Take Charge

Whenever you say yes to a new job in camping you inherit the good and bad of a camp’s three main components — staff, facility and traditions.

There are lots of challenges when a new director arrives at camp.

Each one of these three components can make or break a new director. All camps have a story and how you add your chapter to that camp’s history book can go many ways, and a lot of that depends on the situation and the condition of the camp when you come on board.

Staff

A new director is the focus of rumors and speculation when they arrive at their new position. The staff that has been there waits to see what you’re going to do, and, let’s be honest, who will stay and who will go under the new director.

In my case I was the first non-homegrown director of camp Al-Gon-Quian in some years. The site directors had all been campers and were promoted up the ranks to serve as the camp director. There are positives and negatives to such an arrangement…

A camp’s recent history is very intact because there is staff longevity and a greater retention rate of campers wanting to follow in the footsteps of their counselor idols.

However, the division between personal and professional is smeared and, in some cases, wiped away, because everyone has grown up together. Rules that are on paper may no longer apply or have any true consistency to them.

Also, the ability for new staff to join the ranks is nearly impossible because the circle of friends is so tight that you’re lucky to keep new staff longer then a season.

In one of the very first meetings with the staff I had inherited the future program director told me to just relax and that they would spend the summer showing me how the camp operates. At this point some new directors might sit back and let the summer operation unfold.

Dangerous game! Why? Your ability to take charge is now hampered by your lack on getting involved and making adjustments that could help the program.

You are the director. Get involved; analyze how the program works presently and how it could be improved. Make the changes to show that you are in charge, have the right experience and are ready to lead the program.

Staff needs to know that there is a level of trust and confidence in their new leader. How is that trust and respect determined? By consistency and outright full disclosure of rules and standards. It is when your rules and standards are first broken that the staff decides if you are for real as an administrator.

Can they trust you? Are their boundaries where they know they are safe if they maintain them?

People need to know that they have a certain amount of control over their own destiny. Camp staff is much the same way. They need to know there are rules that are clear and they know the consequences if they are broken.

No matter the person or the position, let your best friend off and the rest of the staff loses trust in you and looks for the next exception.

Facilities

This is a huge area of undertaking for any new director. You need to research the buildings on your campus. Take a walk and take notes on every building in your new facility.

At the same time ask yourself what the camp could use in the future, what it could do without, or what changes, if any, make sense.

As a director you need to create a road map of development, both in the program and the facility. These two areas must grow together each year following your goals. It is here that you start the process of strategic planning.

So, back to basics — take notes and prepare priority lists of repairs and building needs. Take the repairs and build them into your daily and weekly maintenance program, which you can now write as a result of your notes.

The strategic planning will also force a new director to plan for revenue sources for their needs. What can be built into the operational budget? What can be a capital budget expense? What needs to be a donor item? Operational expenses should be planned as carefully as the day-to-day operation of the camp.

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