Sailing the Seas

CAMP SNAPSHOT

Camp Sea Gull (boys’ camp)/Camp Seafarer (girls’ camp)

Arapahoe, N.C.

www.seagull-seafarer.org

Four-week term (ages 7-16): $2,775

One-week starter camp (ages 6-9): $600

(Sea Gull/Seafarer also offers international traveling programs and specialty camps at various price levels)

Running a successful camp is about mixing the right ingredients, in the right order, in the right way. Or, for sailors, it’s about blending a skilled skipper and crew with a sturdy ship.

Cille Griffith found that each ingredient in camp has to work and fit together just so to ensure continued success. Griffith became Camp Seafarer’s director about 10 years ago (Seafarer is the girls’ component of the Sea Gull/Seafarer duo), and learned one of the most valuable lessons a director can learn… how to maximize teamwork toward a common goal.

Beginnings

Griffith had been a camper and counselor at Seafarer years ago, and in between the time she was asked to take the director’s position, she married, had children, went to graduate school and taught. Cille’s husband, Lloyd, directed a Y camp in the Berkshires while Cille was teaching. Lloyd became the director at Sea Gull 12 years ago.

“I’m just glad I didn’t know before I went into it how difficult it was going to be and how many times I was going to feel insecure about what I was doing and how I was going to figure things out,” Cille says. “My history had been away from camp for so long, so they didn’t know me. I didn’t have the relationships with the staff — I didn’t know their skills and they didn’t know mine.”

Faced with that situation, some people may try to assert their leadership by making wholesale changes to the camp, but Cille took a different path. She describes herself as a “collaborative leader” and this style helped ease the transition.

“They were very attached, and rightly so, to the previous director, Judy Bright. We had to build a relationship of trust, and that was the bottom line. You should start out trying to learn everything you can learn. I was very open and honest about needing their help and understanding and, more than anything, needing their support. I think they respected the fact that I was vulnerable and wanted their input,” Cille says.

There’s a fine line between allowing collaboration to make the director into a puppet of sorts, and being a dictator. Cille says she’s found that balance.

“Young people really like collaborative leadership. They liked that I respected their feelings and opinions, and that I had a vision,” Cille says. “I was going to get their input, but they could also count on me to make decisions for the camp. Right from the beginning we had an agreement. They might not agree with my final decision, but the expectation was that when they signed that contract as the administrative staff member that they would support that.”

Foundations

A lot of what the Griffiths have learned about running the camp come from its founder, Wyatt Taylor. One of Taylor’s favorite mantras was, “When you stop getting better, you stop being good.”

Camp Sea Gull/Seafarer has taken the words to heart. It has kept what was a rock-solid foundation for camp programming, while improving and expanding on the formula. The camp has maintained its core mission since its inception in 1948 (the girls’ camp was founded in 1961).

Early on, the camp decided on a different method of guiding children through activities. Rather than work out pre-determined schedules, the children were (and are) given day-to-day free choice.

“Some parents will call with a concern about what’s keeping their children from wandering for four weeks and not doing anything, and it’s a good question because it’s a big camp (about 800 boys and 300 staff at Sea Gull, 600 girls and about 250 staff at Seafarer),” says associate director Paul Frantz, “We put a lot of emphasis on children growing in their independence and self confidence to go and try new things.”

The camp takes what Frantz calls a “liberal arts approach.” Campers are encouraged to try everything, then to narrow the field to what interests them most.

The system is filled with checks and balances. First, there’s a low camper-to-counselor ratio, about three-to-one. The ratio allows more individual attention. Help, guidance and influence is ever-present.

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