Take Charge

Capital expenses are usually from a capital budget. This budget stands outside of the operational but is sometimes fed by the depreciation expense that all directors should place in their budget.

When you fund depreciation you are putting your facility on the road to being maintained and improved as you use it. A new director should always remember that all things grow old and it costs to repair or replace. Plan for those needs.

A suggestion would be to try and add something very visible each year to the camp. After a few years campers and parents get excited to see what will be new this year. It helps to overcome the fear of change that so many go through when it comes to camps and camp tradition.


Change is the worst word you can use in a camp setting. It is worst then profanity! People fear it. Camps are terrified of it. But it is part of our nature and the natural order of things. Time goes on no matter what, and it forces change.

A new building will become an old building one day, and the favorite counselor one year will grow and move onto do something else the next. Each and every summer there will be a different makeup of campers! (If not, then you have no future.)

It is possible to change with the times without losing the identity that makes your camp so unique. How? Teach your young staff that change is okay. It doesn’t mean dumping the past or the old ways, but modifying them. Having those traditions grows and evolves.

Our motto at our camp in 2000 was, “Change is inevitable but growth is optional!” We adopted this saying because if you refuse to face each New Year for its possibilities and uniqueness then you live in the past and add nothing.

Bring in new staff each year. Let them bring their ideas and ask them to merge them with their new home. Grow staff from your camper population. They carry the memories of their favorite times and the pass the oral history of your camp down to the next crop of would-be staffers.

Teach your staff to record the histories and favorite activities so that they can be passed along. Use the program books and curriculum guides discussed in last month’s article.

Camp traditions tell the story of your camp and give it a unique persona for people to identify with and remember. But work each summer to grow those traditions to keep pace with the changing world and its requirements.

Some of the old traditions may not be acceptable in today’s legal conscious world. Try not to just squash the tradition. Alter it; have it evolve.

We had a game called the Great Escape, which was a camp tradition for over 15 years. The game was basically a very difficult obstacle course, which involved a camp version of hazing.

Then, as you’re probably aware, some well-publicized hazing incidents in the military and frat houses made anything resembling hazing a very bad idea. The game was immediately altered to make it a non-hazing type activity that was still fun and resembled the 15-year tradition.

Too many times people are quick to eliminate an activity versus evolving it to meet the needs of the times. Evolving traditions create less resistance in your staff and camper population. It even leads to a greater respect for your creativity.

Lastly, it is so very important that a new director creates a plan in all areas of the job, including financial, facility, program and personal.

Your plan will modify itself over the course of your job, but it will serve as a motivator and guide through the difficult times ahead.

A five-year plan is usually a great road map. You do not have to plan to stay at the camp or in the position for five years, but a five-year plan gives your vision enough time to slowly develop. It also allows you to sell your vision to volunteers and advisors, and allows those who may follow in your stead an idea of where you were headed.

Try to create a plan that survives and prospers even after you leave. Planning is an educational tool for you and those around you. Good luck.

Jeffrey Merhige is the Director of Camping Services for the Ann Arbor YMCA — Camp Al-Gon-Quian.

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Related posts:

  1. Staff Continuum
  2. Reaching Out
  3. Pros in Teaching
  4. The Joy of Both Gender Camping!
  5. Summer of Surprises

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