Tradition & Foresight

The program, facilities, and atmosphere of camp are a type of throwback to what conventional neighborhoods used to provide. Safety, structure, relationships, recreation, and a place to unwind is what Camp Birchmont offers that is opposite to what most kids experience every day.

The leadership comprehends the time restraints and bombardment of entertainment in the world, and seeks to slow things down and turn back time for their campers.

Pierce emphasizes, “Since the kids don’t have access to computers, cell phones, or email, camp is very different from their daily lives, and it should be different, rather than sitting in front of the TV. You may be playing checkers or knock-hockey, which is much more interactive, but we don’t want them to go into culture shock so we have special events just for the fun of it.”

Thus, these fun events are planned to enhance the program throughout the summer by giving kids rare community building and interactive experiences.

These activities are non-gender based that bring the boys and girls together. For instance, the camp put on a hoedown, complete with hayride, mechanical bull, and a country and western band. Three dances are also held each year. One is the “day-glow” dance with live DJs, a black-lit room, fluorescent face paints, and glowing hair gel. Others may be a pirate day, a treasure hunt, or a drive-in movie experience showing E.T. on a 50-ft. screen.

Family Connection

Although most families send their children for the full summer, Pierce sees a growing market for the half summer sessions. “We live in a busy world. Today’s parents both work and would like to have their kids for part of the summer and do something family oriented.”

Although 60 percent of the clientele is from the New York and tri-state area, last summer, campers from 16 states and six countries benefited from the camp.

Pierce also gives credit to Bunk1.com for sculpting a distinctive “one-way mirror” for the camp. Pierce goes on, “We probably put 3,500 pictures online through Bunk1. The parents can look in and yet let the campers do what resident camping has been doing for over 100 years, which is letting them interact and start off on their own path of self-reliance and independence.”

Since Pierce started uploading photos online, he has seen a reduction in anxious parents. Utilizing this system, parents can also email their children while they are at camp, and the staff will print the email and deliver it to the camper.

This co-ed camp serves approximately 400 boys and girls each summer for an eight-week session. With the ages ranging from 8 to 15 years old, and a return rate of 90 percent, the staff has the opportunity to see these children grow and develop throughout their formative years.

Approximately 140 staffers are hired for the summer, giving Pierce a 1 to 3 staff to camper ratio, thus remaining true to the value of low tech and high touch.

A potential staff member undergoes an intensive hiring process with an 8-day required training, thus resulting in low turnover. He admits that it is time consuming, but it is necessary to go through the full application procedure, with background checks, contacting references, and conversations with former employers.

Most of his staff has been with him over three years all the way up to 45 years.

There is no new construction planned, but with over 60 buildings on site, Pierce will be updating and renovating six pine-floor cabins this year. And with a third of the cabins having fireplaces, and ingredients to make smores on hand, there is plenty of space for indoor programming, rain or shine.

Pierce sees parent communication as a top priority, and he has taken several steps to increase effectiveness in this area.

For example, group leaders call each new parent before camp begins to inquire about the individual needs of the camper. This simple act of contact has increased confidence among parents who may be concerned about sending their child away for the entire summer.

Having an on-line presence is another very important way of communicating with the parents.

Updating all camp documentation is also important when dealing with parents. Revising the camper enrollment form to be more like a contract to avoid legal issues has been one step taken in the business of camping.

“Parents need to know everything up front, like payment schedules, camp policies, regulations, rules, medical care and the permission to use campers’ images,” says Pierce. “Where the older version was nothing more than personal information and who to contact in case of emergency, now the contract means more to help the camp protect themselves.”

With a history of experience, generations of learning, and a dedication to excellence, the Pierce family nurtures their camping heritage into the future.

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