Camp is a special environment, unlike almost any other. It's a place where people are accepted for who they are, where relationships run deep and where the focus is on fun. For many campers it becomes a safe, comfortable place that feels like home. While this type of environment is great for campers, it can be a developmental trap for staff members.
Recently I talked with a summer staff member about their career aspirations. Their goal, in their words was to "work at camp." They loved camp and couldn't imagine doing anything better than working at camp. When I asked where they hoped working at our camp would lead, they had no response. When I asked what type of camp they wanted to work at, they quickly clarified that they didn't mean camp in general but rather our camp. When I explained the limited opportunities we have, they said it didn't matter, they just wanted to be at camp.
As I thought about this conversation I realized the comfort and familiarity with our camp had become all important to this staff member. It gave the staff member the perceived safety that didn't require accepting new challenges, learning new skills and adapting to different environments. It didn't require them to take a hard look at who they are and where there talents might best be used. It didn't require setting lofty goals, working hard and overcoming career setbacks.
This conversation helped me realize the need to be focused on the long term best interests of staff members rather than the short term needs of the staff member or camp. It's too easy to take advantage of the staff member who loves camp and will do anything to be there. We need to become one step in the development of young leaders, not a place for staff to homestead. We need to push staff to think beyond our camp and consider the wider world of career opportunities. We may need to confront those staff who are stuck, and in some cases, force the issue by setting limits on how long they stay.
Welcome to the Summer Camp Leadership blog. For those of us who lead summer camps, making a positive difference in the lives of young people is our passion. Turning that passion into a reality, however, takes more than the ability to lead songs, teach archery or plan craft projects. Creating camp experiences that truly transform lives takes leadership. Leadership that creates a vision for the future, leadership that inspires and engages others, leadership that remains focused and stays the course. My hope is through this blog you'll find ideas, inspiration and tools to help you be a great summer camp leader.