Editor’s note: Every summer Camp Director Elizabeth Shreckhise blogs about her top five favorite things about camp that summer. This is Elizabeth’s 2019 edition in no specific order — they’re all her faves!
1. I Love Our Counselors
It’s true that I always mention our counselors, and it’s because we have an eye for amazing people who make amazing staff members, admirable role models to our campers, and are already all-around great people!
This summer our counselors were strong, energetic, hard-working, and fun-loving — everything you’d want in a counseling staff! They bonded so well this summer and were a close-knit unit.
Our staff theme was “Empowered Women Empower Women” and each one of them took this guiding mission to heart. I watched as they reflected on and built their own confidence in order to empower the campers and fellow counselors with whom they worked. These empowered young women truly poured their hearts into the job this summer, and created unforgettable experiences for the campers. I was — the whole Admin Team was — privileged to work with these empowered women!!!
2. Launching the Leaders-In-Training Program
And then we got to launch the program.
And we got to watch as Teresa and Assistant Head of LIT, Maddie Wiklund, helped it to soar.
So you’d think I would’ve said all there is to say. But no — because now I got to see it in action and I was thrilled!
I loved watching the program bloom, LOVED our Head Counselors who ran it, loved the girls… loved it all. I loved how much they all clearly loved it. That’s a lotta love!
I especially loved a luncheon the LITs put on for the Admin Team. Talk about event-planners in the making! The LITs mapped out the luncheon from start to finish, working up an enticing menu, cooking the food in the kitchen, setting a lovely table, decorating the porch where we sat, and really covering every last detail remarkably well.
The whole Admin Team got a little dressed up (camp style) and had the most wonderful lunch with this delightful group of young leaders and empowered young women in the making.
While we ate, we asked the LITs to share with us their favorite aspect of the program. My only regret was that I wish I’d recorded their responses! Each LIT spoke so highly of what she was experiencing as an LIT, and each had a different thing they said they loved best. (You can get a little taste of their enthusiasm in the blog I wrote about the LIT Vespers.) But overall, it was unanimous when they said they were all SO close as a bonded unit, and never imagined they could be so close to each other. In sum, the program was a home run and I’m so excited to see it take off even more!
3. Our New Staff Photographer Positions
This one was a long time in the making. Every summer we need excellent photography to share with campers and their families, and then to the world at large in our outreach and marketing efforts. Often times we had counselors doing double-duty as someone also gathering pics.
But this summer was different. This time we hired TWO staff members to focus exclusively on photography without having to also be tent counselors. Each worked in advance with our Marketing Director, Lindsay Curren of Curren Media Group, to be trained both in elements of what makes a great “storytelling” photo or video, and in why our marketing, or outreach to new people just learning about camp, matters. Finally, they also were trained in the structure and importance of how our photos are stored and organized to be easily found and used throughout the year.
I was SO HAPPY with our photographers and photos in general this summer. And I know Lindsay was thrilled because she couldn’t sing the praises of these two staff members — Bridgett Criswell and Mae Dandridge — enough! We finally figured out how to strike the balance between counselor and photographer, and the two empowered young women who took on this role couldn’t have been more suited to the position (or great at their job!).
Every time I saw Bridgett and Mae out and about taking pics, or uploading pics, or just bantering with each other in the office, checking pics and videos off their lists, my heart sang.
We also partnered with the camp-focused communications firm Bunk1 for a new photo/communication app where parents could opt-in to a facial recognition program and get texts whenever a photo of their camper was posted to our private, password-protected photo portal. I think this cut down on parents searching for where pics of their daughters might be, and just gave them faster and easier access to the photos that were posted.
We still, of course, maintain a very old school approach to posting pics for parents — we only post three days a week, and don’t make it a major focus.
Well, back in the day campers were at camp for three, six, or even eight weeks and parents didn’t usually see any pics until they were back home and had their film developed, or the yearbook came out. We see value in that approach, and at the same time have adapted a tiny bit to meet the new e-everything culture we’re in, which is heavily focused on photos.
But since we think there are good reasons for campers to be focused on their time at camp, not necessarily on what their parents think about their time at camp right then, we feel confident that, again, our approach strikes the right balance.
Of course, the cobbler’s children have no shoes and who photographs the photographers? Lesson learned — we have to spy on them next year and get a good “in-action” shot of the photographers, cameras in hand. So we singled them out in the picture of our empowered women shot below:
4. New Uncle Bill’s and Our Facilities in General
Facilities Director Garrett O’Dell always has some beautiful surprises for us each year, and this year was no exception. He built a beautiful new support staff housing structure called “Uncle Bill’s,” to replace the old Uncle Bill’s cabin that we took down several years ago because it was dilapidated.
And who was Uncle Bill? Uncle Bill was William “Bill” Keister, who ran camp’s Rifle Range for about 25 years (in the 1950s-70s range).
During the summers Uncle Bill lived in a small cabin up by the range. After Uncle Bill’s tenure, it was used for other support staff but its capacity wasn’t that big. To replace it, Garrett built a beautiful new Uncle Bill’s that houses eight people! This made for some very happy support staff, allowed us to expand our support staff, and freed up some crowded space in other areas of camp. So thank you, Garrett!
Garrett also added a couple of bathrooms to the Cottage, where I live with my family and other Admin Team and Support Staff members, which was tremendously helpful!
And since Garrett is always cooking something up, watch the blog for future announcements because he definitely has some surprises in store for us this coming summer!
5. Mother-Daughter Weekend
Our inaugural Mother-Daughter Weekend (MDW) was also a huge hit! The program was headed up by the creative and more-than-capable Ace Dandridge, and her daughter Mae Dandridge, who took a week off from her photographer duties cited above to help her mom out. It all went very smoothly and very happily! Given that it was our first time trying this, we were super happy with the results.
Of course, doing something for the first time finally gives you something to measure your idea against — the whole, what did we learn and what would we do differently? We took lots of notes, and pored over the helpful and constructive survey feedback, so that moving forward we can make it even more wonderful. Ace and I can’t wait to sit down and plan next summer’s Mother-Daughter Weekend, taking all the feedback into consideration.
And the best thing of all is that this little “taste” of camp for campers and for any parents who are unfamiliar with sleepaway summer camp, helped bridge the divide from, “camp, huh, what?” to “camp, awesome, sign her up!” A handful of MDW participants have already enthusiastically registered their daughters for camp next summer. We can’t wait to have their solo campers begin a new step on the Camp Alleghany Journey!
My Own Camp Alleghany Journey Right Now
With camp wrapped up for Summer 2019 you might think I have a big chunk of time to just sit back until next summer. No. Never. A tiny couple of getaways with family and friends and then I was back to the drawing board. In fact, a couple of years ago I wrote in the blog about how there is no “off-season” in the camp world, just an “off-site” portion.
And that’s where we are. My staff members and I are hard at work on program planning, work retreats, conferences, hiring of Summer 2020 staff, reorganization of this or that, outreach to parents, alum reunions and many, many more things, much of which are far too boring for a blog, like loads of paperwork and contract reviews and zzzzz….
Oh, excuse me, did I fall asleep just thinking about the boring parts? Well, the truth is the boring stuff goes hand-in-hand with the exciting stuff and in the end, I love it all. I love camp and I’m not afraid to say it. Because camp helps make me empowered about who I am, what I love, and what camp has to offer girls (and all kids)*.
So keep up with the blog to learn more about our mission and vision for empowering girls and women to be their best selves! And I hope to see you at camp next summer!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls
*If you want to learn more about the merits of sleepaway summer camp, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Experience Early. It’s a great resource to share with friends, or if you are a first-time camp family and you wonder what sleepaway camp would be like for your child.