Open Minds And Perspectives

Get out of the office and into your camp.

As week 5 of the summer season arrives, years of experience remind me to check for signs of fatigue in staff members, as well as in myself. One morning, I am wide awake as my alarm clock sounds at 5:00 a.m., for I need to set up a tent this morning. Today, Paul and Chris will prove to the campers that the counselors really do live at camp.

By 6:00 a.m., I am assembling the tent on the back deck. As campers walk by the deck after morning announcements, they will certainly notice the domed tent. Chris and Paul arrive at 8:00 a.m. in their pajamas, and quickly report to the back deck, before the early-morning campers see them.

Of course, when the two lead counselors are not present at morning announcements, curious minds lead to questions about their absence. I purposely delay the announcements, and as I walk down the back path, I hear several campers asking, “Where’s Paul?” Other campers add, “Maybe Chris is sick.”

As I approach the main field for the announcements, the administrative assistant nudges me and states, “A mom just called from her cell phone to let us know that Bus C just reached the last stop and will be late because of the traffic.”

Without a second’s thought, I reply, “Call that parent and let her know that I will not start camp until Bus C arrives. Later on, please call the bus company and ask the driver if he’s willing to pick up the campers at the last two bus stops first.” I think to myself, “That’s it, doing the route backwards will alter the route into camp and avoid the traffic on the highway!”

Bus C arrives, and I bellow, “Good morning, campers!” After the announcements, the campers proceed indoors to put their bags away. There is still some gossip about Chris and Paul’s absence. As the campers approach the deck, the tent becomes a curiosity.

Next, Paul and Chris’s alarm clock sounds, and they stumble out of the tent. The campers, rather amused by this, begin to form their own assumptions. One camper exclaims, “Paul and Chris really do live at camp!” Another camper asks, “Do you think that they toasted marshmallows last night with Ted the Bear?”

One Week Later

Paul arrives in the camp office earlier than usual this morning (not in his pajamas), and states, “I have this rather crazy idea.” Four weeks ago, I may have reluctantly listened to his idea, but on the sixth week of camp Paul has my undivided attention. After all, shouldn’t the person who crafted part of our camp culture with Ted be given the chance to make his proposal?

Later, as I’m adding a few last-minute notes to the morning-announcement agenda, the administrative assistant approaches me and says. “A parent of a camper on Bus C called; she wanted to thank you for switching the route. She’s very happy her children arrived to camp on time.”

I reply, “She shouldn’t thank me, she should thank Ted!” The administrative assistant inquires, “We don’t have any counselors named Ted. Who’s Ted?” Astonished, I respond, “You need to get out of the office more often.”

The Point

I share this experience with fellow camp administrators as a reminder to step outside of the office and learn about the energy and creativity that staff members bring to the camp community.

My intention is not to belittle the daunting tasks and duties of administrators, nor do I intend to imply that customer service and the safety of campers are to be marginalized. Customer service and making camp a safe place are the first priorities.

Instead, I encourage administrators to take a deeper look at what the camp culture has to offer both campers and staff. For eight weeks, we don’t rely on television or computer images to entertain us; instead we use our imaginations and playful spirit.

Positive energy stimulates positive thinking. Yes, the refrigerator will break and all of the food will have to be packed into coolers, and you will be on a first-name basis with the clerk at the corner store where you have to run every day to buy ice.

And the pool will appear to have a green tint to it, making it difficult to see the 5-inch disk at the bottom, and you will have to cancel swim.

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