We were very pleased that Adam Boyd was recently elected to be to be the president of the North Carolina Youth Camp Association. The NCYCA is an organization of summer camps and adventure programs in North Carolina that works to strengthen the thriving camping industry that lives here. Because laws and policies change all the time, a group of us got together in 2010 to form an association to give our industry a stronger voice in the region. Since then, we have grown to 50 camps and 40 supporting sponsors. The NCYCA is extremely valuable to us here at Merri-Mac because our campers and our quality program is valuable to us. NCYCA also gives us an opportunity to grow among peers in the camping profession. Having other good people around you is valuable because it allows the opportunity to learn from one another (just like at camp).
We know that Merri-Mac has had an impact on your life each summer as you develop friendships and enjoy time spent in the woods here in western North Carolina. But specifically through Adam’s work with NCYCA, it also has an impact on our industry by advocating for your experience and the experiences of countless other campers who visit this area each year to benefit and play at camp.
I love other people’s ideas. Sometimes they are good ideas and I can steal them outright. Other times they are not so good and they make me start plotting better ones. Either way, I like using other people’s ideas to make camp great.
We spent this week in Orlando with 1,000 other camp directors, and we’ve learned a lot of things. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve been in camping a long time. I would cautiously suggest that we’re experts in what we do; we certainly work hard to be at the top of our profession. But we come to these sorts of conferences every year because we’re just like our campers. We are made to be challenged, grow and succeed. That is why a great professional conference can be a little bit of an adventure. We love having adventures in our mountains, but this week we’re having quite an adventure indoors.
Julia Child said, “You will never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” We love camp.
An Interview with former camper and staff member, Lee Bolton
Lee started out at Merri-Mac as a camper in Tweedle Doe in 2002 and served as Seminole Chief in 2009. In the summers to follow, she returned to camp as a Counselor-In-Training, Junior Counselor, and Full Counselor. She is currently a junior at Furman University studying Political Science.
Q: As a camper and staff member, how did camp grow you as a leader?
A: Before I was in leadership as a camper, I was able to watch older girls display the responsibilities and importance of being a leader and experience the effect they had on me as a member of my tribe. Before I was a tribal leader or a staff member myself, I had tribal leaders and counselors that invested in me. When it was my turn to lead I felt it a priviledge to return the favor.
Q: What was the most challenging thing about leading peers?
A: As a camper, it was a challenge to lead campers alongside my peers. My temptation was to make all the decisions myself, when there were other tribal leaders that had a lot to offer in the decision making process.
Leading peers as a staff member, I struggled to put the betterment of the group over seeking my own approval from others. I was consistently challenged to correct others in a gracious and loving manner.
Q: What has been the most rewarding thing about your time in leadership at camp?
A: Definitely giving back to camp. As a Chief, my tribal leaders and I stressed that our tribe was a family. I really enjoyed making girls feel part of a family at camp. I was also frequently humbled by how much campers respect and admire their tribal leaders. When I became a staff member, I recalled the depth of adoration and high esteem I held for my counselors. I am so thankful for the opportunity to invest in girls this way.
Q: Do you feel that camp has affected your college experience? If so, how?
A: For sure. Because of my camp experience, I am able to better discern situations, I have gained independence and confidence, and I have learned the power of leading by example. During my freshman year, it was evident to me that I was more comfortable being away from home than most girls in my dorm. Camp gave me confidence in making my own decisions and my ability to function on my own. Simply put, camp creates confidence and self-confidence is invaluable during your college years.
Q: What other valuable lessons have you taken from your time at camp?
A: Being a camper and staff member taught me that it is okay to admit weakness and be wrong because we are shown grace. In fact, good leaders are able to admit their failures and learn from the experience. Admitting that you need help shows maturity. Because of my time at camp, I have also gained the ability to be a calm leader in difficult situations. When everyone around you doesn’t know what to do, adding to the chaos isn’t helpful. Keeping a level head will be more beneficial for everyone around you.
Mary Kathryn Stewart
When I googled the phrase “middle school,” 2 of the top hits were “Middle school survival” and “Middle school: the worst years of my life.” I found that to be a pretty good depiction of how most people feel about this slightly (or not so slightly) traumatizing and awkward period of life.
Camp gives your middle schooler:
1. An Identity: Kids need an identity. Middle schoolers are defined by their looks, material stuff (cool shoes, backpack, gaming devices), parents, grades and their athleticism. Camp allows kids to be known for being a great archer, team player, cannonball jumper, friend, kayaker, s’more maker, table setter, frog catcher, and much more. This list is endless. When a kid walks onto a camp property they get to choose their identity. WOW! Where else in life does that happen? A few years ago we had a girl come to camp who decided she wanted to go by “Phyllis” at camp. She had always liked the name and she wanted people to call her Phyllis. Camp even allows you to change your name if you want to!
2. An Emotionally Safe Environment: Our middle schoolers need a supportive environment where they can mess up, and it’s ok. They need somewhere they can miss the bulls-eye and no one laughs. Instead their friends give them pointers on how to do better next time. Camp provides this.
3. A Chance To Be A Kid: We live in a world that forces children to grow up entirely too fast. Our kids need a chance to be kids. They need to make s’mores, ride horses, shoot a bow and arrow, dress silly, eat candy, paint pictures, play games, and go on adventures.
4. An Opportunity To Be Outside: Our kids live in a world where they never have to go outside, and that world scares me. Our kids need to get dirty, make forts, swim in lakes, and catch fireflies. There are hundreds of articles and books out there about “the nature deficit” in children. To grow emotionally, physically, and mentally kids need time outside. As our addiction to phones, computers, tablets, and video games grows, it has never been more important for kids to have substantial time away from these things.
5. True Friends: There is something about people living together, working together, playing together and overcoming challenges together that creates friendships that are intense and long lasting. They are also different from school friendships that can often end on a whim and are just as often filled with drama. Knowing they have a safety net of “camp friends” makes the emotional rollercoaster of middle school more bearable.
6. Mentors: Kids need people other than their parents to invest in them. They need positive role models to look up to. Camp provides children with amazing college age students who truly care about them and want them to be the best version of themselves. Kids need people to teach them how to make friends, how to handle conflict, and how to be a good sport. They also need to know that there are other people out there who struggled through middle school who are now thriving. When their counselor tells them that 7th grade was also a really hard year for them it gives them hope that life will not always be as difficult as it is in 7th grade.
7. A Bigger Picture: Our pre-teens need to know that the world is bigger than their middle school, hometown, or even state. They need to know that when it feels like their world is crumbing around them in the halls of their school that their life is not limited to that place. They have friends in Florida and Louisiana, and counselors in Georgia and New York, and a camp in the mountains of western North Carolina.
I believe that kids today need camp more than ever, especially middle school kids. These pre-teens and newly-teens need to learn who they are and what they are great at in an emotionally safe and supportive environment that pushes them to play outside and grows their sense of adventure.
- Hire the best designer you can find. EVERYONE can tell if you do not. Seriously, it’s more obvious than you know. Just because someone has children doesn’t mean they can run a camp and just because you have a camp doesn’t mean you can tell your story. Get a professional. Give them a per-unit price you want them to design to. They should also help with efficient print sizes.
- Pay for the right photography. The pictures you put on the internet for your parents will not work. Look carefully at the background. Your parents will.
- The difference between the right copy and the almost right copy is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning (apologies to M.T.). This is the best time to tell them why you do what you do. That’s your story.
- Smiles. We all want those close in – instruction photos. They capture beautiful camper / staff moments. But there is something powerful about a smile. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a smile is worth a thousand pictures.
- Be picky about paper. You can spend a lot of money here, but this is the only promotional piece they hold in their hands. Camp is different than everything else; it needs to feel that way as soon as they pick up your brochure. Papers samples are not enough. You want to see samples of print and photos on that paper.
- Consider if you really need a full booklet. We all want something to put on the coffee table, but it does not have to be big.
- A quality brochure is consistent with our philosophy of camping. We are in a visceral business. Camp cannot be reproduced on line, so we need something physical to hold. Put another way, we’re not Gnostics, we’re outdoor educators, so let’s put something in their hands that is as physical as the mountains we want them to climb.
One of the most prized elements of a camp is a top-notch staff. Staff members should be skilled in multiple areas, one of the most important being caring for campers.
Here are five opportunities counselors use to invest in campers:
1. Activities- Each day a counselor teaches four classes of activities. Whether it is canoeing, riflery, backpacking or knitting, the staff member has the ability to teach a particular skill to a set of campers. This is a time to invest in the camper’s learning. We want to our campers and staff to be life long learners, and camp creates this culture for us!
2. Meal times- Mealtime creates a unique opportunity where two staff have a small group of campers within reach for some good conversation. Meals often turn into round table discussions, where counselors have every camper answer one question such as “what has been your favorite activity of the day?” or “what do you think tonight’s evening activity will be?!”
3. Devotion- When all the dust settles from another day at camp counselors have the chance to lead a short devotion for their campers. This time each night allows staff to walk and grow with their campers. The stillness of these moments along with the safety of a camp environment allows campers to ask questions and learn more about Christianity.
4. Unstructured Times- We have built free time into our schedule to allow campers to increase their independence and have the chance to play tetherball, thunderball or splash in Tweedle Creek! However, these short moments of free time also allow counselors to spend quality time with a smaller group of campers.
5. Off-Season Communication- Counselors have the opportunity to keep in touch with campers a few ways throughout the year. During home shows we are able to see many of our campers face to face. Through our Facebook page and blog, we are able to keep campers up on what’s going on at camp in the off-season. We love getting to know campers throughout the year and then seeing them return to camp having grown each year
Written by Intern, Mary Kathryn Stewart
Anyone of you who were hoping to knock out a bar requirement in the off-season on lake Doris better think again! This morning there was a solid inch and a half of ice covering her. It was -4 degrees last night (wind chill of -22) and I bet those cabins were as cold as they have been in 20 years. Keep warm out there and just know that Doris will not look like this when you get here this summer!
So the moment has come! You are pulling up to the freshman dorm of the university that will be the home of your child for the next four years. Classes have been selected, a roommate has been randomly drawn and this is the moment of truth. So many questions pour through your mind: Will they make friends? Will they buckle down and work hard? Where will they end up heading after this? As a parent it is really easy to fret, isn’t it?
This is where (believe it or not) a great summer camp can help you. Here are five reasons why camp prepares kids for college:
1. Kids learn who they are at camp. Between school, sports teams, piano practice, math tutoring, church events, bag-piping lessons, homework and the general craziness that is our lives it can become easy for a child to get into a zone where they just move from one activity to the next without testing whether the non-essential things are valuable to them. Kids can end up just going through the motions. A good camp allows them to try new activities in a non-threatening environment. Everyone is learning at camp and this culture is very conducive for a child’s growth. Camp can give a child the ability to be more comfortable in their own skin and this is absolutely necessary in college.
2. Kids learn how to be away from home and succeed. This is a tough one, but ultimately we want our kids to be able to meet the new randomly selected college roommate and have enough experience meeting new people (and living with them) not to get overwhelmed. At camp you meet people from all over the world. And at good camps you learn how to accomplish exciting goals together with those people. There is no doubt that a boy or girl who has been coming to camp since they were eight will have little to no trouble in the randomly selected roommate situation. They know how to work with people because they have done it before at camp.
3. Kids learn how to care for themselves. I think the most funny parent comments I get after our summers are, “Who is this child that now takes care of his things?” or “How did you get my child to begin making their own bed?” The answer is that they were a part of a little community that wanted to win a pizza party for the cleanest cabin! But along the way they learned to take care of themselves and they had a ton of fun doing it. Certainly, this is something that will serve them well in college.
4. Kids see what good leadership looks like. Campers learn this from college aged counselors who are carefully shepherding the cabin. Their care and actions almost always reinforce and validate the good “suggestions” that mom and dad have made back home but for some reason when a cool rock climbing counselor tells you about making wise decisions it all suddenly becomes clear. We learn best when things are modeled for us. Watching a thoughtful, college-aged person interact with people gives campers a model for the leadership that they will use in college.
5. Kids learn a healthy level of competition. Let’s face it, in this world, competition is unavoidable. At camp children learn both to succeed and fail together (it is nice doing things with friends), and this is part of the growth process. Learning how to get up after a loss is invaluable for us to learn. College is a time where a lot is on the line really for the first time. A fear of competition or unhealthy love of it can be harmful. A good camp can help children learn a good balance.
Do yourself a favor if you are tempted to worry about your child going off to college, find a great summer camp to help them develop the necessary shock-absorbers for the bumps of life. There is no need to worry that your child will be unprepared for this new experience.