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Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 2 Leadership and Camping Philosophy

152As I stated in my last post there are four critical areas you want to understand when evaluating a summer camp for the child your love.

The first area you want to know is the camp’s leadership and its camping/programming philosophy.

So let’s start with the questions you should ask about leadership followed by questions to ask about the camp’s programing philosophy.

Leadership:

  1. Who is the Executive Director? How long has he or she work for the camp? How long have they been in this position? Have they worked at other camps or in other fields?

    You want to find a seasoned camping professional who has 10 or more years of camping or related experience. Running a safe and effective camp requires experience.

  2. Who’s on the board of directors?

    You’re looking for a board of experienced, business, educational, and ministry leaders who can provide the appropriate oversight to the camp.

  3. What kind of experience does the other senior leaders of the camp have,  such leaders as program and  facilities directors?

    Once again you’re looking for both a minimum of 5 or more years of experiences in camping and in other related fields.

Camping/Programming Philosophy:

  1. What is the camp’s mission? What does the camp promise to provide your kids?

    It’s important to understand the camp’s promised impact on your kids to see if it matches your expectations and desires for a camp experience.

  2. What is the programmatic theme? Is it focused on athletics, adventure, classic camp, spiritual focus? Is it high energy or laid back?

    The camp should be able to articulate their programmatic philosophy so you can evaluate it against what’s best for your kid.

And remember the camp you’re researching should be able to clearly and easily articulate answers to all of these questions either on their website, brochures or by talking with camp staff. If this information isn’t readily available then the camp’s not the place you want to send the kids you love.

In my next post we’ll look at the critical area of staffing policies and practices.

Also check out “Why Kids Need Camp”

Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 1

127Selecting a summer camp experience for the kids you love, whether it’s your own kids, grand-kids or kids you want to invest in is an incredibly important process because camps are not all created equal. Camps differ in leadership and camping/programming philosophy, in their staffing policies, camp operations, and in level of transparency and outside accountability they have.

To select the right camp for the kids you love requires an understanding of all your camp options from each of these four perspectives. Over the next four posts we’ll look at each one of these perspectives with the goal of creating a framework that you can use to evaluate all your available camp options so you can make the right decision.

To begin this process it’s important to make this next statement. Though it’s a statement that really belongs to the last topic, transparency and outside accountability, I need to say it now – all the information you need to evaluate a camp should be readily available in clear and understandable language in the camp’s brochures, websites or through a phone call with a knowledgeable staff member from the camp. If you cannot get answers to your questions, you don’t want to send the kids you love to that camp.

In addition to looking at a camp’s marketing materials it’s equally important to talk to people who’ve experienced the camp. These people will supply you with some of the best information you’ll need to make a good decision. When talking with other “customers” ask them the same questions we’ll cover in the next four posts. Compare their answers to the marketing material of the camp and you’ll quickly learn as much as you need to know to select the right camp for the kids you love.

Why Kids Need Camp

005Do you know that the average middle schooler spends 2121 minutes a week in front of a television? That’s over 35 hours.

Or that the average young person during any given week will:

  • Plays 833 minutes or about 14 hours of video games?
  • Spends another 623 minutes (over 10 hours) on a computer?
  • Or send over 700 texts

That’s a total of more than 59 hours a week inside sitting in front of a screen.

In contrast research tells us that the average young person will spend an average of:

  • 30 minutes a week playing outside
  • 3.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their parents
  • And less than an hour in a church, youth group or youth ministry gathering

This means kids spend just over an hour a week in meaningful interaction with people and places that can positively shape and influence their lives.003

59 hours compared to 1.25 hours.

Think for a moment about the long-term implications of this on our kids, on our future.

Kids need much more than screen time to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually:

  • Kids need to interact with God’s creation by being outside
  • They need to be nurtured within their family – God created the family for just this purpose.
  • Finally kids need to be a part of a faith community such as a local church or other ministry

Yet these vital interactions are being squeezed out by technology. Not by war, famine or economic collapse but by a little screen.

Here’s another reality – all those negative trends about kids can be reversed by a week at a Christian camp (such as SpringHill) where the average camper spends:

  • 60 hours outside per week doing incredibly fun, exciting and growing activities
  • 300 minutes in a meaningful conversation with a staff person (that’s nearly two years’ worth of meaningful conversation with a parent)
  • 10 to 12 hours a week in individual Bible study and small and large group settings learning about God and His plan for their lives.

Now more than ever our Kids Need Camp.

Now that you’re convinced Kids Need Camp, over my next few posts I’ll help you ask the right questions and know the right answers to look for when selecting a summer camp for the kids you love.

T-shirts and Stretch Goals

I love summer camp and always hate when it’s over. I especially miss watching God transform the lives of campers and staff. But I also miss watching our team perform during these crazy weeks. They’re committed and talented people who create incredible experiences.

One of my favorite moments from this summer was watching our team go after the goal of having 25% of our campers pre-register for 2013 summer camp. You see in the past we’d only open up registration months after summer camp ended. A couple of years ago we decided to test whether parents would sign their kids up for next year’s camp at the end of their camp session. We tried some things and had some success, but nowhere close to what we desired.

So instead of giving up we set a stretch goal of 25% pre-registration without a clear plan on how we’d achieve it. What we had were some t-shirts to give away to campers who signed up for the next year. So our Indiana overnight team created a plan that would generate excitement on the closing day of camp with the goal of moving parents to sign up for next year. The plan included having all professional staff wear one of these t-shirts, promote pre-registration during the closing rally, and have highly visible tables at key locations so parents could easily pre-register and receive a t-shirt before leaving camp.

So what was the result of our Indiana team’s Week 1 efforts? We pre-registered more kids than the total number of 2011 Indiana pre-registrations.

Word quickly spread throughout SpringHill and over the next few weeks our other team’s implemented similar plans with similar results. Today, at our two overnight camps, we’ve pre-registered close to 35% of our campers, easily exceeding our stretch goal of 25%.

And that’s why it’s one of my favorite summer camp moments. Because I love when teams set stretch goals, create simple yet effective plans, work the plans and then share their successes so that others can succeed as well.

It’s also one of the reasons why I’m already looking forward to next year’s summer camp.

Creating a Little Heaven on Earth

I know I’ve written about this before, but every time I witness our philosophy of inclusive camping in action, I’m inspired and humbled beyond words. There’s nothing else I can think of that better defines us as an organization than this commitment to include campers with special needs in all our camps.

Monday evening, as I walked home, I came upon one of our TST teams tackling our New Frontiers’ climbing wall. On the wall was one of our campers with special needs being “assisted” up by two of our special needs counselors as the entire TST team watched and cheered.

The scene beautifully shows why we believe so strongly in inclusion and why we insist on being a welcoming experience for all kinds of young people. We believe that every child’s created in the image of God so we work hard to assure all kids have equal access to the entire SpringHill Experience. In addition, we believe we’re to create a little “heaven on earth” because in heaven there will be all kinds of people, races and nations shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, together in the worship and service to God.

The scene also demonstrates a second reason our Special Needs program is an essential part of who we are. You see, one of the most impactful parts of this approach to camping is that it transforms all the campers, not just those who have special needs or come from different backgrounds. Why? Because it powerfully reminds every camper and staff member that, at some level, we all have “special needs” and require “assistance” in climbing the wall of life and, more importantly, being in a relationship with God.

So if you ever need to be inspired, come visit a SpringHill Experience, and no doubt you’ll witness a scene like the one above, and you too will never be the same.

Is it “Burger Island” or “the Island”?

It’s the last week of summer camp and Sunday evening I indulged in my last meal at “the Island” or, as so many people now call it, “Burger Island”. As I sat there enjoying my burger (and brat), beans and great fellowship with our resident staff and volunteers, I couldn’t help but wonder “how did the name of this sacred place so inadvertently, so unintentionally (or maybe it was purposefully and maliciously) changed over the years?”

It’s like the name of the White House slowing changing to the POTUS’ Crib, or The Rose Bowl becoming PAC 12 Field, or Saint Peter’s Basilica becoming simply Pete’s Crash Pad. Sacred and important places shouldn’t have their names change slowly over time without some forethought, right?

(And yes, you can tell, it’s the last week of camp because I’ve drifted into thinking such “high level and strategic” thoughts, all of which will have serious implications for the future of …. uh, well, such things as t-shirts and property maps)

So what’s a leader to do in such a situation? How does one undo years of slow creep? How does the popular name get change back to the right and proper title? Should nature take its course or should one fight to maintain what’s right? (OK, maybe I should be asking myself “why would a leader spend more than a minute on such things?”)

My course of action? I’ll do what so often happens in leadership today – I’ll take a poll and find out what’s the most popular name for this sacred place, and then I’ll make that name the one I endorse.

So tell me is it “The Island” or “Burger Island”?

It’s Much More than a Blob!

The lifeguard gathered the Copper Country (4th through 6th grade camp) kids around him after an hour of playing on the Gusher. If you don’t know, the Gusher is a high and long “slip and slide” that empties into one of our lakes. One of the things campers like to do is to try to spin (roll over multiple times) all the way down, seeing how many spins they can achieve before landing in the lake below.

As the campers gathered, the lifeguard asked them a series of questions in what we call a “debrief.” The debrief is where we use the activity the campers just participated in as an object lesson to reinforce and bring to life the spiritual themes of the week. It’s for this reason that we debrief all our activities from the zipline to paintball and even the Gusher, and why debriefs are such a critical part of the SpringHill Experience.

You see our activities are tools for helping campers grasp and remember the spiritual truths we want them to take home with them. It’s one of the main ways we integrate faith and fun.

In the best debriefs, the activity staff asks a series of questions, leading the campers to discover the connection between the activity and the spiritual theme for themselves.

Questions like this lifeguard asked “could you spin a thousand times on your own down the Gusher?” and of course the answer is “no way”. Then the lifeguard asked “can you get to heaven on your own?” and kids answered with “yes”, “no” and “maybe”. Which led lifeguard to explain that to have eternal life requires something outside of ourselves just like spinning a 1000 times down the Gusher would require something outside of our selves. And, of course the lifeguard explained, that something outside ourselves we need to “get to heaven” is Jesus Christ.

It was a simple 5 minute debrief but it beautifully reinforced an important spiritual truth that these young boys will keep with them for a long time.

Can You Relate to this Camper’s Dilemma?

“When I came to camp I had a problem. My heart believed in God but my head didn’t believe in Him” explained one of our campers from Copper Country (4th thru 6th grade camp) at our week ending rally.

He shared that he struggled with this nagging doubt (my words) during the first few days of camp.  But it was at Wednesday evening’s campfire where the opportunity to work out this tension opened up for him.

You see, during the campfire time, this young camper’s Area Director clearly presented the Good News of Christ and asked campers who had questions or wanted to make a faith decision to stay back after the campfire. And of course this young man did.

And as he put it “I went straight up to my Area Director and said ‘I have a problem and I need your help in solving it.'” So the he and his Area Director sat down on a log where he proceeded to share how his heart had faith in God but his head didn’t.

After much discussion, prayer and through the wise leading of his Area Director, this young man was able to announce on Friday to the crowd of 2000 people “Thanks to my Area Director, I now believe in God, not just in my heart but also with my head.”

Then in a final question, when asked what this new faith will mean to his life when he goes home, he answered “I will read my Bible every day because I want to get to know this God I now fully believe in.”

Talking with someone whose walked before you and then reading God’s Word is the perfect combination of assistance one needs when navigating and overcoming nagging doubt as this young camper demonstrated.

Where Center Stage isn’t Central

As I’ve traveled around the SpringHill world this summer one of the things I’ve seen at every one of our locations is the high number of staff who are incredibly talented on stage. Whether it’s speaking, acting, singing, or performing musical instruments every one of our 14 summer camp teams have people who are funny, compelling and clear when they step on stage.

Now the ironic part of having this wealth of talented people doing great work is the fact that what happens on stage isn’t central to our programming, not by a long – shot. It’s the small group and the intimate communities we work so hard to create that is the center of the SpringHill Experience. In contrast the stage, and the talent that uses it, ultimately exists only for the purpose of setting up, reinforcing and making the small group and its leader successful.

In other words, at SpringHill, if Jesus is King, then the small, intimate community is queen, the counselor is the knighted ambassador serving both, and the stage talent becomes the trusted advisors to the ambassadors – our counselors.

It can be deceptive if someone observes our programming in action and sees only the great stage productions, without seeing where the powerful ministry really happens – in the small community. Yet the truth is the small communities we’re able to form in a SpringHill Experience couldn’t happen as they do without the aid of the talented people who stand up on stage and do what they do so well. It’s when these talented people share their gift from stage knowing all along when center stage isn’t central their work becomes its most powerful and effective, opening the door for life-transformation.

A Camper Shares Her SpringHill Story

One of our campers, Anne, wrote out her SpringHill story and this is what she said –

“I learned a lot at my first week of SpringHill. I learned how to zipeline, blob, twist on the water slide, but most importantly, I learned about God. Our theme this week was God has a plan for us! The Bible stories we read were about Moses from when he was born to when he saved the Israelites. I learned a lot from those stories. We learned about sin, God’s plan, forgiveness, and trusting in God. God is always with us, keeping us safe. I also took a lot from Moses’ story. Like how Moses killed an Egyptian, yet God still forgave him! I also learned about God’s love and forgiveness is always there, you just have to accept it. He is always there. In bad situations he is there crying with you. When we sin and then accept his forgiveness, he wraps you up and you start over and he fills you with his love.

I think all that I learned here at SpringHill will carry with me for the rest of my life. When I get home I think I will be more enthusiastic about God and praying and church. I think I have definitely had a positive change this week. All I can say is I can’t wait to come back next year.”

Now our prayer is that God will use Anne’s week at SpringHill as a foundational step in her becoming, every single day, more and more the person Christ created her to be so she can do all He created and planned for her to do now and throughout the rest of her life.

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