National Mentoring Month — A Guest Blog

January 12, 2016
Andy Shlensky
Camp staff sitting and talking to each other

In many ways summer camp is synonymous with mentoring. It’s what counselors do. But what I have learned in my young career is that it doesn’t stop there. I was a 17-year-old counselor at North Star when for the first time I was called into Robert Lebby’s office regarding a camper situation I had been working on. It was a tough decision about whether a camper would be able to continue his stay at camp.  Leb (as we call him at camp) and Sue were there, as well as a few members of the leadership team. Leb had already been the camp director for 30 years and was an ACA board member, yet after he had me tell everyone what I had experienced, he asked me what I thought we should do. 

Later that day Leb called me back in to tell me what he had decided. It wasn’t what I had suggested. But I wasn’t dismissed. Leb proceeded to fill me in on the information that I had not had in the first meeting. He explained his rationale for the decision he and Sue had come to. He explained the downsides of the alternatives.

At this point in my life, I’ve had hundreds of these conversations with Leb. Sometimes they were real scenarios, and oftentimes they were just a test. But he was always teaching and he cared - a true mentor to this day.

My mentors showed me the road in camping, and I have been very fortunate to have some great ones. Jack Weiner was my CIT director in his final summer at camp. My first full-time job in camping was at Camp Lenox where I was able to learn from Rich and Stephanie Moss. Monty “Coach” Moss, Rich’s dad and camping legend, would have me hop on his golf cart and have me talk about what I was learning as we drove around camp. On my first day on the job, 30-year program director Barry Bergen said, “Stick with me kid and I’ll teach you everything I know.” And he did. Basketball director Jack Kaminer, who runs the campership organization Focus for a Future, took me under his wing and offered me counsel on matters at camp and personal. Luckily the list goes on, and it continues to grow. 

I don’t know how far any of this would have gone had I not been hooked into EPIC at my first National Conference. I was still in college, and this gave me the first glimpse of what a career in camping could look like. It allowed me to become connected to many other camp professionals who have helped me along the way. As January marks National Mentoring Month, may we continue to remember that our responsibility to mentor goes beyond just the campers. Let us work together to make sure that future generations of camp directors are ready to lead the way.

Andy Shlensky is the director of North Star Camp for Boys in Hayward, Wisconsin 

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, MA.