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Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 4 Camping Operations

132One 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

  1. 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.

Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 3 Staffing Policies and Practices

069If 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.

Selection:

  1. 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.

  2. Where does staff come from?

    Look for a broad and comprehensive recruiting plan which includes diversity of camp experience, social economic and geographic backgrounds.

  3. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Staff Ratios:

  1. 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.

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.

The One Ingredient Necessary for Any Team’s Success

Our exclusive IN Food Service Teams from the past 3 summers

Our exclusive IN Food Service Teams from the past 3 summers

We’ve just hired a new Food Services Director for our Michigan overnight camp. Her name is Ann Marie and she moved here all the way from Texas. On her first night in Michigan she had dinner with Joel Hamilton, our Site Director, and her son in our New Frontiers Dining Hall. It was a Saturday night of one of our Winter Retreats.

And it just so happened that my wife Denise and I were also in the Dining Hall so we joined them for dinner where Ann Marie asked both Denise and I what we’d like to see in our Food Service program. I answered that I wanted people to brag about the food, the service, and entire dining experience.

My wife, on the other hand had the far better answer. She told Ann Marie, “I hope working in the Dining Hall becomes the most desirable job at SpringHill”

Why is Denise’s answer a far better one? Because accomplishing any great vision or achieving any big goal starts with having the right people. And the only way to have the right people is for the right people to want to be on your team. Which means you need to be the kind of organization that the right people want to work for.

And I know this is to be true, even in Food Service, because this is exactly what our Indiana overnight camp has accomplished over the last few years. Under the leadership of our Operations Director, Keith Rudge and his Food Service managers, working in our Indiana Food Service Department has become one of the most desirable jobs at camp. And the result has been an ever-increasing quality of food and better dining experience.

So after watching Joel, Ann Marie and her team work these past few weeks, I have no doubt they’ll exceed both Denise’s and my expectations and, more importantly, they’ll accomplish what our Indiana Food Service team has so beautifully accomplished over these past few years.

Amazing Records – 28 Years and 1200+ Students

107As I’ve said before, one of my favorite groups of people in the world are the adults who bring students to our Winter Teen and Juniors Retreats. I love them because they give up an entire weekend, many as volunteers, to spend 40 hours hanging out with students, doing crazy activities, and getting very little sleep.

Why do they do it? Because these adults know they’ll be a part of helping students hear, see and experience Jesus Christ in a life transforming way.

And this weekend I spent time with one of my favorite of these favorites, Scott Hazel. Scott is a teacher at Cedar Springs High School, just north of Grand Rapids. Every year he brings busloads of students from his public high school to one of our Winter Retreats.

Here’s the list of some unofficial, but amazing, SpringHill Winter Retreat records Scott has set.

  1. 28 straight years of bringing students to SpringHill Winter Retreats
  2. Over 30 Winter Retreats – In many of these 28 years Scott has attended 2 weekends, one with his high school students, and one with his church’s youth group.
  3. Over 1200 students – Scott brings 1 to 2 bus loads of students (between 40 to 95 students) every year.

I have no doubt these records, like Cal Ripkin Jr’s consecutive baseball games played record, will stand forever.

But more importantly than the records is the accumulative effect of what Scott has done over these 28 years. 1200+ students from a public high school have been given the opportunity to know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and have their lives changed forever.

Amazing!

Only in eternity will we see the depth of Scott’s impact.

So now you know why Scott is one of my favorites of my favorites.

If you’d like to know more about Scott click here, he’s published a book telling his story.

The SpringHill Fraternity

Ben Johson of Camp Berea in New Hampshire and Steve Pate of Tall Timber Ranch in the state of Washington, both SpringHill Staff Alumni

Ben Johson of Camp Berea in New Hampshire and Steve Pate of Tall Timber Ranch in the state of Washington, both SpringHill Staff Alumni

I’m on a plane flying back from the Christian Camp and Conference Association’s (3CA) national conference in San Diego, CA basking in the afterglow of the people I spent time with and the things I learned.

I’ve concluded that among the many great parts of this conference, which included spending time with peers who, over the years, have become close friends as well as listening to inspiring and challenging speakers, that the most encouraging part of the conference was talking with SpringHill staff alumni who are now serving other camps.

These alumni include people now working at camps in New England, the Pacific Northwest, in the heart of the California Redwoods, and even in Spain. Each of these camping professionals spent a part of their early professional years at SpringHill.

And, almost to a person, these professionals told me how much they learned and grew while at SpringHill. As a result they’ve been able to take what they’ve learned and positively impact the camps they’re currently serving.

Now you need to know there’s nothing much more rewarding for me than knowing that SpringHill has played a part in the personal and professional development of our past staff. Especially when it’s enabled them to make a bigger contribution to the organizations (especially camps) they’re currently serving.

And even more rewarding is knowing that this handful of past staff I talked with this week represents a fraternity of literally 1000’s of Springhill alumni who are now making positive contributions in companies, schools, churches, mission agencies, ministries, and families all over the world, and by doing so making an eternal difference in the lives of thousands upon ten thousands of people.

“Does Your Dad Work Here for the Money?”

084One Saturday this fall my son Mitch walked over to the SpringHill gym to shoot some hoops. That weekend, like most weekends, we had a few hundred guests attending retreats. As Mitch was shooting around one of our guests, an older gentleman, came over to Mitch and struck up a conversation.

The man asked Mitch some pretty straight forward questions like “are you a Christian?” And “do you have a Bible and do you read it?” Though the questions took Mitch back a bit, he answered each question affirmatively.

Then the gentleman changed directions and asked Mitch about his parents. In answering these questions Mitch told him I was the President of SpringHill.

To which the man responded “Does your dad work here for the money?”

Though Mitch thought it was a strange question he answered “no I don’t think so”.

Now you may be wondering if this question bothered me because it implies my motives for working at SpringHill are less than noble. But truth is, as I explained to Mitch, I wasn’t offended at all, instead I was actually thankful to be asked such an important question.

Why? Because it’s a question we should always ask of ourselves, or be willing to be asked by others. You see, there’s really nothing that can go adrift faster, and with more stealth, than our motives. And it’s only by being asked the straight up question “what’s your (my) motive” that we can begin the healthy process of checking, and if necessary, correcting the reasons behind what we do.

And, in the best of all worlds, not only would our actions be noble, but our motives behind those actions would be noble as well.

“Connecting One’s Voice to One’s Touch”

“At the core of becoming a leader is the need always to connect one’s voice to one’s touch” Max De Pree in Leadership Jazz

Within any group of people, whether it is a friendship, marriage, family, or organization, holding shared values, a common purpose, and set of beliefs creates meaningful, enduring, and influential relationships. Without these commonalities, relationships become superficial, temporary and incapable of making a significant difference in the lives of the people in the relationship, or to others in the world.

So how does a family, team or an organization achieve a unified commitment to such important issues? Ultimately it’s through leadership.

After Mark Olson hired me to replace him as Director of our Michigan overnight camp I asked him what his expectations were for me. He simply said “maintain our culture”. In other words my job was to not only assure that our core values, mission and beliefs were never compromised but that they were also reinforced and advanced. Mark understood the absolute importance of a leader’s role in creating this kind of organizational clarity and commitment.

Today, at SpringHill, we call leaders who do this “Culture Bearers”. And being a Culture Bearer isn’t just a philosophical ideal disconnected from the real work of our staff. Instead being a culture bearer, I believe, may be the most important personal quality a leader at SpringHill must demonstrate.

Why?

Because it’s only through leaders fully and visibly living out SpringHill’s mission, values and beliefs, in other words “connecting our voice to our touch”, that these important truths become baked into our culture. And as they’ve become baked into our culture, I believe it’s given SpringHill a true opportunity to make a significant and enduring difference in the lives of young people.

This is the final post of 14 in a series of about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

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