Less than two months from today, my sixteenth summer at North Star Camp will begin. I’m excited to pack up my bags, leave my apartment in Chicago, and spend the summer in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at my home away from home. You may be in a similar boat: this may be your third, seventh, fifteenth, twenty-seventh, or maybe even forty-first summer at your camp. You spend the other ten months of the year counting down to the two months at camp that is the highlight of your year. However, this post isn’t about you or me. We know what to expect at camp because it’s not our first rodeo. This post is about our staff members and what we can do before those two months at camp begin to get them excited for the best summer of their lives.
Right now, some of your first-time staff members (and maybe even some returners, too) are sitting at school or at home, anxiously thinking about what camp is going to be like this summer. This post contains some ideas to help ease the transition to camp for your staff (and for some, maybe encourage you to reengage with staff you hired a few months ago and have lost touch with since).
Before I get into some examples, let me tell you a story about when I was anxious before starting a new job.
Back in 2014, I was taking a break from the summer camp industry. My favorite part of being an assistant director had been recruiting and hiring the summer staff, so I sought out recruiting jobs in the Chicago tech scene. I applied and interviewed with Jellyvision, an up-and-coming tech company in Chicago that was growing rapidly and needed to expand their recruiting team. The more I met with and spoke with people there, the more excited I became about the role. And, by pure coincidence, the founder of the company went to North Star, the same camp I grew up going to as a kid and now work at full-time as an assistant director. It was meant to be . . . and I received an offer to join the company.
Still, I was pretty nervous because the job seemed too good to be true. Would I be good at it? I had never done full-cycle recruiting before in a corporate setting. Would my coworkers like me? Would I like my coworkers? Was the company as awesome to work for as it seemed? Heck, I had never even worked for a non-camp company before. What would that be like?! Would I miss camp and be miserable, daydreaming about working with kids and being on a lake?
There were so many natural nerves and anxious feelings going through my brain which is typical of anyone starting a new job — and likely very typical for some of your staff who are coming to a completely new place and meeting completely new people for the first time this summer. They likely have the same questions I had back in 2014: “Will I like it? Will I like my co-counselors? Will I like my campers? Will my campers like me?”
About three days after I officially accepted the offer, a FedEx package arrived at my house. I opened it and inside was a Jellyvision tumbler, a Jellyvision T-shirt, and a handwritten note from my future boss telling me how excited she was for me to join the team. Let me say that again. My future boss, the VP of People of a very rapidly growing tech company, took the time out of her very busy day to write me a handwritten note telling me how she couldn’t wait for me to join the team. How cool is that?! Any doubts, concerns, nervous butterflies, or anxiety I had about the company or starting a new position immediately went out the door when I opened that package. I knew for certain that I had made the right decision.
The cherry on top actually occurred a week after that — a few days before my start date. It was my birthday. I was expecting to hear from my family and friends that day as usual. What I wasn’t expecting was all 85 employees from Jellyvision also reaching out to wish me a happy birthday, send me a silly GIF, or just share a kind note about how they were looking forward to meeting me the following Monday. The company always celebrated employees’ birthdays at work and even though I hadn’t started yet, they wanted me to feel included on my special day. Needless to say, that gesture spoke volumes about the people I was soon going to be calling coworkers.
So how does that connect to camp and what you could be doing now in the final 50 or so days before camp begins? Perhaps you can throw a care package together to mail out to new staff members – a camp T-shirt, a camp sticker, camp playing cards, etc. And if you have the time, a personalized handwritten note from a director or leadership staff team member (or, someone who interviewed them in the process at the very least) could make that package feel even more special.
If you’re worried about cost — especially for international staff that you have hired where shipping may not be feasible or economically sound — maybe you put together a little package that is waiting for them on their bed when they arrive at camp or send a virtual care package with your favorite meme capturing your excitement for the summer. Whenever a candidate I interviewed accepts an offer, I make sure I email them with a GIF or meme and a quick note that tells them how excited I am to work with them this summer. Whatever you choose regarding a care package, when they arrive at their summer home, they’ll feel right at home.
Other things you can be doing? North Star has a staff WhatsApp group that we use throughout the summer to communicate with staff. During the weeks and months leading up to camp, we also use that as a resource to answer questions about camp, to wish staff members happy birthday on their special day, or to help the staff to informally get to know each other virtually before we can all be together in person.
Every week or so, we’ll pose a question or topic to the group to get people chatting and feeling part of our community. A few weeks back, the topic was sharing pictures of your pets and everyone who had a dog, cat, or other furry friend posted a picture. As someone who doesn’t own a pet, I thoroughly enjoyed (and was jealous of) all the dog pics that were posted. It was a great way to informally get to know some of the staff members and get a glimpse into their life at home.
In the coming weeks, North Star is also going to be highlighting our staff on social media. The posts will generate excitement for our parents and campers who follow us on Instagram and Facebook as they gear up for the summer. However, the posts are also a way to generate excitement from our staff. They get to share some information about themselves with the camp community. We want them to feel a part of our community right from the start and highlighting them in a social media post can make them feel part of the team.
These are just some ideas to help ease the anxiety for some staff members as camp rapidly approaches. Just remember — as camp gets closer and your to-do list grows by the hour, there are lots of staff members who you will soon be entrusting to be good stewards of your camp and role models to your campers. The more you can do to ease some of those anxious feelings in the upcoming days, the better the transition will be for them, and you will have a more successful and happy staff. Something as small as a handwritten note or acknowledging that you’re thinking about them on their birthday goes a very long way.
Brian Glickman is an assistant director at North Star Camp in Hayward, WI. He has worked for over 15 years in the summer camp industry and six years as a corporate recruiter in the Chicago tech scene. Brian is passionate about the candidate experience and helping find great staff to work at camp each summer. Brian serves on a sub-committee for ACA’s Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job whose purpose is to support camps in their efforts to recruit, hire, and retain staff.