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
I’m not big on job titles. To me they’re an organizational necessary evil. But sometimes getting a job title or classification right is important because they often communicate very powerful messages.
Since SpringHill’s first summer in 1969, the people we hired to work with kids and assist in running summer camp were simply called summer staff. It’s a practical title since these people joined our staff team and worked for the summer. But the issue is, like so many titles in the world, it doesn’t do justice to the actual work these people do. It doesn’t come close to communicating the critical roles, responsibilities and impact these people have on the lives of literally 10,000’s of young people every summer.
These important team members provide the moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day leadership required to provide campers with safe, exciting, memorable and life transforming experiences. Every person on our summer team leads. They may lead a group of campers or lead their peers or lead exciting activities and thoughtful programs, but every one of them leads. And every one of them also leads in the most powerful way a person can lead – through their example, by living in a way that when young people see them, they see Christ.
As you can see this job has significantly more responsibility than the title summer staff implies. The people who have these jobs are more than just staff, they are leaders, all 1200 of them.
So, in light of this reality, during summer staff training (in the future to be called leader training) I announced that we would no longer refer to them as summer staff, but instead, from this point forward they would be known as summer leaders. It’s a title that is worthy of the work these committed people do.
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
“One of the largest issues we face is working with ‘twentysomethings’. Their work ethic is poor, they expect everything to be given to them, and they won’t stay with a commitment. We just don’t know what to do. And now we’re even beginning to wonder about the future of the Church if this is who will be taking over in the years ahead.”
This was the perspective expressed by a leader of a large Christian ministry at a round table discussion of Christian ministry CEO’s I participated in a couple of years ago. And after making his statement most of the other 20 leaders in the room all shook their heads in full agreement with many joining in with their own “horror stories” about working with those” darn twentysomethings”.
Ironically, there was one other Christian camp CEO in the group and when we heard this statement and the following discussion we just looked at each other with our eyebrows raised. You see, Christian camp ministry’s built on the good and faithful work of those “darn twentysomethings”. We couldn’t do what we’re called to do, nor do it nearly half as well (nor nearly as fun) without them.
This whole dialogue came rushing back to me earlier this summer as I interact with our nearly 1000 “twentysomethings” staff we hired to help us create SpringHill Experiences this summer.
Instead what I see in our summer staff is the total opposite what these Christian leaders expressed in that forum. As I shared with that group of leaders we, at SpringHill, serve alongside young adults who are highly committed, deeply concerned about others and the world, and who are willing to make great sacrifices to advance Christ’s Kingdom.
Then I said to these CEO’s – “maybe, instead of looking at the faults of twentysomethings, we should first examine our own leadership and the culture of our organizations to see if we have our own adjustments to make before we write off an entire generation of leaders, because in my experience poor followers are usually the result of poor leadership.”43.928283-85.286682
Summer camp literally starts in a matter of days. We’ve known for years there’d be summer camp in 2013. We also know we’re going to have summer camp in 2014, 2015 and for as many summers as we can see into the future.
In other words, it’s no surprise that summer camp is upon us. Of course this means there’s no excuse for not being prepared, planned out and ready for staff training and summer campers. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when, if you had visited SpringHill in May, you would have interrupted our frenzied work as being surprised by finding out at the last-minute that summer camp began in June.
This mad scramble had its allies within our team. Many folks, if they were honest, love the adrenaline rush of doing vast amounts of very important work in a very short period of time. As an organization we even unconsciously honored these folks for their great sacrifice for the cause. Unfortunately this only reinforced our organizational addiction to adrenaline and ultimately led to our team entering summer stressed, exhausted and drained.
So a number of years ago we all agreed that summer camp is never a surprise so there’s no good reason to save our all preparation for the month of May. We agreed that we would begin working on next summer during this summer, including pre-registering campers, finalizing host churches for our Day Camps, and signing up returning summer staff.
We also agreed that all the other important work for the next summer such as property and facilities improvements, summer staff recruitment, and curriculum and program development would begin immediately after camp ended, having specific plans with key milestone dates to keep us on track.
And, maybe most importantly, we also agreed to celebrate good, thoughtful and intentional planning and work instead of honoring adrenaline fueled activity.
So take this post as one small piece of our celebration for the good planning and work our team’s done to be ready for the summer of 2013 (and, for that matter, 2014). Though we’d all admit we’re not yet where we want to be, I’m confident in saying we’re in the best position I’ve ever seen us in going into the summer. And for this I tip my hat to our team for a job well done.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