• Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership,  Summer Camp

    The Lesson in Eclipsing 19,000 Summer Campers

    “By the summer of 2019, 19,000 kids will attend one of six summer camps.” It was 1997 and the SpringHill board and leadership had just updated and approved the ministry’s strategic plan using Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ book Built to Last as a guide.

    Collins and Porras’ research revealed that enduring organizations had a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG). The “19 by 19” goal, as it was soon to be called, was SpringHill’s BHAGG (we added the first G – God – to our definition).

    Now understand, in 1997 SpringHill’s board and leaders were people of talent and faith who wanted to do something significant for kids and Christ’s Kingdom. And the “19 by 19” goal reflected both this desire and the best information available to them at the time.

    Yet today as I write, here in the summer of 2012, we just eclipsed this “19 by 19” goal. Please know I’m not sharing this with you so you can be impressed or congratulate us for handily beating our goal, but instead to demonstrate a point about goal setting that Collins and Porras doesn’t address.

    In goal setting we tend to be overly optimistic about short-term goals and overly pessimistic about long-term goals. The main reason for this phenomenon is that we tend to think of the future only in the context of what we know in the present. For example, our staff and board knew and understood overnight camping but could not possibly have foreseen the dramatic demographic changes that would lead us to begin our Day Camp ministry nearly 10 years later (this ministry has played a significant role in our beating the 19 by 19 goal seven years early).

    The lesson we learned, and then implemented in restating our BHAGG back in 2003 was that a visionary goal isn’t based on a “calculation”. It’s  bigger than that, so big that we’d have no any idea how it would be achieved. The goal needed to be big enough “to leave room for God”, as one board member put it. Today our BHAGG is that, by 2025, we’ll have 260,000 people a year experience SpringHill.

    Now, to be completely honest, only time will tell if we got this long-term goal setting thing right and whether the next generation of SpringHill leaders will judge us as fool hearted souls or Saturday morning sand baggers.


  • Marriage and Family,  Summer Camp

    Jerry Sandusky and the Hard Reality about Child Abuse

    With the report from Penn State’s internal investigation of the Sandusky affair released this week, we’re all reminded once again of children’s vulnerability to abuse. Yet, as important as the reporting about this horrific situation is, there are two facts that are continually reported that can cloud our vision about the nature of child abuse.

    The first fact is that most of Sandusky’s victims were from broken homes, where no father was present, and the economic challenges were great. The second fact is that the abuse was the result of a known public figure swooping in and taking advantage of these children living in difficult situations.

    Both of these facts are true, but this cannot lead us to believe that this is the most common scenario for child abuse. Because the reality is that abuse happens in every corner of our society including to those kids who come from families that look like, on the surface, that they have it all together. And secondly, the perpetrator, more often or not, is a family member or close friend, not a public figure.

    We know this to be true at SpringHill because nearly every week during summer camp our staff discover campers who have been or are being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by family members or close family friends. They’re from rich families and poor families, and families from the city and families from the suburbs. It happens within families who attend church faithfully and those who’ve never entered a church building in their lives. The harsh reality is – where there are children, abuse is always a possibility because kids, being who they are, are by nature vulnerable to predators.

    Fortunately, because SpringHill is a safe place, kids feel the freedom to share with our staff their experiences, including many who’ve never shared their horrors with anyone before doing so at camp. This allows us to do what Penn State failed to do – first, report these situations to the appropriate authorities, and second to assure these young victims receive the support they need to move forward and ultimately be healed.

    So let’s not be lulled into believing child abuse only happens in certain segments of our society. Instead let’s always diligently look for signs of abuse and then, when we see them, to have the courage to do what’s necessary to protect all our children from these horrific evils.

  • Living as a Leader,  Summer Camp

    SpringHill Alumni Making A Difference

    Last week, while at our Mack Avenue Community Church/Hope Community Church SpringHill Day camp, I ran into former summer staffers Kristen VanderPlas-Selle and Jessica Concannon. I’m always encouraged to hear what God’s doing in and through our SpringHill “alumni” and last week was no different. After graduating from college and finishing their summer careers at SpringHill these two women made decisions to continue to serve and minister to kids.

    Kristen (summers 05-08) leads Mack Avenue’s after school literary program (click here to read about one of her students). She and her husband Scott (another SpringHill alum) live right in the heart of 48214 zip code – one of Detroit’s most economically devastated neighborhoods. Their willingness to become part of this community and to serve its residents is having a powerful and lasting impact on the lives of young people and their families.

    Jessica (summers 05-10) has been a teacher for two years in a brand new Christian school, Tree of Life, which serves urban students from Kalamazoo, MI. Tree of Life’s mission is educateall children regardless of their socio-economic situation. Tree of Life celebrates the diversity of the body of Christ and equips children to serve God, people, and creation to their fullest potential.” Jess has taught in a small, multiple grade class which has allowed her the opportunity to build strong relationships with her students and their families, opening the door for further ministry outside the class room.

    Both Kristen and Jessica told me that their summers at SpringHill were influential in their decisions to work in these important communities and to serve these kids and their families. I’m thankful for Kristen (and Scott) and Jess for their commitment to bring Christ’s Kingdom to all people, and humbled by the small part SpringHill played in their decisions to do so.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Two Boys and Their Hope for the Future

    Gregory and Genesis are best friends who both live in the 48214 zip code of Detroit. It’s one of the poorest, most economically devastated zip codes in Detroit, thus in the country. It was here, in their neighborhood, that I meet Gregory and Genesis this past week while they attended our Mack Avenue Community Church/Hope Community Church Day Camp.

    Gregory has just finished 2nd grade, and thanks to the Mack Avenue’s after school literacy program, Gregory is now reading at grade level. Which means, if Gregory continues to build on this new gift, he’ll not only improve his educational and vocational opportunities, but he’ll be able to make the reading of God’s Word a regular part of his life, both of which will be life transforming for him and his family.

    At the beginning of the week Genesis shared with his counselor that since he was 4 years old he had been a bad boy and was always getting into trouble. But then he accept Jesus as his Savior and since then he’s changed, doing good things and not bad. His counselor said, over the week, that Genesis became like another counselor in his group. He provided leadership and insightful input during their small group times.

    When I asked Genesis his favorite part of Day Camp he responded by saying “I really like the water slide and the climbing wall but my favorite thing is our worship time.” Then I asked Genesis what he learned this week. He told me “I learned about Jacob and Esau. About how Jacob stole Esau’s blessing and then had to run away because Esau wanted to kill him. But after a long time, Jacob came back and he and Esau made up.”

    With the continued follow-up and discipleship of Mack Avenue Community Church and Hope Community Church, and some more SpringHill Experiences sprinkled in over the years, I can envision a bright future for these young boys, and hope for the 48214 zip code.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Summer Camp

    When the News Hits Close to Home

    Last week 2 helicopters fly over the historic castle at Glen Eyrie every 30 seconds in an effort to contain the fire and protect this sacred place. (photo by Jack McQueeney)

    When a big catastrophe hits the news it can often seem distant and far away. But the recent fires in Colorado and in particular the fires around Colorado Springs are very close and personal. The reason is my close friend Jack McQueeney and the ministry he leads, the Navigator’s Glen Eyrie Group (which includes Eagle Lake camp and Glen Eyrie conference center), have been in midst of this horrific fire.

    Jack’s demonstrated great faith and courageous leadership during what he has said is the “worst thing that I’ve ever, ever, ever seen!” Please read and pray through his list of prayers below, though the fires contained they have much to do in recovery. Then consider doing two things that would bless Jack and his team.

    First, post this blog to your Facebook and encourage others to pray.

    Second, go to the Glen Eyrie Facebook page by clicking here and share words of encouragement and support.

    Shared Suffering, Shared Comfort

    Prayer Requests for Glen Eyrie, Eagle Lake, and the Navigator Family

    from Jack McQueeney, Executive Director, the Glen Eyrie Group

    ” . . . just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. . . [God] will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our

    –2 Corinthians 1:7, 10,11


    1. Pray for the 50 kids that received Christ during the first few weeks of camp, and for the more than 2,400 disappointed ones who wanted to be with us at Eagle Lake this summer. (We had to cancel our on-site camp season.)
    2. Pray for the morale of Eagle Lake summer staff who will be leaving for home and our displaced Glen Eyrie and Eagle Lake full-time staff.
    3. Pray for the seven Navigator staff families who have lost their homes. Dozens more are still evacuated.
    4. Thank the Lord for Focus on the Family who has provided temporary office space. Pray that our essential service staff team and the many others working from home would be able to take care of critical operations.
    5. Offer a prayer of thankfulness for the host families that took in our evacuated staff. They are feeding them, providing housing, and ministering to them.
    6. Pray that we would know how to be light and salt to others as we work through our own grief.
    7. Praise God for His hand upon our properties. So far it seems we have little structural damage but serious smoke issues.
    8. Pray for us to have wisdom, discernment, and the favor of God as we begin to look forward in hope towards the great amount of work before us.
    9. Pray that we would stand shoulder to shoulder through this and that God would continue to watch over and protect us. Isaiah 41:10
    10. Let’s continue to pray together for the men and women who are still battling this fire.

    Our trust is in the faithfulness and character of God. Psalm 145:3,4 says, “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.”

    We trust God to preserve the history of His work in this place from one generation to another, but we also recognize that He is doing something new. We resolutely continue to trust that Jesus is at work, and His plans are always for our good.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Carrying a Backpack Full of Rocks

    Tuesday’s during summer camp is what we call “Sin Day”. It’s the day we help our campers understand the brokenness of the world and the sin found in their lives. We believe we have to share the “bad news” about our relationship with God before we share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ.

    In an attempt to help their campers grasp this difficult concept, two of our staff from Storybrook (our 1rst through 3rd grade camp) shared with me this story from this past week. On Tuesday night during campfire they talked about sin and illustrated it by Gina, the area director, wearing a backpack full of heavy rocks. Gina explained that sin in our lives is like the rocks in this backpack, it weighs you down, hurts your back, gets in the way of truly living, and the worst part – there’s nothing you can do about it.

    Then she went onto say that Jesus came into the world to take our sins away, to take our backpack of rocks off our backs. (On Wednesday, Jesus Day, the girls heard the Good News of exactly how Jesus does this incredible work).

    The next morning, as the girls got their backpacks on and started walking towards their next activity, a camper with special needs started to walk behind one of her cabin mates and began holding up the cabin mate’s backpack. When someone asked “what are you doing?” she answered with complete sincerity “I’m helping her carry her sins”.

    A tangible  lesson about a difficult subject stuck with this young camper, making such a strong impression that she felt compelled to do what she could to help her friend carry her burden. It’s also an example of why I believe so strongly in the life-transforming power of camp in the lives of kids.

  • Living as a Leader,  SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Being SpringHill Pioneers

    The Pioneering Chicago Team of Laura, Zach, Sara and Chelsey

    Pioneers combine the best qualities of explorers and leaders. Like explorers, they blaze new trails and go to places others have never gone before. But what makes them leaders, and different from explorers, is that they also open up the world so others can follow in their footsteps. Pioneer’s not only do what seems impossible but, by doing so, they make it possible, and even desirable, for others to do so as well.

    I know this to be true about pioneers because I just spent two days with a team of them this week.

    You see, under the leadership of Day Camp Director Sara Van Winkle, we’re having our first summer of SpringHill Experiences in Chicago. And it’s a full summer. We’re expecting to serve around a 1000 kids at 9 different locations.

    And this past week Todd Leinberger and I spent two days with Sara and her team where we watched them effectively work with our local church partner, The Orchard in Arlington Heights, to provide a SpringHill Experience to nearly 170 kids.

    It was a blast to witness a church, parents, and kids experiencing SpringHill for the first time. Camp has been so good that parents have already asked about other weeks this summer and registering for camp next year, while the staff at The Orchard has already expressed their desire to double or triple the number of kids attending next year.

    So as good pioneers, Sara and her team have opened up a new trail where, as a result, we expect to have a second SpringHill Day Camp team allying with local churches and parents to assure, next summer, even more children in Chicago can hear, see, and experience Jesus Christ in a life – transforming way.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership,  Summer Camp

    “It’s Been Remarkably Smooth”

    Our Tri-State Day Camp Team – Steven, Tim, Naomi, and Julie – making it run smooth.

    After two weeks of summer camp, and visiting 4 of our 9 camp teams/locations, there’s one word that I’ve heard over and over when I’ve asked people (staff, parents, and board members) how the first two weeks of camp have gone, and that word is “smooth”. I’ve heard things like “it’s going remarkably smooth, maybe the best week one ever” or “the smoothest first opening day we’ve ever had”.

    Now granted, because of my position within SpringHill, you might be thinking that our team could be tempted to say camp’s going great because they know that’s what I want to hear. But a leader must always avoid being tempted to rely only on what’s being said without also experiencing it firsthand. That’s why I spend so much of my summer visiting our SpringHill teams and seeing the SpringHill Experience in action.

    So what’s my assessment of our first two weeks of camp? Well our team’s spot on when they’ve said things have gone remarkably smooth. So how do I make such an assessment? When I’m “out and about” I look for a few key indicators which provide clues into how things are going.

    First, I look at the demeanor of our staff, beginning with our leaders. Are they calm or do they seem frazzled? Are they focused on people (each other, parents, partners and especially campers) or scrambling to get tasks down?

    Second, I observe the cleanliness and orderliness of our camps, activity areas, offices, etc. It’s hard for things to go smoothly when behind the scenes it’s chaotic and the small things aren’t taken care of.

    Third, I watch campers and their parents. Are they genuinely excited, warmly embraced, actively engaged, and completely safe and confident in the camp experience? Or do they look lost, confused or plain unhappy?

    Finally, I combine the testimony of our staff and leaders, my own observations, and our weekly key indicators to arrive at my assessment of “how camp is going.”

    In my next post I’ll share some of the essential elements that have led to our “smooth start to our summer.”

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Camper Stories – Week 2

    In my travels this past week I visited two Day Camp teams as well as our two over night camps where I heard the following camper stories.

    Mattie attended our Day Camp in Toledo, Ohio. She is the only family member to survive the tornado that ripped through Toledo in 2010. She has struggled with anxiety because of her horrific loss, and her new family questioned whether she could even attend Day Camp. Yet, through Gods grace, by the end of the week Mattie stood before her small group and shared that “SpringHill is a safe place for kids” and then she told her group that she has “discovered the joy of Jesus this week”.

    Another mother arrived at one of Day Camps with her three girls. The mother shared with our staff that her husband, the father of these three girls, just left them the night before. She didn’t know if the girls would be able to stay at camp but she wanted to see how it went. The girls ended up staying the entire week, experiencing the embrace of our staff and other campers, and more importantly hearing, seeing, and experiencing the love of Jesus in a life transforming way.

    On closing day at our Michigan overnight camp, I had two fathers tell me their stories about their youngest kids who attended our Junior Explorer 3 day camp (which meant they came home on Wednesday while their siblings stayed at camp for the rest of the week).

    The first dad, while on the drive home on Wednesday, had looked into the rear view mirror only to see his daughter crying in the back seat. He asked “what’s wrong honey?” His daughter answered “I wish camp wasn’t over and I was still there.”

    The second camper, a little boy, told his dad on the way up to pick up his brothers and sister from camp on Friday “Dad I love you, but next year I’m staying for the whole week.”


  • Book Reviews,  Summer Camp

    Help a Kid go to Camp this Summer without Writing SpringHill a Check

    Yes, you can help send a financially challenged child to SpringHill this summer without writing us a check. Let me explain how.

    You may have noticed the note below the “Books I’m currently Reading” section of my blog (right side of the main page). It’s there because my friend and one of SpringHill’s regional Vice Presidents, Craig Soderdahl, recommended in March I apply to become an Amazon Sales Associate.

    Craig, being the great entrepreneur that he is, told me that I should be receiving commissions for any books sold through Amazon that I recommend or review. So, with his help, I’ve become an official Amazon Sales Associate.

    Now, please understand, I write my blog for a number of reasons, but making money isn’t one of them. Instead, after talking it over with Craig, I realized that I’m actually, in some small way, helping Amazon make money. So, in fairness, Amazon should compensate me for promoting their products.

    So here’s my idea – use all of my blog’s commissions to send a needy child to SpringHill this summer. So far without mentioning it at all, my blog’s earned nearly $100 in commissions, part way to sending a kid to camp.

    And here’s the best part of this whole deal, my blog receives a commission on every sale of any item that started with a click on my blog, not just the books I’m highlighting. And, even better, it costs the buyer exactly nothing more buying through my blog than going directly to the Amazon website.

    Now you see how you can help send a kid to camp (and keep my reasons for blogging pure)?

    Any time you buy from Amazon, just access their website through my blog by clicking on one of the books on the right. All the accounting happens automatically and confidentially (I have no access on who makes purchases) and the sales commission will go to our Camper Scholarship Fund.

    And, the best part, at the end of the summer, I’ll be able to share with you the story of the child we help send to SpringHill.