It’s been 5 days since the SpringHill summer ended. 27,000 children and teens, 1100 young adult leaders, 135 SpringHill locations in eight states, thousands of parents and families, volunteers, miles traveled, and, most importantly, 10,000’s of transformed lives. Yes, at SpringHill, we pack 80% of our direct missional work into 4 months.
From the middle of May till the final SpringHill Experience is finished in the middle of August, I feel as though I’m shouldering a great weight – the responsibility for the lives of all these people. But at the same time, I’ve also just lived four months off the inspiration and energy that comes from working with such an amazing, embracing, talented, committed and diverse SpringHill community –
- professional staff who worked hard the prior 8 months to have us ready for summer then served tirelessly almost every day, all day, for 4 straight months.
- summer leaders, who give up their summer to serve kids unselfishly, with great love, energy and passion.
- volunteers, ambassadors, and supporters who host, paint, drive trams, serve in our medical centers, provide meals, garden, and work in the offices, helping us create SpringHill Experiences.
- kids, families and partners we had the privilege to serve this summer.
- finally, I ran all summer on the energy provided by the Spirit, seeing, hearing and knowing that life changing, everlasting work was being done through that same Spirit in the lives of countless people.
So, yes there’s a let down. Like finishing a long race, or accomplishing a significant goal, or coming off any adrenaline high, finishing a SpringHill summer means coming off the mountain. It means adapting to a new season of planning, steady work, and looking ahead to what’s next. So what do I do to overcome this let down?
- I look back over the past 4 months and remember and reflect on the remarkable stories, people, relationships, learnings, and growth that happened. I allow myself to bask in all of these for a while. This remembering positively answers the question, the question that so often leaks into my mind this time of the year, was it all worth it?
- I also begin to plan, set goals – both personal and professional – for not only the next 8 months but how I want next summer to be. I’m always looking for ways to make next summer the best yet. This forward look provides me new energy to tackle this next season with enthusiasm.
- I simply accept these moments will be part of my yearly rhythm, as long as I’m doing this work. I embrace it, and take advantage of the opportunities it provides.
- Finally, I make time to do those things (like read good books , go fishing, hangout with family and friends, or write again – ie. blog post) that I just couldn’t get to these past months.
So as we tell kids at SpringHill, you can’t stay on the mountain forever – you have to go back home. For us, SpringHill summers don’t last forever either, we have to go back home (or to the office) and get ready for another summer. There’s new work to be done, places to go, people to meet. Next summer will be here before we know it when we’ll have another opportunity to experience it all over again.
Recently I was at an automotive service business run by a past SpringHill camper. When I picked up my car I asked this SpringHill alum for a tour of his business. You see I was not only interested in learning about his business but more importantly I wanted to get a glimpse into the life of one of our past campers.
After the tour we stood in the middle of his shop floor and talked about his life as a young entrepreneur. Our conversation drifted to SpringHill and reminiscing about those summers when his parents would drop he and his brothers off at camp. As we shared those memories together I could see his eyes lighting up. That’s when he said –
“It’s funny you’re here and we’re talking about camp because I was just recently thinking about my camp experiences. It’s become clear to me just how important they were in my development as a person. I was a shy, quiet kid. But at camp I gained confidence to interact with others and build positive relationships.”
Hearing him say this while sitting in the middle of his impressive business, brought to life the reality I’ve built my vocation on – that summer camp is an incredibly spiritual, emotional, and social building experience. Camp is one of those milestone moments where people’s live’s takes a quantum step forward.
And this is why SpringHill is so committed to creating life-transforming summer camp experiences. We see no other short-term experience in the world that provides young people such a life-long payback than attending summer camp. If there were, trust me, SpringHill would offer it in a New York minute. But there just isn’t. There’s no other experience that provides the breath and depth of personal, long-term growth than summer camp.
Which means there is no better short-term investment with such a life-long payback that a person can make for the child they love then sending them to camp this summer.
No, the letters F.T.K. are not secret code, and yes, they have meaning, serious meaning. As a matter of fact these letters stand for two significant but related purposes.
These two purposes highlight the reason why over 1000 summer and year around SpringHill leaders just ran the sprint we call summer camp. It’s why they worked uncountable hours, at times in uncomfortable weather and conditions, and often enduring heartache and disappointment. It’s also why they experienced the joy of loving, serving, teaching, coaching, and leading nearly 28,000 children and students. F.T.K. moved these leaders to do all they could to assure campers had the best week of their year and the most transformative experience of their life.
F.T.K. is also why 1000’s of supporters, ambassadors, prayer partners, volunteers, churches and families invest in the work SpringHill does every summer.
It’s what drives the SpringHill family, every day, to be more creative in their work, and more effective in serving more kids, families and churches in more places.
F.T.K. is how we ultimately evaluate the work we did this summer. It is SpringHill’s plumb line, it’s what moves us, inspires us, sustains us and brought all of us together this summer.
And it’s why, for the past 18 summers, I’ve devoted my vocational life serving SpringHill’s mission. And yes I know, if you’re not connected to SpringHill, you may not know the multiple meanings of F.T.K..
The words behind F.T.K. are significant yet quite straightforward. And as soon as you read them, you’ll understand why they are the guiding force of our work this summer.
F.T.K. represents both – For the Kids, and – For the Kingdom. Hands down, with no serious rivals, there’s no better cause, no more important work, no better way to spend a summer than serving kids and His Kingdom. Just ask the 1000’s of people who did so this summer and the 10,000’s of kids, families and churches who experienced the fruit of their work.
With the end of summer drawing near 10,000’s of college age adults around the country will be ending their summer jobs at camps and will be looking for new work. So being a former corporate employment manager and current camp professional it seems appropriate for me to highlight the 12 reasons why smart employers will seek out and hire these former camp staff:
Former Summer Camp Staff are:
- Hard working – camp jobs are a 24 hour/7 day a week jobs
- Disciplined and timely – camps run on schedules that need to be followed
- Responsible – what’s more important than the safety and care of children?
- Selfless – camp jobs require putting the needs and desires others before their own
- Flexible and adaptable – camp requires staff to adjust to changing conditions (weather is so unpredictable)
- Team players (they know how to work and play well with others) – camps are small, tight-knit communities where only team players survive
- Very good with the public – these folks interacted professionally daily with parents, camp inspectors, donors and others
- Creative – because their job was to ensure campers had the best week of their summer
- Teachers and coaches, since they were responsible to help others learn life lessons, do new activities, and experience new people, places and things
- Policy followers because camp has rules and it’s important that they’re followed
- Policy questioners, because they’ve learned that following a policy can stand in the way of achieving the higher goals of summer camp which is to provide life changing experiences for campers
Leaders, having led 7 to 15 people everyday for the entire summer
So you can see, smart employers will be first in line to hire these well-trained, experienced, and talented people. Their summer experience puts them miles ahead of their peers.
- Hard working – camp jobs are a 24 hour/7 day a week jobs
This statement to me and a small group of our year around staff during the closing day of camp by a father of a camper with special needs. The father went onto explain that his son has been coming to SpringHill for a number of summers and it’s always the high light of his son’s year. It’s the week when his son feels accepted and loved like a “normal” kid.
I believe it’s this acceptance and love that the dad was referring to when he said, almost to himself, “I only wish the rest of the world could be more like SpringHill”.
Of course it’s always great to hear this kind of unsolicited feedback from a parent. Our goal is that every kid will feel like this camper, to experience the love of Christ through our staff and in the small communities we create.
So with summer camp just ending (and I’m already starting to miss it), this father’s wish has had me thinking. I’ve realized his wish really isn’t a wish at all, but instead it’s our ultimate mission.
You see at SpringHill we exist to create experiences (we call them SpringHill Experience) where Christ can transform the lives of young people. These experiences include embracing all kinds of kids, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done or where they’ve come from. Yet, as powerful as this is, the SpringHill Experience isn’t an end unto itself; it is part of something bigger.
That something bigger is the Church’s work of bringing the values and reality of Christ’s Kingdom into the world. In other words, we haven’t thoroughly done our job unless our campers and staff are leaving SpringHill and bringing a little of it back into the world, making the world a little more like SpringHill, which really means making the world little more like Christ’s Kingdom.43.892799-85.264956
Every single day during the 100 days of our summer camping season, beginning with staff training, we’re serving and caring for some of our 25,000 campers and 1000 summer staff. As a result, every single day, for 100 straight days I make three specific requests to God. These requests not only reflect our organizational priorities and focus but they also reflect my own personal hopes and desires for those we serve and those serve alongside.
My first request, because it’s our most important responsibility, is that our campers and staff are safe spiritually, emotionally and physically. I ask God to protect each camper, staff member and all those who visit our camps. And I pray for all our lifeguards, activity staff, counselors and other staff with the responsibility for the direct care of our campers.
The second request I make is that God will, through the experiences we create, transform the lives of our campers and staff. I make this request because this is our mission, it’s why we exist, it’s what we’re to do (create experiences) and it’s the outcome (life transformation) we’re working and praying for. The answer to this request is when a camper or staff leaves SpringHill with new attitudes, behaviors and perspective on life that are more aligned with God than before they arrived.
My final request is simply that we fill every one of our camp spots, that we’re granted the opportunity to serve as many kids as we’re capable of providing an outstanding SpringHill Experience for. This request reflects our vision of never-resting until every young person has the opportunity to hear, see, and experience Jesus Christ in a life-transforming way.
So last week we crossed the half-way point of our camping sessions and God has been gracious in answering these prayers. It’s been a safe, powerfully transforming, and record-breaking summer at SpringHill. But the summer isn’t over; we still have more kids to serve and staff to lead, which means my work of making my three daily requests continues.
Last week, the week we celebrated Independence Day, I experience part of today’s America I normally don’t see. It’s a part of America torn apart by poverty, broken families, prejudice, violence, and community breakdown. But more significantly I saw a glimpse into tomorrow’s America, with all its hope, its possibility of something better, of lives transformed, of families strengthened, and of communities revitalized. Yet this America is sitting on the precipice, either to continue today’s pattern of sliding towards the abyss or moving up to a better tomorrow.
In the places I visited last week it’s tempting to write off tomorrow’s America because of what today’s America looks like, believing there’s nothing that can be done to change its course. But after last week, I’m more convinced than ever that tomorrow’s America can be significantly different, better, more like the America we want and, more importantly, one that more closely reflects the values of God’s Kingdom.
You see my wife Denise and I visited SpringHill Day Camp teams working in three locations in the Detroit metro area. Each team, along with our ministry allies, served children living in some of the harshest and most challenging situations found in America. These children included Iraqi refugees as well as children born in the some of the poorest inner city communities in our country. Yet in each location, with each child and ministry partner we interacted with, we sensed a hope that can only come through the Gospel of Christ.
Now I’m convinced that each of the 300 or so children and their families we served can, with the help of God’s people, have a future reality that is different from their current one. And if their future reality is different, then our country will have one as well. I believe this to be true because I believe, in the core of my being, that our children are the hope of our country, the hope of the world, the hope of the Church.
This is why SpringHill, and so ministries like it, have as its mission to see the lives of kids transformed. And it’s also why I’ve committed my vocational work to this same cause, the cause of Christ and of all kids.43.928283-85.286682
The final criteria for evaluating and choosing a camp for the kids you love is simply transparency and outside accountability. Without these two qualities it’s nearly impossible to evaluate all the other areas we’ve discussed over the past four posts. So in many ways you must begin your assessment here.
Let’s first look at transparency.
Transparency is the ability to see into something. It’s vitally important that there’s transparency in any organization that serves kids. There should be no dark corners or secrets when it comes to the care of children.
You can quickly tell the transparency of a camp by asking for following questions:
- Are tours available, especially during camp operations? You should expect to be able to visit and see camp.
- Has the camp been able and willing to answer all the other questions you’ve asked? Did you receive them forthrightly or was it a struggle? If a camp can’t or won’t answer your questions you don’t want to send kids you love there.
- Does the camp provide parents glimpses into a child’s camp experience via video, photos, text messages or emails? They should unless the program, such as a wilderness program, can’t accommodate them.
- How easy is it to connect to camp staff especially when camp is in session? What’s the process for doing so? You should be able to reach someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when camp is in session.
Outside accountability is an often overlooked but vitally important quality every camp should voluntarily submit themselves to if they’re the kind of camp worthy of the kids you love. So you should look for the following types of certifications and audits in any camp you’re considering:
- Certification by the American Camping Association (ACA)? The ACA is the camping industry’s only general certification program. Their standards are high and the audits beneficial. You should think twice before sending your kids to a camp that has not been certified.
- Meet all state regulations and inspections. Note some states are better at this than others.
- Outside companies that design and certify high adventure activities such as zip lines, ropes courses, climbing walls, etc. There are experts in this field that help camps operate and provide safe activities.
- Best Christian Workplaces certification or others like it. These outside firms provide insight into the kind of leadership and organization a camp is and how it operates.
- Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA) or other outside financial groups that assures integrity in the camps financial practices.
When you evaluate your camp options against the criteria from this post and the previous four posts you’ll make the right decision for the kids you love.43.928283-85.286682
One of the most important areas to consider when evaluating summer camp options for the kids you love is to understand a camp’s day-to-day operations. And central to a camp’s operations is both its safety and emergency policies and practices, and the condition and care of its facilities and activities.
When considering safety and emergency policies and procedures you should ask the following questions and look for the following answers:
What does the safety program look like? Is it documented? What is the safety record of the camp? Is the staff knowledgeable and committed to the program?
A camp should have a clearly articulated safety program with a professional leading it. This program, including its procedures should be documented and available for your review. Finally the camp should be able to provide you a summary of their safety record based on their record keeping and documentation. If there are no records there is no safety program.
Are there inspections on equipment, activities and buildings? How frequent are the inspections? Who conducts the inspections and is there a record of these inspections?
Camp activities, equipment and buildings receive heavy use, especially during the summer, and proper and timely inspection should be completed by qualified people with records of these inspections to assure the safest camp conditions.
Does the camp have an up-to-date and complete Emergency Action Plans (EAP’s)?
Don’t be afraid to ask the camp for copies of their EAP’s. Camps should have clearly written out and communicated EAP’s and thorough trained staff in preparations for a number of potential emergencies such as severe weather, fire, camp intruders, missing campers, etc.
Ask the following questions about the care and maintenance of activities and facilities:
What is the age of your facilities and activities? When did the last remodeling and updating happen? What is preventative maintenance schedule?
One of the foundations for creating a safe camp experience is well maintained facilities and activities. You can learn a lot about the safety of a camp by how well maintained the facilities and activities are.
So remember, understanding how a camp plans, prepares, maintains, trains and practices these key elements of their camping operations is critical to selecting a camp for the kids you love.
In my final post in this series I will discuss the degree of transparency and outside accountability camps should have.
If a camp’s leadership and its camping and programming philosophy are the foundation to a camp’s ability to deliver an outstanding experience than its staff, the people who work directly with your kids, are the most important ingredient.
Understanding a camp’s staffing policies and practices is absolutely necessary to assessing a camp’s ability to provide the kids you love a safe, uplifting and positive experience. The following are the questions you should ask and the answers you should look for from the camps you are considering. They center on three distinct areas: Selection, Training and Supervision, and Camper to Staff Ratios.
What is the criterion used to evaluate potential staff?
Look for the specific criteria used to evaluate potential staff, such as age requirements (over 18), education (minimum of a high school diploma), work experience, experience and interest working with kids, etc.
Where does staff come from?
Look for a broad and comprehensive recruiting plan which includes diversity of camp experience, social economic and geographic backgrounds.
How does a camp select their staff?
A camp should have a thorough interview process. They need to do background checks including criminal history and sex offender registries on all potential staff, preferably by an independent company. Finally, all applicant references need to be thoroughly checked.
Training and Supervision:
How much and what kind of training do staff receive?
There should be a minimum of 100 hours of training to prepare staff to properly care for and supervise the kids you love. This training should focus on proper supervision of kids, being able to identify and address bullying and other inappropriate behavior as well as what to do and where to go in emergencies, etc.
What is the ratio of staff to leadership and professional staff, how much supervision to they receive?
The ratio should be a ratio of no higher than 3 staff to every person in leadership. There should be a clear line of accountability from the executive director right down to the dishwasher.
What is the ratio of staff to campers? How much supervision will the camp provide the kids you love?
At minimum camps should meet both the state and the American Camp Association standards (10 campers to 1 counselor). Better camps will exceed these standards and will be 7 to 1 and for younger children 5 to 1.
Every one of these questions should be answered easily by the camps you’re researching. They are the most important questions because they related directly to the care that a camp will be able to provide the kids you love. Look for the answers listed above to help you select the right camp for you and your kids.
In my next post we’ll look at the questions you can ask to understand how a camp operates, its safety practices and policies and its supervision of its campers.43.928283-85.286682