In spite of the c-c-c-cold, and in spite of the wallop of winter storm Helena, a good many of us were still able to gather in early-ish January in Richmond, Virginia for our 2017 Winter Counselor Brainstorming Retreat — or WCBR, which sounds like radio station call letters!
Thanks to everyone who came (and to those who ended up not being able to make it due to the storm, you were dearly missed)!
Reunion, Remarks, Regaling
This year I decided to hold an alternative type of counselor reunion, one where counselors could come and share their thoughts and ideas with me about various things at camp, hence the “brainstorming” part of the retreat name.
I wanted to hear counselors’ thoughts about several topics, ranging from the upcoming Leadership-In-Training Program (more details on this in the future), to our 4-Year Celebration (for Term Campers who come to camp for a cumulative of four years), to counselor responsibilities, and much, much more.
The idea was for me to just listen to the counselors in attendance and hear their thoughts since they bring truly unique insights through their everyday/on-the-ground roles at camp. I wanted to tap into their perspectives, and in so doing, refresh and widen my scope into our entire program while nurturing their valuable contributions to overall program planning.
In recruiting attendees, we advertised the retreat as open to anyone who had worked at camp from 2013 to the present, and we especially wanted people who were planning/hoping to work during Summer 2017.
Since I had just had my new baby Noah late this past summer (after camp, thankfully!), and we had some staffing changes, I ended up getting the word out about the WCBR a little later than would be ideal.
But now that we have our new Program Director Casey Tucker on board, in the future we’ll be able to get a jump start on hiring for the upcoming summer earlier each fall, which means that more of the upcoming summers’ counselors will be hired, will know about the WCBR earlier, and be able to plan to participate if they can.
We also might limit the WCBR — which we hope to make an annual event — to just the most recent summer’s and upcoming summer’s counselors, to make it even more relevant to our programming and plans. (That doesn’t mean there won’t be other reunion opportunities for everyone, so always stay tuned to the blog to stay abreast of those!)
Central Bull’s Eye
I chose Richmond, Virginia for the WCBR location because it’s central to many counselors’ off-season homes/schools, especially several of last year’s Head Counselors, who really helped me get the ball rolling on this event (thank you!)!
At first I was going to look for an AirBnB for the event but things got even better when my cousin, Mary-Curtis Powell, (‘Ghany alum / camper mom / and current Second Term Office Assistant), graciously offered us her home for the day. (A million thanks Mary-Curtis!)
I had called Mary-Curtis up to see if she’d help me with some logistics, such as helping to get the food, but most of all, helping to watch baby Noah during the event.
But she went worlds beyond!
I’m so thankful for Mary-Curtis’s generosity in opening such a cozy and warm space in her delightful home for the day! (By the way, one time we featured her daughter Ali in a blog post titled “Day in the life of a Mini Camper,” which is a must-read about Mini Camp and a great post to share with anyone you know whose daughter would benefit from our Mini Camp!)
Cold Days, Warm Hearts
In the end 20 people RSVPed that they were coming, which made us so excited!
But lo, winter storm Helena’s snow did come, dumping about six inches of snow on Richmond and plenty more in other parts of the state! I was so excited for our event — but would the WCBR actually happen???
Fortunately I had decided to go ahead and drive down Friday night, before the snow was expected, so that I’d be there regardless, in case the weather forecast turned out to be nothing. Worst case scenario, Mary-Curtis and I could catch up and that would be great!
But still my fingers were crossed for the WCBR.
Of course the snow did come, so I sent a quick email out to all participants letting them know that I was at the location of the event and would be there for anyone who could still make it.
Believe it or not, 10 counselors still came, six who WALKED! Now that’s dedication :). (And it was perfectly understandable that those who couldn’t come needed to stay safe rather than risk the slippery roads!)
The group who drove picked up the pizza for us, and I had stocked up the night before on a bunch of snacks and veggies — so we were all set.
After arriving, and once everyone thawed out, we dug in for lunch and enjoyed visiting and catching up for a while. It was fun to hear about some of the older counselors’ new jobs in the “real world,” and some of the younger counselors’ new experiences in college. It’s always a delight to see camp friends in the winter, to feel the richness of our connections, and to build excitement for the coming summer!
The snow continued to fall outside for a while, enveloping us in a snug vibe indoors as we jumped right into the conversation.
I had my laptop out and threw on my secretarial cap to capture all the counselors’ ideas and thoughts as quickly and as thoroughly as I could — I wanted to bring back to the office as much as I could to pore over for our summer planning.
And an inspiring and compelling set of notes it is!
I’m so grateful to everyone for their honesty about ideas they liked at camp (or proposed for camp) and insight into what they didn’t like. The candid, open, friendly, but also serious nature of the conversation was really helpful to me — to truly hear their/(your) voices!
The sun peeked out eventually, and we wrapped up by 5pm as dusk was settling.
We took a few moments (and more than a few attempts!) to do a Mannequin Challenge, which you can see here (and below) and to take a group picture before departing.
I chose to head home that evening, and once I was out of the greater Richmond area the roads were actually totally fine.
In my book this event was a huge success and proved to offer much food for thought (besides also simply being FUN!) I hope the counselors who attended feel the same way!
I can’t wait to plan it again — maybe with a few different ideas. I hope that one of you reading this will be able to be there in some future winter!
In the meantime, please download my free e-book about the many benefits of being a camp counselor.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls