Wow, what a summer we had this year. With fall in full swing and new extracurriculars having inevitably taken over, each of us is feeling the pull of competing obligations and priorities. Have we already forgotten what happened at SpringHill?
I hope not – I sure haven’t. From the middle of May, until the final SpringHill Experience is finished in the middle of August, I feel as though I’m shouldering a great weight: the responsibility for the lives of all these people. But at the same time, I’ve also just lived four months off the inspiration and energy that comes from working with such an amazing, embracing, talented, committed, and diverse SpringHill community: professional staff who worked hard the prior eight months to have us ready for summer and then served tirelessly almost every day, all day, for four straight months.
Last year, when our summer ended, we said goodbye to nearly 27,000 children and teens and 950 young adult leaders in over 130 SpringHill locations throughout nine states. Yes, at SpringHill, we pack 80 percent of our direct missional work into four months.
Like anything that is hard work and requires much of us, it’s both fulfilling and difficult to have it come to an end…temporarily. As happens when finishing a long race, or accomplishing a significant goal, or coming off an adrenaline high, finishing a SpringHill summer means coming off the mountain. It means adapting to a new season of planning and steady work, looking ahead to what’s next.
So, what is next? Where do we all – campers, leaders, etc. – go from here?
As we tell kids at SpringHill, you can’t stay on the mountain forever; you have to go back home. For us too, SpringHill summers don’t last forever. We have to go back home (or to the office) and begin hosting retreats and getting ready for another summer. There’s new work to be done, places to go, people to meet.
My hope is that we will all reflect on the life-changing experiences that occurred this past summer – those that happened to us personally and those that we witnessed. I hope that we can reflect on two separate groups of questions that have been asked of SpringHill as an organization, but could be asked of ourselves as individuals having had the SpringHill experience:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is, typically, expressed in a purpose or mission statement. At SpringHill, we answer this question with our mission: “To glorify God by creating life-impacting experiences where young people can come to know Jesus Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.”
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? At SpringHill, we answer this question with an acronym we have for our core values: ARCH, which stands for adventurous faith, relationally focused, contagious joy, and holy discontent. These core values define the kind of organization we are, as well as how we work with each other and all our stakeholder groups: kids, families, allies, donors, and staff.
Now that it’s Fall, I hope we can each reflect on why we exist and what is most important to us with new perspectives and inspiration. I hope those quiet – and not so quiet – moments of personal faith-building help answer those questions with clarity that carry all of us through the rest of this year and onto another amazing SpringHill summer.
If you’re interested in creating similar experiences for your youth group or faith group, check out one of my workshops.
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.
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
One 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:
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.
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.
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:
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 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.43.928283-85.286682
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
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.
- 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.
- Plays 833 minutes or about 14 hours of video games?
“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.43.928283-85.286682
This past Friday was April Gann’s last day as a SpringHill staff member (I know she’ll always be an ambassador, volunteer and advocate for SpringHill for as long as she and SpringHill are both around). It was a bittersweet day as staff and campers took the opportunity to celebrate her 12 years of ministry (in two different stints) with SpringHill.
One of things I have always appreciated about April is her love for children, and in particular children from urban areas, and her love for our summer staff. These two loves, combined with her love of Christ, have led April to be a part of two significant startup teams during her tenure at SpringHill. First, April was on the start-up team, then the second director, for Storybrook, our 1 thru 3rd grade camp in Michigan. April helped cement the culture, program and focus of Storybrook that still exists today.
Secondly, April has been instrumental in the startup and growth of our Day Camps ministry. Once again her love of kids and staff has helped this program grow to become a significant ministry of SpringHill. It’s become significant not just because of its reach to children but also because it’s become a desirable summer ministry opportunity for 100’s college students.
Now April’s moving to inner city Detroit where she and her soon to be husband Josh will be taking up residence. Their goal is to continue, as April stated in her blog, “loving and serving the kids in our neighborhood” which, of course, is no surprise knowing April and the things she loves.43.928283-85.286682
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.”43.928283-85.286682