp traditions highlight the evolution of both a camper and counselor’s timeline. The older they grow the more imbedded they become in that process, the more they take ownership of it and the harder they strive to preserve and secure their own place in those traditions.

Bringing Tradition to Life

The formula for successful tradition begins with the appropriateness of them. Are they appealing to that specific age group and will they maintain that appeal for more than two to three years? Is there another tradition that will replace one tradition once a specific camper has aged out of that camp group and moved up? This also holds true for the counselors.

Many counselors prefer to follow a group of campers as they grow older, following the same path that many of them followed as campers themselves.

Clearly as both campers and counselors mature, their interests, sense of humor, values and skill levels change, so must the traditions they participate in.

Tradition can only become “real” when a consistent effort is made to continue it, even when you get a sense that a particular individual or group is not as enthusiastic about it as others in the past.

One should never judge a current success or failure, when it comes to traditions, without considering who and what made it appealing in the past and who is waiting in the wings to participate in it.

Tradition requires repetition and a consistent and a well scripted strategy, when necessary. One cannot overemphasize the issue of ownership and accountability. The campers and staff must recognize that they own the tradition, not the camp administrators.

However, the camp directors must be able to be held accountable for the success of traditions. Camp administrators must remain as hands-off as possible without losing sight of their responsibilities.

This relationship is never as obvious as in our end of the year celebration, in which the counselors take complete control over every aspect of that event. It’s theirs! They take such enormous pride in the preparation and the performance, and it has become such an impressive event that extended family members, members of our community, alumnae and members of our community center (where our camp is run), all attend the affair, year after year.

It’s also very important to include traditions that incorporate and impact the community and the world in which we live. Several of our traditions, such as our Swim-a-Thon — which raises money for the Children’s Heart Foundation — and our Mitzvah Projects — which raise money for the Gulfcoast Jewish Family Services — are activities that the entire camp, their families and the surrounding community all participate in and get excited about.

Tradition builds community and character. Some traditions can be all about having fun, while others may be important because they teach a valuable lesson and contribute to an effort to improve the quality of life.

It’s never the wrong time to start new traditions or revive dormant ones. Traditions are fun; they can improve team spirit and teamwork as well as fuel that good old competitive spirit.

They have value in terms of how they can encourage respect and appreciation of those who came before them and those who will follow after them.

Traditions are not simply to be acknowledged, they are to be nurtured, protected, enjoyed and, most importantly, passed on. Some are strictly age appropriate, some camp-wide and some even involve the greater community at large, but all are testimonials to the significance of camp life because everyone can participate.

An individual does not need to excel on the playing field or demonstrate special skills or knowledge; one simply needs to get involved. All, in some small or large way, contribute to the reasons why, whether it’s a day camp or sleep-away, or a specialty or a general camp. These experiences create lifelong memories.

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  3. Orient Before Orientation
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