While camp may be in full swing and it is a challenge to think beyond the immediate day ahead, it’s worth our while to take the opportunity, before campers and staff return to their lives at home and school, to reflect on our camp’s mission, vision, and values. Often, we see these fundamental statements front and center on a camp’s website or on signs hanging on the wall in its office or staff-only space, but the real test to the integrity of these statements lies in how they are carried out on a day-to-day basis. How can you tell if the actions of your camp community as a whole (e.g., board of directors, leaders, frontline and support staff, volunteers, and campers) are congruent with the statements displayed for all to see?
Speaking to You
First, let’s recap the meaning of mission, vision, and values to establish a baseline of understanding around these terms. According to SHRM (a professional association for those in human resources; 2022):
- A mission statement is a concise explanation of an organization’s reason for existence. It describes the organization’s purpose and its overall intention.
- A vision statement looks forward and creates a mental image of the ideal state that the organization wishes to achieve. It is inspirational and aspirational and should challenge employees.
- A values statement lists the core principles that guide and direct the organization and its culture. In a values-led organization, the values create a moral compass for the organization and its employees.
These statements are typically posted on the landing page of a camp’s website with the purpose of helping parents (and sometimes staff) understand the foundation on which the camp is built. Parents want to know what is at the core of how a camp intends to support its campers — for instance, is their primary focus on camper safety, a wide range of program offerings, fun, or youth development? Is it environmental stewardship, inclusion, or education? It is interesting to note that in a web search to find examples of camp mission, vision, and value statements, we found that very few camps publish all three guiding principles. Some camps publish two of these guiding principles; the majority simply post camp values.
SHRM further explains the role of a mission statement: “The mission statement supports the vision and serves to communicate purpose and direction to employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders.” Surveying a variety of camp webpages, we found several examples of these fundamental statements. (It is common, by the way, for camps that fall under an umbrella organization such as the YMCA, Girl Scouts, or faith-based agencies, to post statements that reflect the parent organization).
The Summer Camp, a nonprofit camp in Maine for inner city and rural girls from low-income and foster homes notes its mission as: “We provide an inclusive, supportive, and safe environment in which campers explore fun, challenging, and educational experiences, learn from positive role models, and have the opportunity to build skills for life year after year. We stand against discrimination and celebrate the diversity of our campers and staff.”
Camp Corral, which provides camp experiences to children with unique needs at locations across the US, identifies both its vision and mission in a single statement: “To transform the lives of children of wounded, ill, and fallen military heroes by providing camp, advocacy, and enrichment programs.”
A third mission statement example applies to the Southampton Fresh Air Home (a residential camp for children and young adults with physical disabilities): “To provide an enriching, recreational, and educational experience. We are committed to helping our children develop physically, emotionally, and educationally, with the goal of fostering self-esteem, maturity, and independence through a broadly balanced program, while providing their families with a well-deserved respite.”
As indicated, vision statements give direction to where an organization is headed 5, 10, or more years from the present time; it is meant to inspire those involved to work toward a future reason for being. Examples from various camps include:
- Camp Manito-wish, a YMCA camp in Wisconsin, states its vision as: “The Manito-wish experience develops confident, responsible, and enlightened leaders who will improve the world in which they live.”
- Nonprofit Camp Unalayee in California offers wilderness camp experiences and publishes its vision as, “We seek to provide a long-term, stable organization that creates transformational wilderness and outdoor living experiences for young people from diverse backgrounds.”
- Camp Kanuga, a coed Christian camp in North Carolina, very simply indicates its aspirational future as, “To inspire a more mindful and compassionate world.”
Lastly, values undergird a camp and serve to “guide decision-making and establish a standard against which actions can be assessed. These core values are an internalized framework that is shared and acted on by leadership” (SHRM, 2022). The concept of “internalization” is important, because shared and accepted values become part of the very conscience or character of an organization, its staff, and how it does business. Examples found in our online search include:
- Camp Livingston, which is a JCC-affiliated camp in Indiana, declares its core values to be: “Kehillah (Community), Inclusion, Kavod (Respect), Shalom Bayit (Peace in the Home), Shmirat Halashon (Speaking Nicely), Yisrael (Israel).”
- Tabor Summer Camp, a day camp in Massachusetts, reports that their values are based on results of 10 years of data collected from campers using the ACA Youth Outcomes Battery scales. Those are:
- Sense of self — perceived competence, independence, responsibility
- Sense of community — camp connectedness, friendship skills, teamwork
- Sense of the earth — affinity for nature, interest in exploration
- Sense of wonder — family citizenship, problem-solving competence
In addition to identifying specific values — community, excellence, fun, personal growth and development, and quality relationships — privately owned Camps Lincoln and Lake Hubert in Minnesota make clear how their shared values are embedded into words, thoughts, and deeds: “These values guide our decisions, activities, actions, and expectations of both campers and staff alike. Each one is connected and related to each other in an intricate web that ultimately creates ‘camp.’ They are not ideas we merely post on a wall to inspire; they are concepts we live by every day in both speech and action.”
In some cases camps post values as single words (respect, fun, stewardship). This can be challenging for those expected to enact those values, because meanings can differ based on the reader. Tabor Summer Camp (see preceding bulleted list) offers an additional explanation of each core value word to give greater context to how they translate within their specific camp setting.
Another camp that serves as an example of how values can be clearly defined is Falling Creek Camp, a faith-based camp in NC. It presents a Camp Code in four components. One of those elements is to serve as a “moral compass.” Four action-based explanatory phrases explain this aspect of the code: “do the right thing, act with integrity, take responsibility for your actions, and tell the truth.” These phrases provide clarity to the camp community by identifying behaviors that demonstrate the camp’s underlying moral expectations. In this way staff and campers are presented with a roadmap to help guide their everyday interactions.
Mission, Vision, and Values Influencers
When looking at a camp’s mission, vision, and values, it is important to determine the influences of cultural shifts and, when necessary, take the time to revise these guiding statements to reflect evolving views. Cultural shifts occur as societal norms change and flux, and many of those norms relate to our understanding of human and environmental rights. For instance, 25 years ago it would have been rare for a camp to articulate equity, inclusion, or diversity in its mission, vision, or value statement. As noted in previous examples of such statements, however, these evolving perspectives are now reflected and embedded in the character elements of many camps. To achieve this, of course, camps must revisit their core values and mission on a periodic basis to ensure that statements of these guiding principles reflect the camp’s current aspirations.
Stakeholders also influence camp mission, vision, and value statements. Boards of directors, funders, owners, camper parents, staff, volunteers, alumni, and overarching (parent) organizations (e.g., YMCA, Scouts, parks and recreation departments) are examples of stakeholders that likely have an impact on camp principles. The role and level of influence by these individuals and groups vary among camps. So being aware of and transparent with related impacts on the camp character is important, because the declared statements drive the camp’s expected behaviors and decisions that occur on a daily basis.
Such statements drive the way an organization operates, the decisions it makes (and the processes it uses to make those decisions), its priorities, and how it responds to cultural shifts. Therefore, these underpinnings must be visible to all, clearly noted in all public spaces (e.g., camp website, social media outlets, staff handbook, parent/camper handbook, signature line on camp emails; stationary, job announcements) and throughout common areas at camp (e.g., dining hall, kitchen, maintenance building, multipurpose spaces, staff lodging, health center, camper cabins/housing structures).
Staff trained to translate the posted principles into actions can facilitate the ways in which campers participate in and experience camp. Public statements can help parents make decisions about sending their children to camp; they also set expectations about the practices and operations of camp and how they might contribute to the growth and development of their children.
Camp Augusta in California articulates its mission, vision, and values in a unique way on its website. Using colorful graphics, photographs, videos, and other contemporary ways of sharing, each element of Camp Augusta’s vision statement is explained in a way that’s understandable to a wide range of stakeholders. The presentation is attractive, fun, and engaging to those seeking such information.
Speaking through You
Mission, vision, and values are the principles that direct the way a camp operates in all areas:
- Facilities and grounds
- Program offerings
- Processes such as registration and check-in/drop-off procedures
- Leadership styles
- Expectations for camper behaviors
And yet, it is not uncommon for camps to forget or neglect to reflect on how their guiding principles are visible in day-to-day operations.
Asking outsiders who visit camp if they can see behaviors that support the mission, vision, and values in action can help camps to reconsider if the existing iterations still fit — and to be intentional about ways to translate and integrate those foundations into camp operations. For example, are the mission, vision, and values visible in:
- The ways staff treat campers and one another?
- Where finances are spent?
- How the food is served?
- How program-related decisions are made?
- How outside funding is received?
- Other aspects of running a camp?
If not, it may be time to revisit these guiding principles to determine their relevance at this point in the life of the camp.
One tool that might be helpful in this process is the Johari Window, which can help clarify camp’s interactions with various stakeholders. This model (based on relationships) can help full-time staff to determine which aspects of camp identity are:
- Open: known to self and others. For example, our camp believes in camper dignity, and this is observable in camp operations and relationships.
- A blind spot: not known to self but known to others. For instance, our staff behave in ways that do not support and may undermine the camp mission.
- Unknown: unknown to self and others. For example, we operate without an understanding of our mission, vision, and values, and our stakeholders are unaware of how we incorporate our core principles into camp operations.
- Hidden: known to self and unknown to others. For instance, we are changing camp policies to include campers and staff of all gender identities, but we are not sharing this with stakeholders (Communication Theory, n.d.).
Determining the visibility (desired and actual) of the pillars of camp can help with decision-making about creating or revising guiding statements. If your camp has not yet articulated its mission, vision, and values, this may be a good time to look at how the culture is reflected in the camp community members’ actions and if that aligns with the intention (whether published or not).
And if they are not made explicit and related behavioral expectations are not supported, camps may experience a lack of coherence in operations and the relationships among members of the camp community. Thus, it is important to know, understand, and act in ways that make the core fundamentals operational and visible. Being clear about expectations that align with the mission, vision, and value, reinforcing behaviors that demonstrate them, and addressing behaviors that conflict with them are ways to ensure that these camp statements to live by not only speak to you, but also speak through you.
SHRM. (2022, April 12). What is the difference between mission, vision and values statements? shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/isthereadifferencebetweenacompany%E2%80%99smission,visionandvaluestatements.aspx
Communication Theory. (n.d.) The Johari Window Model. communicationtheory.org/the-johari-window-model/
Authors’ Note: Special thanks to the camps mentioned in this article: Camp Augusta (campaugusta.org); Camp Corral (campcorral.org); Camp Kanuga (campkanuga.org); Camp Lincoln — Camp Lake Hubert (lincoln-lakehubert.com); Camp Livingston (camplivingston.com); Camp Manito-Wish. manito-wish.org; Camp Unalayee (unalayee-summer-camp.com); Falling Creek Camp (fallingcreek.com); Southampton Fresh Air Home (sfah.org); Tabor Summer Camp (taborsummer.org); and The Summer Camp (thesummercamp.org).
Deb Jordan, ReD, is a professional educator who has been teaching and conducting staff training workshops for a variety of organizations for more than 35 years. She has made over 135 presentations at the local, state, national, and international levels, as well as written textbooks in leadership and programming. Much of Deb’s work is related to leadership; diversity, equity, and inclusion; program evaluation; and ethics. Deb is the chair of the ACA, Southeastern Local Council of Leaders and is a frequent accreditation visitor. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Kim Aycock, MST, has several decades of experience equipping young people with skills robots are unable to do. While blending the talents of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert, Kim ignites learning for varying levels of camp pros worldwide through her interactive and innovative presentations. Kim speaks at regional and national conferences, contributes regularly to Camping Magazine and ACA blogs, and serves as co-chair of ACA’s Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.