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The Start of Camp Staff Training for the Summer of 2015

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While Camp doesn’t officially start until June 27th, for us the summer of 2015 began this past weekend with our two incredible camp events: the Junior Counselor Training Weekend, and our New Camper Party in Westchester, NY. Both are designed to help our community members prepare for a new adventure, and decrease any nervousness that they might have about their upcoming trip to Wilmot, NH in June. More on the New Camper Party later in the week, but today and tomorrow I’ll be writing about the JC Weekend. 

Our Junior Counselors are rising high school seniors, and are all former Kenwood and Evergreen campers. After completing their time as campers in August of 2013, this group spent a summer exploring the outside world. Many of them worked on community service projects in the United States and in other countries. Some had internships or worked near their homes, while others took part in academic enrichment programs. This fall those interested in becoming counselors for the first time went through a rigorous application and vetting process, and of those a smaller group was selected to be Junior Counselors. This was our first time hosting a camp staff training for them.  

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There are many desired outcomes for this weekend. We want our JC’s to reconnect with each other, and with us. During their time away from our overnight camp we certainly missed them! We also want them to access the positive memories of their time as campers, and think about how they can be quality role models for this summer’s campers. To do this we need them to consciously transition from how a camper views camp to a counselor mindset. We need them to realize that taking care of other people’s children may be the most important job they ever have, and that to do it well takes learning, practice and a ton of hard work. 

So we put them through their paces. Over the years we have designed games that help our staff grow comfortable working as a team, but also teach them how to be critical thinkers and quality problem solvers. We gave them tasks that required them to work on their communication and leadership skills. We asked them to take risks and present to the group their best ideas and defend them when challenged. And as we through each game or problem we debriefed with them how they struggled, what they learned, and how they need to transfer all of this to the work that they do with kids this summer.

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One of my favorite parts of the weekend was when we asked them to think back to their time as campers. Most of our Junior Counselors were K&E campers for 6, 7 or 8 years, and stayed for 7-weeks each summer. Collectively, they have an almost infinite number of stories to share from their time as overnight campers, especially about their counselors who served as such quality role models.

We asked them to think about how their counselors impacted their summers, and to create a comprehensive list of every quality or action of their favorite counselors. They filled pages and pages with notes, and then worked together to distill them down into one comprehensive list of what makes a fabulous Kenwood and Evergreen counselor. When they were done they suddenly realized that they had created their own job description for the summer, based entirely on their own memories. You could almost see the light bulbs going off in their heads.

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The most serious and impactful part of the weekend was when Scott introduced them to a training video produced by the American Camp Association. It’s a collection of newsclips and interviews after an accident that took place at another camp almost 2 decades ago. The people involved discuss the poor decision making that resulted in a tragedy, and the lasting impact of it on their lives. Many of the Junior Counselors teared up, and all of them spoke eloquently about how profound this video was for them to watch.

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We showed this video because we need our staff to understand that while our overnight camp is fun and a great place for learning, it is also absolutely committed to the physical and emotional safety of all of our members…and as counselors they need to consider the consequences of every action that they take. Watching this movie totally shifted the tone of the weekend, and even the following day the staff were saying to me “I get it now. I get how awesome this responsibility is. I never knew it when I was a camper, but I get it now”. Mission accomplished. 

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It was just so great to have this group together again. We laughed, we hugged a lot, and we told story after story about how much we all mean to each other. At the conclusion of one meeting I pointed out that four of them still had colored ribbons tied around their ankles from an event that took place 2 years ago. They beamed with pride that I noticed their tremendous Camp spirit, and I shared with them that I did the same thing (and that mine lasted until Sophomore year of college). 

Our summer camp in NH prides itself on many things: on how our community members form relationships that last a lifetime; on how profoundly our campers learn and grow each summer; and, maybe most importantly, on how hard and intentionally we work to take care of each other. It’s those attributes and outcomes that make this place so special for so many.

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I’ll have more on the Junior Counselor Weekend and New Camper Party every day this week, so please check back for updates. 

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