Building Community at Summer Camp
Ten years from now, what will the people who come to your camp remember about their summer experience? Realize that the flashiest multimedia and latest technologies become outdated in no time. Songs and cheers won’t stick in a person’s mind forever. The rules of a new game are quickly forgotten, and the adrenaline rush of an early morning hike or a trip down the zip line soon subsides.
While creative activities, exciting programs and large numbers attract participants, these features alone do not make a summer camp successful. Rather, kids and adults alike will cherish the lasting relationships at camp more than anything else. As a camp director, you have a responsibility to foster a sense of community among the kids, parents and staff who trust your leadership.
Building a community begins by hiring the right people. Parents are concerned primarily with their own child, and campers may feel anxious about meeting new people, but a great team can focus their attention on the needs of the group. When choosing employees, make sure that everyone from the counselors to the cook possesses the qualities of a team player: reliability, flexibility, cooperation and commitment. Once you have put together a good staff, thorough training can help establish unity among them. If everyone knows his or her duties and the structure of the camp, the summer will run more smoothly and the atmosphere will become more enjoyable. You should also show your employees your appreciation for their hard work and dedication. Satisfied staff will apply year after year.
Staff and campers comprise only a part of the camp community, and a good director will reach out to parents as well. As a leader, you will face all kinds of questions, attitudes and levels of involvement from the parents, both good and bad, but keep in mind that Mom and Dad just want their child to have a safe and fun experience. By building relationships with the parents, you can ensure that everyone leaves happy at the end of the summer. Parents who feel that their needs and concerns have been addressed will sign up their kids again and spread the word about your program, effectively advertising on your behalf.
When a kid arrives at camp for the first time, he or she might fear meeting strangers or participating in certain activities. Counselors, teachers and leaders can bridge that gap by reaching out to shy campers and encouraging old friends to branch out and invite others into their group. The staff should serve as the model of unity for the entire camp, and healthy staff-student relationships form the pillar of the community.
Furthermore, staff should work to establish a hospitable, inclusive atmosphere. Group dynamics like bullying or cliques can poison a community, and your job as a leader requires you to make sure that everyone feels safe and welcome. One of the best parts about summer camp is the lifelong friendships that kids can make, and a warm atmosphere will encourage such relationships.
If you have put in effort to build a sense of unity among the staff, campers and parents, you next need to advertise this fact as a great benefit of your camp. Clarify the mission and values of your program, whether its purpose is to promote community service, bring together people of a certain faith or simply to provide a fun-filled summer. State your objectives clearly in the camp’s promotional materials and underscore the friendly community that campers will experience.
Finally, establishing a strong community will create a network of happy families who have made your camp a part of their annual summer tradition. When the campers grow up, they may support the program and even send their own children back.