Recipe for Summer Success

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Throughout the winter months, I often say that the preseason weeks are typically my most exhausting and challenging of the whole year. There’s a whole lot of crucial work that takes place as we orient the counselors, trippers, specialty staff, and administrators to the tremendous task at hand. Before all the fun and laughter begins on Monday with the arrival of the campers, the very important work of training the staff must first be tended to in a series of intensive workshops and leadership sessions. It might be perhaps the biggest and most labor-intensive part of my job as a camp director, but preparing our staff will yield incredible dividends all summer long.

After the roughly 130 staffers arrived and got settled this past Sunday, we officially began orientation week with a little tradition we’ve grown fond of carrying out the last few years—one that we find helps to teach our counselors what the expectations of the campers’ parents might be.

With the whole crew gathered in the lodge after dinner, we pack a bag filled with everything our youngest child needs (this year, it’s Finn’s turn to play the part). We pack bottles, sunscreen, diapers, etc., just as a camper arrives at camp carrying bags filled with all she needs to get through a summer at BT. We then select one random staff member and hand over our baby, while I drop the bag at that staff member’s feet. We then explain a list of instructions, get teary eyed, and start to cry. I tell her that it’ll be okay, and we leave the lodge. We stay outside for five minutes, which is usually enough time for the baby to get fussy and for the staff to start to wonder what is going, and what the heck they are supposed to do with this kid!

After these few minutes pass, we return to the group, take our squirming baby back into our arms (usually to the relief of our poor, unsuspecting  guinea pig), and ask the staff, “Why do you think we did this, and for what purpose?” We use the subsequent time to talk about our expectations of each counselor and supporting staff member during the summer, as well as those of our camper’s parents. We explain that you parents at home are also handing off your children much like we did with Finn. For this exercise, we always make sure to use our youngest child in order to emphasize the point that for our campers’ parents, sending a daughter away to summer camp means sending away their baby, their most precious possession to be cared for by others. From the moment our staff arrives in camp until they leave at the end of the summer, the trust you place in us is held sacred and close.

From that first night forward, Finn goes on home, and the intensity level for the staff increases. Beginning straight after breakfast and lasting well after sundown, the schedule is packed with everything from emergency drills to icebreakers, with training sessions aplenty. Some of those sessions include:

  • Active Listening
  • Risk Management
  • Emergency Procedures
  • BT Values
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Camp Procedures
  • Proper Praise for Children
  • Counseling Scenarios (role play)
  • Team Building
  • Mean Girls and Bullying
  • Activity Instruction
  • Cabin Dynamics
  • Mother Functions
  • Homesickness

Though all camps take seriously the hiring and training of staff, not every camp can boast the exceptional staff to camper ratio that Birch Trail delivers; our cabins have 3 or 4 counselor for 8 campers. This summer we’ll have about 200 campers with 130 staff members—that’s pretty amazing! What’s even better is how truly incredible these counselors, trippers, chefs, tennis pros, teachers, artists, and administrators can be when given the training and empowerment offered here at Birch Trail’s unparalleled orientation week.

 

When it comes to creating a sense of community here, the most important element of everything mentioned above is, hands down, the amount of value we place on each individual staff member. If every single person here feels integral to the summer’s success, and if we invest our time and care into all who can make a difference if the lives of our campers, then we know we are sure to have another fantastic season. It’s a time-honored, family-tested recipe. And I’m sure you can guess what that secret ingredient is. Yup … love, of course!

 

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