Camp "Whatever" Letter

Norman Friedman, MEd

Camp Hancock’s director Bill Young and I conceived the “Camp Whatever Letter,” originally written more than a decade ago, as a response to our observations and frustrations about the changing culture of parents and children. Many (not all) young people of all ages had an agenda that included drugs, sex, alcohol, and a fascination with violence. In addition, consulting parents many times about their child’s troubling behavior at camp proved unsuccessful. “That’s the way they are today” was a response heard one too many times.

As educators and parents we knew that two of the most essential components of raising children were love and structure. We also knew that spending time each summer at camp is a statement of who we are, what we believe in, and what we deem best for children in our care.

The Camp Whatever Letter, updated every year, is sent to parents, guardians, and campers, describing firmly what is and isn’t acceptable in our intentional community. Many camps use it as a “memorandum of understanding” and indicate that offenders sent home do not return home with tuition refunds. Love and structure is the underlying motivation.

Please feel free to adopt this for your own camp.

To: Parents and Guardians of Camp “Whatever” [Name of your camp] Campers
From: Your name
Date:
Re: The Summer of 2012

Camp Whatever has been successfully providing a summer of safe, age appropriate, and memorable experiences for children for many years. We have been pleased to be able to serve generations of families, as well as multiple siblings from the same family. With few exceptions, Camp Whatever has been able to serve all the children accepted for our program, and, year after year, parents l praise for our work has been the rule. We are grateful for all your letters of appreciation and expressions of satisfaction with our efforts. We have every intent ion of continuing to care for your children with the same concern, interest, and energy as we prepare for next summer. The success of our program is based, in part, on:

  • High standards of care for your children
  • High expectations of ourselves and our staff and volunteers
  • A value system explained to staff, campers, and families
  • Boundaries clearly defined for campers and staff

Camp Whatever is a community and a family. The well-being of your children, both physically as well as emotionally, continues to be our number one priority. In order for us to continue to be successful, we need to make you aware of the observations and incidents we have been experiencing the last several years. We believe that many children have been negatively influenced by song lyrics, sexually erotic television programming, movies, books, DVDs, computer games, the Internet, and pornography. Our society appears to be focused on sexuality and violence, both of which idealize the use of drugs and alcohol, and our young people cannot avoid seeing, hearing, and absorbing these negative influences. However, what unfortunately may be acceptable in some homes and communities will not be acceptable in Camp Whatever’s community if we are to continue to care for other people’s children with the same concern, interest, and commitment to safety as we have in the past. Our camp attempts to teach campers to:

  • Recognize that they have responsibility for themselves and those around them
  • Learn to make choices, which are good for themselves and others, and to take responsibility for the choices they make
  • Respect themselves and others in spite of differences
  • Accept that they are accountable for their actions and the consequences for inappropriate behaviors

It is essential that you communicate to you r children that we will not accept behaviors such as: bullying (including cyberbullying and sexting); violence; possession of weapons; repeated profanity; disrespect; bigotry; homophobic comments; inappropriate sexual behavior; drug and alcohol use; hurtful Internet, cell phone, instant messaging, or blog use, (or any other inappropriate use of electronic devices — before, during, or after camp); or any other unsafe behaviors that are potentially harmful to themselves or others. They must understand that a consequence of unacceptable behavior can mean their removal from our program. Our demonstrated interest is to offer only pleasant memories for every camper. It is not our intention to exclude any child. It is important to discuss in detail your expectations for your child(ren) and that we are, parents and camp management, in total agreement. A child or children asked to leave camp because of behaviors detailed in this memorandum may not be permitted to return in future summers. There will be no refund of tuitions. Another area of concern has been our experience with some children who have been sent to camp with “family secrets.” Specifically, campers:

  • With psychiatric problems, including suicide gestures or ideation
  • With serious medical problems
  • With organic problems who are off medication for the summer
  • Who were hospitalized for physical or emotional reasons since last summer
  • Who are experiencing traumatic reaction to family issues, such as parental separation, divorce, illness, or death

In fairness to our counselors, staff, and campers, we need to make informed decisions about all of the young people we invite into our community and family. “Family secrets” serve no one. Our purpose in having pertinent health information, both physical and emotional, is to better serve each child. We must expect that all parents or guardians have provided Camp Whatever with all the necessary informat ion we need to keep all children safe.

With these facts in mind, as owners/directors of Camp Whatever, we must reserve the right to ask that a child at risk to oneself or the community be picked up and removed from camp immediately. There may be a circumstance where we have agreed to accept a child with full knowledge of his or her problems and have attempted to take all the necessary steps of making the experience successful but find that we are unable to do so. For the good of this child and/or the community, the child may have to leave.

This letter would have been unheard of fifteen years ago. However, the world has changed and we need to accept the effects of some of those changes. As caretakers of your child(ren), we accept the responsibility of partnering with you and simply ask for your full cooperation. Please sign this letter and return it to us with the completed health forms. As always, please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about this communication or any other matter. We look forward to summer 2012.

DATE:

Name of parent(s) or guardian (s) — Please print: 

Signature(s) of parent(s) or guardian(s): 

Name(s) of camper(s) — Please print: 

Signature(s) of camper(s): 

Signature of director(s):

Contributed by Norman E. Friedman, MEd, dean of Gene Ezersky Camp Safety College and director of AMSkier Partners, Hawley, Pennsylvania. Contact the author at Normanf@amskier.com, 800.245.2666.

Originally published in the 2012 March/April Camping Magazine.

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