A Sense of Belonging
I’m writing on calm seas while I cross from Victoria to Vancouver on the ferry. I have enjoyed a terrific day of travel with my sister (Pammer) as we ventured from snowy Whistler to beautiful Victoria where Pam will visit to welcome a new baby to our family. It’s a wee boy and his name is Joseph…Congratulations Starr, Dani and big brother James!
The purpose of my western trek was to have a pre-Christmas visit with my two siblings and some extended family members. Our children will not be joining us at home in Perth this Christmas. Our eldest son (Elwood) will be in Costa Rica, and our youngest son will be in the Vancouver area. Our “western stray” (Ludwig) is experiencing the challenging slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. I have been lucky enough to enjoy a few fantastic days of skiing with him (in lieu of Christmas) and with his lifelong friend Duke.
An unexpected coffee rendezvous was organized a few days ago with several alumni staff from my early days in camping. We were all staff at Camp Kawabi. The exact number of years gone by when we worked together is not really that important; let’s say we worked together late in the 70′s (that’s 1970’s). There we were: Murf, Stew, Duff and myself at a trendy (or groovy) coffee shop in West Vancouver getting caught up. In three-fifths of an instant we were talking and sharing stories as if no time had elapsed since our days on the swim docks, in sail boats, in the Lodge or in the Craft Shop. We must have spent a couple of hours together and I can’t remember a lull or pause in any of the conversations. It seemed we were almost competing to find air time to get in one more bit of news or to recollect one more past camp event.
It has occurred to me many times when I have reconnected with my camping peers how exceptional the sense of belonging is within this group. I’m not exactly sure just how big “our” group is. There are no membership requirements to help define eras or people and I think it’s perfect that way; simply a group of people who are friends, mentors, confidants, colleagues and great mates! They are a group of people who spent a relatively short period of time together doing valuable work with children and young teens at camp. We were only teens ourselves: growing and learning every day starting with the wake-up trio of bells.
At Otterdale and other camps in our Camping Association, there is no shortage of activities, events and experiences that benefit campers. Kids learn to swim, sail, canoe, kayak and participate in dramatic arts, music and much more. We ask kids to unplug at camp and spend time in the outdoors to experience nature through play and deliberate programs. They learn to cooperate by living in a rustic environment with 8-10 kids in a cabin of their own age. They run and play (and trip and fall) in an environment that promotes good health, fitness and personal growth.
A single session at camp can be a “stand-alone” positive experience for kids and families. My hope is that all kids get a chance to enjoy recurring camp experiences over a period of many years to benefit from this stable and predictable annual event during the important years of change and growth. The Otterdale staff work hard to ensure that every camper is immediately included and that they feel accepted into our camp community. The added benefit of returning to camp each year is a free membership into a lifelong community and instills an important sense of belonging.
Feels Like Home
Last week the Work Crew staff and I hit the road for a couple of days. Skills Weekend was just over and the dishes from Monday’s lunch were drying in the dish rack when we turned on to Frayn Road and headed out. We were all excited about getting away for a few days. The team had been working very hard since early May and needed a change of pace and scenery. You might wonder if they were sick of listening to me for the past three weeks?…….It’s remotely possible but I don’t really think so!
Our destination was Big Hawk Lake in Haliburton. Our objective was to rendezvous with an old friend and mentor, Skip Harris, at Camp Kawabi. We have been in the habit of visiting Kawabi each spring for the last four years to help with the spring chores and to prepare the site for Family Camp (Kawabi style).
It’s always an exciting journey for me to visit Kawabi. As the gap narrowed between our camps, my mind was humming with verse after verse of “Lu la la, Lu la la, Lu la la la lay……” It happens each time as I anticipate walking those familiar paths I explored as a child, teen and dare I say young adult! When we settled in for the evening I enjoyed a quiet walk around the camp property. I thought to myself….this feels like home!
A continuing project that Skip and his visiting Work Crew staff have been working on has been the dismantling and removal of the retired tent platforms. The focus this year, with great assistance from two hardworking grandchildren, was the girl’s section along the waterfront. When this project started three visits ago it was somewhat disturbing to think we were making this physical “stuff” disappear. Were we peeling away layers of history board by board? Would we be viewed somehow as thieves that had no right to take this away?
It didn’t take too long before I took comfort in knowing that what we were doing was returning the site to its original and beautiful natural appearance. With the girls platforms now all removed the view down the tent line is a beautiful lakeside forest scene complete with those huge beech and sugar maples. There isn’t a remnant milk crate, bug bucket, name-tagged beach towel or polypropylene clothesline left standing.
It’s not to say there is nothing remaining. I could still imagine and somehow sense thousands upon thousands of memories still lingering down that tent line. As Skip and I paused for a minute admiring the massive clean-up, I said to him that I thought Nish would be impressed with the transformation. We nodded in agreement, feeling her presence too.
Our Skills Weekend and Open House is almost a week behind us now……time is fleeting and camp is rapidly approaching us! Throughout the Skills Weekend our staff “dug-in” with incredible effort in all three activity streams. The canoeists all successfully completed their Instructor course and the swimmers all completed the first half of the NLS course. The support staff worked many hours on a “fix-it” and chores list as well as taking care of all the (great) meal preparations.
I thought the weekend was in every way a great success. Thank you Otterdale Staff!
One thing I really enjoyed was the hour or so working with all the support staff as we picked up garbage along the highway. It’s troubling how much garbage there was, but it felt great to work alongside those staff to do the clean-up. We received a lot of thank you honks from passing cars.
The Open House was well attended and I think each visiting family had a glimpse of what amazing things their kids will do this summer. The new climbing wall was a main attraction followed closely by the heavy equipment display (our tractors).
As we were wrapping up the weekend, I asked my staff to write out their thoughts-just a quick note. Here is what they wrote to my following question:
Answer me this……..What’s cool about Skills Weekend?
- Seeing new staff bond with the older staff. (Captain)
- To see these young people apply themselves to something new and challenging, and succeed. (Canoe Instructor Pat )
- The opportunity to leave the city, and connect with the camp community, and join a welcoming collection of staff members. (Jahbba)
- Coming together as a team and in a social community with new and returning staff and seeing the changes made throughout the year. (Bauer)
- I love coming back to camp and catching up with all of the staff after being apart for almost a year. (Mozely)
- It’s great getting that little taste of what summer’s going to be like with all the amazing staff we have. (Watson)
- Getting to see everyone you don’t get to see during the school year, and really bonding as a group. (Cameron (Tosh) Begin)
- The coolest part about Skills Weekend is getting to get away for a weekend and be at camp with all your friends, also seeing Captain and Aunt Sue’s beautiful faces. (Kyle (Simba) Lawrence)
- Getting to learn what being on staff is all about and getting to see all you’re old camp friends and new camp friends again. (Michael (Maverick) Rhodes)
- Getting to come to camp and have an awesome time with counsellors and the new J leds. It’s also pretty sweet finding out what staff life is going to be like. (Ryan (Kessel) Kidman)
- I just met you, and this is crazy. But here’s my number, so call me maybe…– (Matt (Clifford) Robbs)
- What’s cool about skills weekend is having a little taste of how awesome your summer is going to be during school. (Lochlan (BiGzBee) Doyle)
- It’s great to see all the friendly faces again, and be re-integrated into the Camp O community as a counsellor. (Angelo (Brunch/Undecided) Milonas)
- So FUN to play games and to have fun with my freinds!! ( Medley)
- It’s awesome being here for the first time as a staff member. It’s giving us a great taste of what summer is going to be like. We can’t wait!!!! (Marina/Royce and Holly/Holly)
- It was great to be back, learning new skills, finding old friends, and meeting new friends. (Anna Squared)
- WAZZUP BUDDZ! Topanga and Juni here, we love skills weekend because we get to catch up with friends and prep camp for the amazing upcoming summer! xoxo yolo
- I love coming back to camp and seeing all my favourite camp things along with all the new things! Skills weekend is righteous! (Spinelli)
- “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right” (Chevy, not my quote)
- It’s great to be back with all the staff – Welcoming the new staff into our camp family has been a blast! (Nikon)
- It’s great to see new faces at camp! I look forward to getting to know the new staff better! Skills has been stellar, and I have learned great things. (Rossi)
- Skills weekend has been a tremendous weekend for meeting all the new staff and getting camp all ready for the summer! Can’t wait to make more memories with everyone old and new! (J Navi)
- Looking forward to seeing everyone this summer, could be the best summer yet! (Maggie)
- It has been a great experience and seeing all the new and old staff has been great! Here’s to making lots of new and old memories! Looking forward to a great summer! (Pandora)
- Being able to come back to camp, talk to old friends, and meet new friends. ( Apollo)
- It’s amazing to be able to get to go back to a place you love so much, surrounded by the people you care about the most (Darwin)
- It is an absolute tease…After the weekend we start hittin the books hard for our academic examinations…. But does it ever get you stoked for the summer!!!! (BaBaGanouj)
- It’s been a great start! This summer will be unreal and it feels so long away but before we know it, it will be here! Looking forward to it! (Skylar)
- It’s so great to see so many familiar faces again! The weather helped make this an outstanding weekend and makes me extremely excited for the summer! (Lynx)
- It was awesome getting a break from school and getting to catch up with all of the returning staff and meeting all the promising new staff members. (Crusoe)
- It’s great to bond with the new Jled’s and see all those beautiful faces again. It’s sure been wild in the smouldering heat can’t wait for the summa! (Denver)
- I can already see that the new staff this year will be a power house of hilarious characters (Hobbes)
I recall very clearly, about 25 years ago, the call from my Camp Director, mentor and friend Bruce “Skip” Harris to come to camp for a Work Weekend. It was a new idea at the time for his camp (Camp Kawabi). There was a lot of interest within my generation of staff to help out and of course get together. Any excuse for a road trip and rendezvous was a great one back then and actually continues to be with many of that gang! I recall a lot of reconnecting and a surprisingly large amount of work being crossed off Skip’s well thought out list. The values of pitching in and helping out has always been strong within the camp community. Everything just seemed to come together for everyone that weekend.
When I was just getting my water wings wet here at Otterdale, I thought it a great idea to have a Work Weekend with the hopes of recreating that earlier experience. I was truly dumbfounded that I could only generate slightly less than moderate interest from only a handful of staff. We did manage to have a (mini) work weekend during a very cold and wet few days. We crossed off a few jobs and I remain thankful to that small group of staff who gave up their time to help out.
What I realized at some point not long after that weekend was we were doing was much more than fixing, building and cleaning. Through the work and chores (and trying to stay warm) that first group of staff was reinforcing their past summer’s connections and helping to create a community. Our camp community was just beginning to establish its own identity and unique culture. That small group of staff had a strong connection with each other and “this place”. They realized that their camp relationships were going to remain important in their lives and what they learned at camp would be very relevant to their future success and well-being.
The focus of our Work Weekends has shifted from “work” to developing “skills”. Naturally enough a Skill Development theme is more palatable than a Labour Camp theme to most. Participation in our Skills Weekend has grown to the point that we are expecting all but a handful of staff to be at camp this coming long weekend. There will be staff participating in a Canoe Instructor course and a NLS waterfront course. There will also be a support group that will have that little job list to try and knock off!
We have come a long way…….I don’t know of another camp staff that will be devoting their May long weekend to:
- Better prepare for teaching and counselling
- Systematically reducing the never ending camp chores list
- Helping new staff eliminate their butterflies
- Showcase their camp to visitors during the Sunday afternoon Open House
- Being outside and enjoying the natural camp environment
- Enjoy some crazy games
- Sing some camp songs
- Have a polar bear swim
- Help make a Dutch Oven meal
- Laugh through the morning news sketch
- And most importantly to continue to build and strengthen our camp community.
That’s what’s cool about the Skills Weekend!
I didn’t forget about collecting the thoughts from the male staff and Medley today (refer to Captain’s Blog 14052012). It’s just that when I did remember I had one foot in my truck and was leaving camp for the night. It will be with great anticipation that we read their musings in the near future!
The OCA (Ontario Camps Association) is the accrediting organization for camping in Ontario. There are more than 300 member camps and as many commercial members. Camp Otterdale has been a member camp since the mid 1950’s. The Standards for Accreditation developed and revised by the OCA over many years provide the high water mark for Camp Directors to ensure the best practices in every aspect of camp operations.
The OCA is also a collection of like-minded camping “folks” who have no shortage of energy and enthusiasm for children, teens and our natural environment (we all love to be outside with kids!). I have had the pleasure to work as a volunteer on the OCA Board of Directors and as a regular Standards Visitor for many summers. I have learned a great deal from presenters and simply networking at our OCA annual conferences held for a few days each winter.
A benefit of membership in the OCA is the monthly newsletter. I look forward to receiving it to help me stay in touch with events and to follow the many links. Recently I ran across an article written by a retired camp Owner/Director I think is worth sharing through this blog. I love what she wrote about one of the “cardinal rules of camp counselling”.
It seems like common sense to me and hope to you too!
TODAY’S CHILDREN NEED CAMP MORE THAN EVER
On March 31, 2012, Elizabeth Renzetti, Globe and Mail columnist, wrote an article about overanxious parents. She concluded with these statements: “They [children] need to be saved from us, their saviours. They need to be released into the wild, among the pimply and pierced who are their own kind, where they will be fine. Probably.” No doubt she was speaking metaphorically, but I chose to read her advice literally.
What better place for children to be gently weaned from parental anxiety, dependence and overindulgence than at camp!
Renzetti was responding to a story about the ban of the 2012 Easter Egg Hunt in Bancroft Park near Colorado Springs because in 2011, parents jumped the gun before the official start to gather eggs to ensure that their children did not miss out on their chocolate treats. I recalled a similar experience in my own home when some of my former counsellor staff visited with their young children. I had laid out an Easter Egg Hunt for the children in the living and dining rooms so that the parent s could visit in the family room while enjoying a quiet cup of coffee. I drank by myself. The parents, holding the baskets, were all too busy following their offspring, pointing out the eggs the children might have missed! They had forgotten one of the cardinal rules drummed into them as camp counselors: never do for children what they are capable of doing for themselves with effort.
On May 1, a second Globe and Mail article addressed another trend: excessive spending on dresses, limos, professional photographers, makeup, manicures and pedicures to celebrate grade six graduations. Parents struggle to find the balance between making the occasion special without indulging every whim and wish. Some parent s have difficulty saying “no”. Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb in an article How to Land your Kid in Therapy refers to parents with an overwhelming fixation on their children’s happiness and a desire to protect them from all life’s knocks. She says, “Parental overinvestment is contributing to a burgeoning generational narcissism hurting our kids.”
Again, enter camp!
Children need camp where they learn to live quite happily with less: minimum clothing (whatever fits into the duffle bag), limited living space (a bunk and a cubby) and fewer amenities (no TV and computer in their sleeping quarters and rarely an ensuite bathroom). They learn to share the available equipment, the food on the table and their counsellor’s attention. They learn to co-operate to build a campfire, tidy their cabin or tandem a canoe. And in the process, they discover that life can be fun and fulfilling without all the trappings they thought were absolutely necessary because, according to their perspective, everyone has one! They discover that they can cope temporarily and make simple choices and decisions without constant parental consultation at the other end of a cell phone.
On the question of access to cell phones at camp, each director in consultation with parents and staff has to ultimately decide,” What is best for the campers?”
- By Catherine Ross, CCA/ACC Communications Officer
With very little encouragement the Work Crew Staff were all willing to pitch-in with the blog today. I asked if they wouldn’t mind offering up a description of what they have been working on and how they are generally feeling about camp. (I’m pretty sure they were all willing!)
With the female staff taking the lead, the following are a few of their thoughts……enjoy:
Rossi: Throughout the past two weeks I have been working on constructing the new Bantams trough as well as stairs, this has been a fantastic experience since I have been learning a lot of new stuff that’s pretty neat. One of the more interesting things I have learned is how to solder copper pipes together. The great part about this was that once I was done it didn’t leak!! I feel amazing about my new skills and I’m excited to learn even more. I’m stoked for the fast approaching summer!
Clover: Today, Medley and I washed the maple sap evaporator so the maple syrup will taste extra nice next year. I’ve been raking around camp, cleaning the kitchen and preparing the water front. I’ve managed to have 5 nosebleeds this spring. I made some pretty terrible coffee and made a few new cat friends. Bright lights and June bug city. Overall, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty tight summer.
Scotia: Last night I started the long process of making homemade chicken noodle soup. It’s taken longer than expected, but the stock is finally done and Work Crew will be enjoying a delicious chicken noodle soup tomorrow. I feel like “Camp Mom” Scotia making delicious food for all to enjoy! Bleeker, Medley, Clover and I are on our way to clean all the sap buckets and have some fun in the sun! It should be a good afternoon up at the sugar shack.
Medley: Look for my contribution soon!
Treble: I’m back! But just to visit and help the Work Crew out for a few days. You can count on seeing me a few times this summer though – Camp has a strong pull on me, and I’m not fighting it. It’s great being here to help; the weather is beautiful and camp is looking great for the fast approaching Open House! I’m very excited for camp’s brand new climbing wall – I hope every camper signs up to try it out! Looking forward to my future camp visits as a new Staff Alumnus… You can take the counsellor out of camp but you can’t take the camp out of the counsellor. Have a safe and wonderful summer Camp O’!
The Work Crew team is getting a bit larger. There is enough staff for three euchre matches, a great B-ball game or 12 games of solitaire! That also means we can divide, organize and conquer a lot of work at one time. The productivity of this group is truly amazing. They are highly motivated and seem to know what has to be accomplished by the end of each day.
Yesterday morning the team consisted of Topo, Gunnar, Enzo, Ludwig, Bleeker, Rossi, Medley, Clover and Scotia. There is also that somewhat more worldly and mature component of Pops, Aunt Sue and myself.
As we started the second full week of Work Crew on Monday everyone was “finding their groove” nicely. It’s a very interesting pattern to observe from my vantage point on the Bridge porch or in Nuts and Bolts. I like to compare it to driving on a 400 series highway. I most often accelerate quickly in the merging lane then exceed the speed limit to ensure I have all options open to join the traffic ahead. I then motor along a bit to acclimatize to the given circumstance and then ease into to my safe speed.
Hobbes joined the Work Crew team yesterday late morning. We gave him a warm five minute welcome and then put him to work. This is his first year coming to camp this early and his arrival reminded me a great deal of the first few days of camp for so many campers (not the putting them to work part). Hobbes looked and smelled clean compared to the rest of us who were dressed in our well worn work clothes. His eyes were bright, his wit sharp and I watched him take it all in…..not missing anything. He was very wide eyed and seemed excited about what lay ahead for him in this familiar but still new environment!
So there it was…..12 of us in th
I’m hoping it’s a camper group of mostly new kids performing a skit or song. It should be a chance for them to really work together for the first time with the added motivation to perform in front of the entire camp. I’ve coached my staff to view that first performance as a rite of passage. It’s a chance to truly welcome everyone and spread that feeling that we are all in this together and we support each other. It can reinforce the idea that it’s ok to be yourself, and more than ok to be a bit crazy in this camp community!
The first hint of the concept might have come during a rainy night when we couldn’t use the stage in front of Harrison Hall. Or it was on those occasions when there was “noise conflict” between the music program and Shappy’s team trying to prepare a meal or two. It might also have come from the friendly turf war over library/stage space and all those drums and other musical instruments.
It might have begun when the old Infirmary had to be “recycled” 6 years ago after a wet spring and big wind storm. It’s hard to pin it down exactly. The project I’m referring to is the new Drama/Music building. It will be a dedicated space about the size of a camper cabin for the Otterdale “Performing Arts”. It will be located in almost the exact location as the old Infirmary at the lower end of the Games Field. There will be a good sized open stage across the front of the building, a covered stage and an enclosed section to store instruments, costumes and act as a recording area. It’ll be awesome!
Almost two years ago the rough drawings were taken to the engineering firm to be formally drawn up and stamped, but in order to get the building permit a revised Site Plan needed to be approved. With great patience and perseverance and a constant pining for common sense…….the necessary approvals finally came through.
The forms to be used for the footings have been built. A lot of discussion and thought has been put into the best method to prepare the actual building site for the footings and sono tubes (pillars) for the building to be built on. The final decision was to excavate the entire footprint to a depth of almost 5 feet to the bed rock. It will be a big hole! The cement and rebar has been delivered for the concrete mix and the sand/gravel has been ordered and will be delivered soon.
With all these preparations completed or underway the actual construction can start soon. The construction will involve: the floors, walls, trusses, steel roofing, siding, staining, window and door installation, landscaping and more. Much of this work will be done by the eager and capable Work Crew staff. It has been a great deal of effort to date and I know there will be much more to follow.
The pathway along this project has had some delays but I always knew where it was going….to provide many opportunities to support those First Performances. Stephen Covey would be proud; the end was in sight long before the project started?
Probably just a bit Rusty
The days have been full around camp and home. There is that camp job list, the home job list, and the office job list. Aunt Sue has been away this week so I have had to magically create a bit more time to pick up a few of those items on the home and office lists.
Late last year we added a specialized computer program to the arsenal of tools to make camper registration and subsequent data management better than the previous crayon and paper approach, that was perfectly ok in the nineties. This program can do a lot. It has on-line registration capabilities, invoicing, a staff application module, and the ability to make hundreds of reports and lists. It can burn out a bus list, allergy list, cabin groups, first year campers, five year campers, Ottawa families, Toronto families, overseas kids and more. I haven’t tried but I suspect this program can make a list of returning third year male campers whose favourite evening program is Buckets and Squares, are fearless of heights, will swim Otter Lake this summer, like orange juice on their cereal and will have a great future in tractor sales and farming !
It truly is a great program (called Camp Brain) and has made the office work much more streamlined and organized. So there I was this evening…… trying to work my way through the online registrations that needed to be processed. It has been a few weeks or maybe more since I had to do this function in the office, so I was taking it slow.
There are several steps that need to be done to generate a couple of forms for our records and to send off a confirmation email/statement to the family that is registering their son/daughter. I didn’t think I hit any wrong keys but during the last step when an email and invoice is being sent, I noticed it was taking longer than expected. I was just walking away to stretch when I glanced back at the screen and “The Brain” was sending an invoice specific to one family out o EVERY family….yikes. Fortunately I caught it and stopped it after only seven were sent and not the many hundreds that could have gone out.
I would like to find fault with The Brain to avoid the blame and embarrassment but I think that, I was probably just a bit rusty!
The truth that I learned long ago at camp is that my mistakes are my own. I’m not sure if I discovered that on the archery range or the tent line, but I got it at camp and I hope every camper and staff member find that truth too!
Out for Lunch
The rain was torrential last night and the light show was impressive. The rain is a blessing since it has been such a dry spring and there was so little snow build-up this winter. The lake is noticeably lower for this time of year, so I welcome whatever rain we do get.
It warmed up nicely by late morning reaching close to 20 degrees, with lots of sunshine and light winds. I thought there was no better place to dine for lunch than outside on the porch of the Bridge in such a beautiful natural setting. We thoroughly enjoyed the warm sun, the maple trees approaching full bloom, the lush green grass in front of Harrison Hall and a view of the lake.
The Work Crew staff and I enjoyed a classic lunch: partially burned/cooked hot dogs cooked on an open fire and Kraft Dinner. The mustard, relish, catsup and onion condiments put the meal right over the top. Our laughter was plentiful as we recharged for the afternoon of work and chores.
After lunch I took a few minutes to reflect on the great start we have had to Work Crew this first week. They are an awesome team that I would take “out for lunch” on any day!