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FEB. 6, 2015

The Winter Life of a Summer Camp Director

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Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director

When I meet new people in the winter and tell them that I’m a camp director, they usually say “that sounds like so much fun” to which I reply “it is!” They then usually proceed to ask “what do you do this time of year?” Given all that it takes to create a fun, safe, successful summer, I always think that this is a funny question, but it’s a valid one. I’m sure it’s hard to imagine what a camp director does when she’s not singing songs after lunch or helping a homesick camper. So, I thought I’d use this blog to let you peek behind the curtain into the winter life of a summer camp director.

I’m writing today from the New Orleans, where I’m attending the American Camp Association’s national conference. For four days, camp directors and leaders from across the country (yesterday I was in workshops with camp people from Colorado,  Kentucky, and Hawaii among other places), come together to share and learn about child development, staff leadership and mentoring, risk management and safety, and effective communication among other topics.

 We also get to listen to inspiring speakers. Last night I listened to Scott Cowen, president emeritus of Tulane University, speak about the basic principles of creating positive change as he described how he helped reimagine and recreate the structure of Tulane in the days and years following Hurricane Katrina. In past years I’ve also been inspired by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and Sally Jewell, former CEO of REI and current Secretary of the Interior.

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Scott Arizala speaks about effective staff mentoring.

 We also visit the Exhibit Hall and meet with the vendors who supply us with equipment like arrows and AEDs, help connect us with international staff, provide background checks for all the staff we hire, etc.

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Our friend Matt from Everything Summer Camps. Matt’s company makes the trunks that many of you buy for camp. http://www.everythingsummercamp.com

 And, since we are summer camp people, we also have fun! This year’s conference was kicked off by a local high school marching band. You can see this video here: Karr High School Marching Band, and today’s morning session started with about 1,000 camp folks singing “Make New Friends” in a round.

 Finally, we are reminded of the importance of the work that we’re doing. Camps give kids a chance to grow in so many positive ways. They teach respect, responsibility, resilience, compassion, independence, patience, tenacity, positive risk taking and so much more. And they give kids a chance to experience nature, make deep friendships and experience joy. Camp people happily invest in children, not only because we love them, but also because we believe that the life skills that kids learn at camp will help them be the kind of leaders that will positively impact the world when they grow up.

A day and a half into the conference I already have pages of notes and fresh ideas for the summer. And I still have a day and a half left!

Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director