Camp Culture Carriers: What Happens When They Age Out?

Norman E. Friedman, MEd
March 2016

Many residential and day camps are experiencing their older and most experienced counselors aging out because they now need full-time employment and can no longer remain at camp for the summer. College students who used to return each summer have graduated and now wait for alumni activities and events to continue their relationship with their camps. Those senior staff played a very significant and essential role during their tenure at camp. They were the “culture carriers” who taught new and inexperienced staff what is special about your intentional community. They were your master teachers, and too many of them leaving your camp at once can create the potential problem of diminishing your carefully established and defined camp culture.

Those precious senior staff lived the camp’s culture day and night and were the deliverers of your very specific style of care — your philosophy, values, principles, and beliefs. Often you would hear one of them saying to a new counselor, “That was great, exactly the way we do it here,” or at times, “Hey, let’s talk about that; I can suggest a better way.” Their absence requires some focused attention to be sure everyone, including remaining veteran counselors and new and/or inexperienced staff, are clear about exactly what you expect of every member of your staff in caring for other people’s children.

Your camp’s culture should be re-evaluated on a regular basis. Is it noticeably and measurably acceptable or does it need help and/or remediation? If you are indeed experiencing the loss of your culture carriers, you may wish to take it as an opportunity to revisit your camp’s culture.

Take Stock of Your Camp Culture’s Effectiveness

  • To ensure your camp’s culture continues to be one that nurtures campers and creates a safe environment, ask yourself these questions:
  • Have I clearly stated exactly what my beliefs, values, goals, expectations, and boundaries are for campers and staff?
  • Do returning staff lead new staff and instruct them on inappropriate behaviors if and when they are observed?
  • Do returning staff bring to my attention behaviors of any staff that are inappropriate both at camp and during time and days off?
  • Can all staff articulate, if asked, what makes my camp special?
  • Do I utilize returning staff during orientation and training to teach new staff what is expected of them and to explain consequences for noncompliance?
  • Am I satisfied that staff members’ loyalty is to the campers and to me rather than to each other?
  • Do I dedicate time with staff to review culture components and assess our collective progress?
  • Do staff act appropriately during time away from camp and understand their responsibilities as representatives of the camp at all times?
  • Are there existing negative traditions in our culture, and am I actively retraining or, when necessary, eliminating staff responsible for perpetuating inappropriate actions and behaviors?
  • Do staff members verbalize positive feelings about our camp culture and take pride in living it and passing in on to our campers?

The appropriate care and safety of other people’s children is clearly the priority of camp owners/directors and their leadership teams. Reviewing and revising anything that could potentially diminish your “culture of safety” demands focused and immediate attention.

Reference
Friedman, N.E. (2011, March/April). The Essence of a Positive Camp Culture. Camping Magazine.

Norman E. Friedman, M Ed, recipient of the ACA’s 2014 Hedley S. Dimock Award, is employed by the AMSkier Insurance Agency as executive director of AMSkier Partners. Norman has visited more than 400 camps nationwide as a camp training specialist. He can be contacted at 800.245.2666 or normanf@amskier.com.