February 2, 2016

A guest blog by Sterling Nell Leija

When I was a kid, I remember wanting to go to summer camp.  Like many of your campers, I counted down the days!  But I couldn’t honestly tell you I loved it.  I was nervous in the days leading up to it.  I was nervous while I was there.  I didn’t make forever friends.  I didn’t take home treasured works of art.  Sometimes I was lonely.  Often I was homesick.  As I reflect on my camp experience, it is all a bit fuzzy now outside of a few details.

First, I longed to be a counselor.  Oddly, I couldn’t figure out why.  But I wanted it.  My second camp job was at the ripe age of 14.  I signed up for the minimum number of weeks my inaugural summer, not sure I’d like it.  My second year, I committed to the whole summer.  There I worked for a camp director who forever changed my life.  He made me see why I wanted to go to summer camp as a kid, why I yearned to be a counselor, why I signed up for the whole darn summer.  Mentorship.

The second detail did not become clear to me until I was well on my way to becoming an adult.  Camp molded me into who I am today.  I realize now that I not only liked it, but loved it and needed it.  I was just uncertain about the journey.  A journey where I developed my faith, my beliefs, my morals.  Camp gave me the peace to celebrate silence.  I learned how to take care of others.  I discovered who I am.  Again, through mentorship.

As camp professionals we know we mold kids.  We make them strong and build their confidence.  We help them create meaningful relationships and overcome fears.  And all of us spend at least a little time identifying exactly what it is about our programs that create these small successes one being at a time.

Again, I come to the same place.  Mentorship.  I recently read a letter from a colleague who reflected on advice he had recently received- instead of looking through a lens focusing on the beginning, the middle and the end; we should focus on the beginning, the middle and the new beginning.  This is what camp and mentorship is about.

It’s about teaching our young staff that it’s not about the mistakes they make, but what they do with them.  It’s about guiding seasoned professional staff to mentor the young bucks who haven’t yet learned the basics of how to be an employee.  It’s about the oldest cabin reading to the youngest.  It’s about peers mentoring peers. 

As you dive knee deep into your summer prep, I urge you to consider how to weave mentorship into your programs, your staff, and the camp culture.  Mentorship is a volunteer role.  It’s an honor, a privilege, a camp tradition.  Here’s to new beginnings. 

Sterling Nell Leija is the Executive Camp Director at Roundup River Ranch, a SeriousFun Camp