Leading for Tomorrow - September

September 2015

The fall season, for our association, marks a time similar to the first days of staff training. It is a time of bonding when veteran camp leaders are excited to share their stories of the season and grow from others. It is a time of learning, as all of us look back in reflection while looking for solutions to advance our own programs before our next round of campers arrive. It is a time of possibility when new members have joined our ranks and want to add their voice to this community.

Like the beginning of staff training, this period between camp seasons can be one of the most impactful times for camp professionals — when you get to work with old and new team members to define the direction and identify the goals of your organization. Also akin to staff training, it is not without its challenges.

Think about staff training. You've spent months assembling your team of camp veterans and first-timers in whom you see potential. You're confident in your preparations; you are ready. Then, in your first moments of training you realize that your greatest challenge in setting the stage for the summer will not be teaching the lessons but pulling the team together to work as one voice, as one team, with one mission in mind.

For me, the challenges always were in addressing our own human tendencies that often set the parameters of a team in its early days, weeks, or even months. These appear in the camp setting with staff who arrive ready to relive their previous summer as a staff member or their time as a camper. Their spirit and energy is something powerful that we all utilize and build upon. However, they can sometimes close themselves off to newcomers who want to contribute to the team, or they resist new innovations that need to be implemented in the program. The potential pitfalls for building a strong, united association are the same. We need these veterans to lead the way and carry the traditions of the past forward, but we also need the newcomers and the new ideas to be heard and accepted by all to take forward strides during the season.

I remember my first few days as a new staff member; I thought I wouldn't survive a week as I tried to find my place among such a tightly knit team who all had such histories working at my camp. But my team leader coached me to grow my voice on the team. He advised that while it may be daunting at first, in this community, it would be well received.

I also remember my summers as a veteran counselor when that same boss came to me during staff training and asked me to be more open to the new ideas of the summer and to the new individuals who were now a part of the team. He said for us to achieve success he needed my leadership. Further, he needed me to empower those new team members of mine.

On reflection, I realize it is in these first moments of team building that we do our best work by setting the stage for the impactful experience of camp. We move from assembling the team to building the team by making the group act as one unit. It is never easy, but somehow as the days, weeks, and months go on, we realize that our efforts to forge a cohesive, empowered team have worked, ultimately providing the best possible experience for the children in our programs.

The fall is a time when the success of the next year in our association is also defined by how we bring our team together. As we imagine the year ahead, as association members, staff, or volunteers, we must come together in unison with all of us as one collective voice. Veteran camp leaders must bring newcomers to the table and encourage their participation. First-time members must get involved to make a difference and become a part of the movement. Finally, innovative ideas must be expressed, vetted, and embraced where appropriate.

With immense opportunities and possibilities ahead, the work of advancing each of our programs and our association as a whole begins with us. I look forward to working with you this fall as a member of your team to try and realize our collective vision.