Through A Different Lens

To best understand the places of my camp, I studied how they were used and what needed attention. Devising a simple Excel spreadsheet to capture a growing list of facility-based concerns, I was able to communicate, prioritize, and track the progress of a variety of small, medium, and large projects ranging from simple touch-up painting to much more intense, expensive capital projects. I monitored how spaces were incorporated not only into the summer camp program, but how they either dovetailed into or out of shoulder season programs. This gave project planning parameters for the facilities team who managed much of the on-site improvements. It also forecasted potential scheduling conflicts for user groups, volunteer work days and other schedule-dependent activities in preparation for the cornerstone summer camp program.



When it came to the stuff, I participated in the most cathartic process possible. With the help of my colleague, the program director, we surveyed the grounds in a pick-up truck and started to dispatch the unnecessary and cluttersome items that held the camp back from an efficient and attractive appearance. We treated this like what one might see on a home-improvement show. We created three areas for trash, keeping, and re-purpose. What remained was a clean and user-friendly program area storage space along with a streamlined collection of usable supplies. It felt good.


Whether it is facing the inclusion of technology or minimizing invisible garbage, know that change is good, as is respecting the folklore and history of a camp. Be mindful of innovation and tradition and offer campers opportunities to grow wherever possible.

Considerations Before Change: 

  • Timing is everything. Consider the impact on the program and the people. How much of an intrusion or a solution will innovation create? What are the advantages of permitting campers the use of electronics? Make sure that you factor in the age of your camper and give thought to where and when devices may be permitted. Also, make it clear to staff members that they are always on the clock as role models. If a counselor is on his or her phone at the ropes course, the kids will notice. 
  • Knowledge is power. Perhaps you are overlooking an opportunity to learn something. The camper who has their earbuds in might not be introverted or tuning you out. They may have a strong interest in music or poetry and allowing them to listen may help them connect with activities, other kids and you. It might just create that Aha! moment you and your camper have been looking for all summer.
  • Tranquility for some is noise for others. A peaceful lake for early morning fishing might appeal to you as a source of calm in the beautiful chaos of summer, but for your camper it might be stressful. Giving your camper a chance to be themselves might mean some loud headphones during rest time. 
  • Look yourself in the eye. What are you willing to sacrifice for the success of the camp? Have the guts to self-evaluate your stance on innovation and the positive impact it can have on the camp, the staff members and the campers. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what you can to do to continue to motivate, inspire, and grow your camp community.

John Lefner is the director of operations at the Saratoga Independent School in Saratoga Springs, NY. Prior to joining the school, he was the assistant director of operations at Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne, NY and provided leadership to various YMCA branches and camps in Florida and Rhode Island. Reach him at


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