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Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 5 Transparency and Accountability

003The 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:

  1. Are tours available, especially during camp operations? You should expect to be able to visit and see camp.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Meet all state regulations and inspections. Note some states are better at this than others.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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.

The Necessity of “Connecting One’s Voice to One’s Touch”

In my last post about being an organizational culture bearer I quoted Max De Pree from his book Leadership Jazz. I now share the context of that quote because I believe it provides weight to De Pree’s quote as well as a deeper understanding of what it means to be a culture bearer.

“Esther, my wife, and I have a granddaughter named Zoe, the Greek word for ‘life’. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding band could slide up her arm to her shoulder. The neonatologist who first examined her told us that she had a 5 to 10 percent chance of living three days. When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she had two IV’s in her naval, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.

To complicate matters, Zoe’s biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born. Realizing this, a wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave me instructions. ‘For the next several months, at least, you’re the surrogate father. I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I would like you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger. While you’re caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch.’

Ruth was doing exactly the right thing on Zoe’s behalf (and, of course, on my behalf as well), and without realizing it she was giving me one of the best possible descriptions of the work of the leader. At the core of becoming a leader is the need always to connect one’s voice and one’s touch.”

Life is a Stool – Living in Balance

My dad has always said that life sits on a 4 legged stool with one leg being work/career, another family, a third friends and service, a fourth being health and recreation, and the most important part of the stool, the seat, representing our faith. Dad says that for life to be in balance, for it to be the way it’s supposed to be we need all four legs and the seat. If we neglect or remove any part we’ve made balance nearly impossible and the entire stool, and our lives, become at risk of falling apart.

I’ve always appreciated my dad’s way of looking at life, partly because it makes sense and partly because I’ve seen he and my mom live their lives in this way with the result being they’ve been blessed as well as having blessed those around them.

It’s this life perspective and practice that we’ve discovered to be an essential quality of people who’ve made a long-term and an enduring impact on SpringHill’s mission. It’s what we simply call “Life/Work Balance”.

Without this balance, life quickly crumbles and one’s ability to make an enduring impact quickly diminishes. When balance is gone health, influence and impact quickly leave as well, only to be backed filled with burn out, broken relationships, and poor judgment. Because like a stool, every part is essential and needs to be in working order or it will negatively impact the entire stool.

So Life/Work Balance is absolutely essential for people to be at their best. And we want and need people to be at their best, whether it’s at home with their families, at church teaching Sunday school, or working at SpringHill.

This is part 2 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

High School Sports – Part 2 Are We building Programs or People?

Its mind-boggling what varsity sports have become at many high schools. Because of my work I talk to parents all across the country about their kids. They’ve shared with me what it takes to make a high school varsity team. And frankly I’m amazed and, at some levels, appalled at what high school coaches often ask of students and their parents.

For example, one young woman I know was clearly told that if she wanted a chance to play on the varsity soccer team she had to begin playing soccer year around, meaning she couldn’t play any other sports. Ok, I understand commitment to your sport but the issue in this case was the young woman was in 6th grade. Yes, 6th grade. How could any high school coach or school tell or strongly suggest athletes begin to specialize in a sport in 6th grade? How can 6th graders make such a choice between sports?

When you’re in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade you should be playing lots of sports, experimenting, learning what you like, and what you may be gifted at. When I was in 6th grade my favorite sport was the one that was in season. There’s no way I could have picked between baseball, basketball, tennis and football, all of which I played recreationally and loved during their proper season.

Worse yet, what if the student picks the wrong sport when they’re in 6th grade, invest years in “the one sport” and then they stop growing or discovery there’s 10 goalies in the program? It means a student who loves sports, sacrificed and worked hard may not play at the varsity level.

Ironically, many professional sports teams look for college athletes who’ve played multiple sports in high school because they’re usually better athletes. Research has also shown that multiple sport athletes develop better physically and are less likely to be injured. Encouraging multi-sport athletes sounds like a sound philosophy for a high school varsity coach to adopt if they want to build a program around better and stronger athletes.

Now hear me when I say this, I don’t believe every athlete has to be a multi-sport athlete at the varsity level. But I do believe it’s healthier (and saner) for elementary and middle school athletes to be so. And to encourage anything less is a disservice to the athlete and most likely to the program as well.

The question we parents and schools need to face is – will this generation of kids look back on their athletic experiences and ask us “why did sports have to be so serious at 6th grade? It took the joy out of being a kid.”

High School Sports Part 1 – When Smaller is Better

With fall comes high school sports and for the past 7 falls I’ve been oh so thankful our kids attend a small class D school. Why? Because all of my kids have had every opportunity to participate in all the sports they’ve wanted to. You see at small schools, everyone who wants to be an athlete can be, and anyone who wants to be on the team, is on the team.

Even this fall, our youngest son Jonathan, decided he wanted to play soccer again but also try cross-country. So our school’s coaches and administration have worked it out for him and 3 other students to “dual sport”. This is an incredible opportunity for Jonathan to find out how much he really likes running without giving up his spot on the soccer team.

In addition, Jonathan, along with his brother Mitch, can play a sport all three seasons, to be a “3 sport athlete” if they choose. And this is true of every student in our little school.

Now it’s also true that being a “three sport” or “dual sport” athlete doesn’t create specialized athletes who might have a better chance to play Division 1 (though Class D athletes do play Division 1). But many of our students have opportunities to play Division 3 and NAIA sports in college if they choose. And the reality is not many students who specialize in a sport at larger high schools end up playing Division 1 or 2. So the truth is there’s nothing lost in being a well-rounded athlete, but so much to gain.

But why I’m really thankful each fall, isn’t because my kids can be three sport athletes, but because the small school environment allows high school sports to be what they’re supposed to be – opportunities to learn life transforming lessons outside of the classroom. It seems that this purpose is so easily lost when winning and scholarships become more important than providing opportunities for as many students as possible to learn the valuable lessons that sports teach so well.

A Case for a Technology Sabbath

Last week the Perry’s had a family reunion at Camp Anjigami in northern Ontario, Canada. The trip was a result of our boys and I “taking a risk” by inviting our entire extended family to join us for our annual fishing trip.

It was a risk because going to northern Ontario means there’s absolutely no connectivity, and we had no idea how everyone would handle such a 5 day “technology sabbath”.

Well the consensus from the family was simply this – it was an incredible vacation. Our family said things such as

“The most relaxing vacation I ever had”

“I got to know my cousins in a way I never have before”

“It was so nice not having any distractions”

There’s no doubt that the lack of television, video games, cell phones, text messages, internet surfing and social media monitoring was a major contributor to this great experience (as well as being in God’s stunning creation). Why? Because all of these technologies add stress and distractions instead of eliminate them.

But it wasn’t just the lack of technology that eliminated stress and distractions, the difference was the lack of the temptation to use it (you can’t get cell service or internet in the Canadian wilderness). You see, we tend not to crave the chocolate cake when it’s out of our line of sight or reach. This is especially true when we’re immersed in so many other incredible things (people, nature, facilities).

So the lesson I took away from our family reunion? Take the occasional break from technology but do it in a place that’s beautiful, peaceful, with great people, and where there’s no possible temptation to be connected, then you’ll have a true sabbath (rest).

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.”

 

Sunday Night Live and the Official Start to Summer

Summer has officially arrived because SpringHill has had its annual Memorial Day Family Camp.

Family Camp, along with Summer Camp, is SpringHill’s longest running program. This is our 43rd year of family camping at our Michigan camp and, believe it or not, we have a handful of families who have not missed one, ever. It’s also the first program I was a part of as a full-time  staff member of SpringHill, and thus, for many reasons, is one of my favorite programs.

One of the reasons I look forward to being a part of Family Camp is because I love watching families have a SpringHill Experience together – riding horses, doing the zipline, sharing around the campfire, or joining in one of our family sessions where they sing together and listen to excellent family speakers together. After every Family Camp, we hear from people who tell us how God used their time at SpringHill to transform their family.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend is Sunday Night Live. Sunday Night Live is a giant campfire like session in our outdoor amphitheater where our staff performs campfire skits; families will sing campfire songs, listen to a campfire message from our camp speaker and, of course, have a visit from Duct Tape Man. It’s a blast and this past week, with the incredible northern Michigan weather, it was as good as it gets.

So get the suntan lotion and the bug spray out, summer has officially started, and after this great weekend, I’m looking forward, with anticipation, to all God will do in the lives of SpringHill campers, families and staff this summer.

 

 

 

Some Non-Fishing Insight from A River Runs Through It

As I said in my earlier post, A River Runs Through It is one of my favorite stories, much of my love for it has to do with its observations about life not just its insight on fishing. So below I’ve pulled some of my favorite “non fishing” quotes. After your done reading them, even if you’re not a fisherman, you may want to read the entire story for yourself. It may stir your heart as it does mine.

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

“Sunrise is the time to feel that you will be able to find out how to help somebody close to you who you think needs help even if he doesn’t think so. At sunrise everything is luminous but not clear.”

“Even the anatomy of a river was laid bare. Not far downstream was a dry channel where the river had run once, and part of the way to come to know a thing is through its death. But years ago I had known the river when it flowed through this now dry channel, so I could enliven its stony remains with the waters of memory.”

“As the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other. I could feel the patterns from my own life joining with them. It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”

“For all of us, though, it is much easier to read the waters of tragedy.”

“‘Help’, he said, ‘is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly. So it is,’ he said, using an old homiletic transition, ‘that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, ‘Sorry, we are just out of that part.’

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