Orient Before Orientation

The first impulse is to impress alumni with all that you will do during your time as camp director… I know, I do it too! The truth is, they want to share with you how special this place is to them. They want to get a sense of the person you are as the director — the person whom they are trusting to protect a place so very special to them.

Meet with alumni and get their impressions, feelings and stories. This knowledge will also give you the insight to work with new counselors and the old.

Sometimes staff comes to a place where there has been so much turnover and so little record keeping, that the stories of the past have been temporarily lost. We could talk about alumni development at this point, but let’s stay focused on what you can do.

Start by finding alumni. Call past employees from the payroll records, call campers and their parents to ask their favorite things about camp, read old staff manuals, find old meeting minutes, and anything that can give you a glimpse into the past.

Then merge what you can find with your own experience to create the next year. Tradition is the repeating of an event or occasion from year to year. The goal is to have traditions as old as the camp. If not, then anything that lasts three to four years becomes tradition to your campers.

As you start your new job or reevaluate your current one, begin the first day recording and writing your camp’s history down. Use curriculum guide books to record activities and events, have people write down their stories and create a camp scrap book or story book. Record, record, record. Give your camp a paper (or computer file) history. By doing this you provide a camp history and tradition.


1. Plan your strategy for staff recruitment and orientation.

Remember that your responsibility begins when they sign the agreement.

2. Prepare for staff’s arrival and keep them busy and educated.

3. Train them with a mix of skills and stories, and if you need stories to tell, then find them before they arrive.

Orienting your team and directors is the pace setter for your summer, and you as the director or administrator are the pace car.

Good luck with the race!

Jeff Merhige is the executive director of YMCA Camp Kern, Dayton YMCA, Dayton, Ohio.

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  1. Off-Season Prep
  2. Commitment to Excellence
  3. KOOL Staff Orientation
  4. The Ultimate Survivor
  5. Out in Front

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