Through A Different Lens

But then I realized this doesn’t just apply to programming. While attending a convention a in 2012, Gary Forster led a session on camp facilities. While dispensing advice on a variety of practical solutions for the physical maintenance of camp, one point resonated above all others—Keep an eye out for the invisible garbage. 

CB0114_Lefner_Progress2As camp professionals, we are so absorbed in every facet of our camps that we sometimes become part of the landscape. As much as a camper or returning staff member might look forward to seeing the ropes course or the lake, they too look for you in their mental picture of what camp looks like. What we also miss so often in the mental picture are the unpleasant reminders of unfinished projects, eyesores that turn into landmarks, and accepted circumstances that deserve attention. 

When Forster mentioned ‘invisible garbage’ he was not referring to a pile of trash that had gained some sort of Harry Potter-esque status. He meant the things that we overlook because we have accepted that


they will always be there. For me, it was an old overhead projector. As one of many random in-kind donations accepted over the years at camp, a classroom overhead projector had arrived and never found a useful role. It had been shuttled from storage closet to stage area, from the basement of an office to the bottom of a box and there it remained for 6 months at the entrance to a camper cabin.  

Every morning, I would look at it, sigh, and make a mental note to find a new home for it. There was a positive though. It was a cycle of self-disappointment that generated an opportunity. It opened my eyes not to a purposeful future for the projector, but to a new way of thinking. How many times had I noticed something that failed to meet my expectations at camp? Were there things that I settled for because that was just the way they were? I had let invisible garbage get the better of me for too long and it was time to face it squarely. I threw away the projector and put together a plan.   

The first step in my invisible garbage battle was to get to know my camp again. I went on a tour with a volunteer who regularly led tours to see camp through a different lens. My life at camp was always in a rush so I tried hard to go slow, and consider the perspective of different stakeholders. How would a parent view this activity? Would a child respond favorably to how we eat lunch? How long has that laundry cart been sitting there? 

The next step was to categorize the areas of improvement. I focused on three logical headings: 

  • People
  • Places
  • Stuff.



For the people, I considered the quality of the interactions between staff member and staff member, staff members and campers, and campers and campers. I noted how respectful each one was, how careful they were with each other’s feelings, and how they grew to understand one another. Effort was made to share these observations informally when we crossed paths in the dining hall late at night or in a more concrete fashion during one-on-one meetings.



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