For almost 100 years our camp has nestled into the hills of the Alleghany Mountains offering respite, retreat, and refocusing to a century of girls, women, and families who find in camp a place to “get away from it all.”
Even when we weren’t in the age of cell phones and social media, parents still wanted a place for their daughters to step away from academic and peer pressure, bustling city and suburban life, romantic relationships, and TV and pop culture.
And now that phones and social media are so dominant, the phrase “digital detox” takes on added meaning for our campers, camp parents, and staff members alike. We all wonder if there’s a place somewhere, anywhere, to let the world slow down to a manageable pace while also refilling our cups spiritually, mentally, physically.
A Different Kind of FCC
That’s why I’m so excited to embrace the camp industry philosophy and practice of being a Fully Connected Community. I can’t wait to see it in action! (See the logistics in the infographic to the right.)
So what does “Fully Connected Community” mean for our staff members? What does every applicant to be a part of our cozy camp community need to know? Well, that being Fully Connected means being fully connected to camp, and not to the outside world. We are a cell phone-free, Internet-free, e-device-free girls summer camp for our campers and all our staff.
And we celebrate it, sing it, shout it to the mountains and guess what? The mountains echo it back to us. The sun and sky shine down on us, and the breezes tickle us, and the trees whisper their stories because we’re fully connected to them, too!
And it’s staff members who embrace this, recognizing the value of keeping a part of life just a little simpler and more human, that we want to recruit. They are the candidates we’re seeking. YOU are the candidates we’re seeking.
Fortunately everyone we’ve interviewed has been positive and excited about becoming part of a Fully Connected Community. They too know that this whole phone and social media thing has gotten the upper hand and we all want our lives back in balance!
And we all want to reclaim what camp once was, and should always be — a place for fun, friendships, personal growth and development, leadership, goals, hard work and well-earned relaxation.
I spent my life at this camp, including as a Junior Counselor, Counselor, Department Head, Unit Head, and Head Counselor. I worked my way up through the ranks taking on new and challenging jobs that took increased strategy and planning on my part, and demanded the energy and focus to execute my plans for the people who matter most to us, our beloved campers, the girls in our care, the kids who look up to us.
And I remember the Counselors Lodge after-hours and during break time being a truly social place where memories and friendships were seamlessly bonded through idea-sharing, creativity, planning, productivity, and plenty of on-the-fly goofiness. We worked and played hard, all rolled into one, in no small part due to the fact that that was what we were there for — to focus on this moment now. On ourselves, each other, our campers, our summer jobs.
Back then outside distractions not only didn’t make much of an impact, they were truly secondary to the immersed time and camp culture that defined our ruddy, buoyant summer days and the drive we felt in mastering job roles as we made college and career plans.
Sure, we wrote letters and made the occasional phone call on our pay phones :), but that wasn’t our whole life, or our whole focus.
Ring Tone Regrets
But enter the cell phone (after my time as a counselor but when I was the Assistant Director) and I started hearing counselors struggle to balance these two worlds, with the outside world always trying to creep in to camp through calls, Skypes, emails, social media, Snaps, Tweets, and texting. With that paradigm dominating life “out there,” naturally counselors felt they had to keep up that side of things since the world was telling them “keep up or lose out.”
But was the world telling them correctly?
Do Apple and Amazon and Instagram and Silicon Valley know better than tens of thousands of years of human history what one needs to do to thrive in the world? Would all opportunity be lost if one was on an actual retreat, a sabbatical if you will from hustle and go-go-go? Are jobs better mastered while juggling like a distracted octopus?
I think not.
There’s a Reason for Retreat and Renewal
Retreat has long been part of the rhythms of human life and it’s time we make clear that it’s always going to be a part of human life if you’re lucky enough and committed enough to make it happen. And jobs are better mastered by focusing in deeply, nourished by time in nature, and supported by a community focused on one another’s well being and success
We’ve always hired smart, creative, talented, and productive counselors but even the best of us, Albert Einstein, for example, can’t fight the disruptive and distracting paradigm of cell phone use and its negative impact on our brains, on the ability to focus, and go in deep.
And if you’re a parent reading this, you’ll understand why we never allowed campers to have cellphones. Making camp an all cell-phone free zone, to be a Fully Connected Community, is a natural reclaiming of what camp is. (Of course our office has phones and all emergency communication systems.)
But it’s not enough to simply not have cellphones and social media. We’re taking Fully Connected to the next level by connecting to ourselves and each other even more closely through mindfulness and self-awareness. We want our staff community to feel renewed and reinvigorated about their purpose in life, about who they are, as a side bonus of stepping away from e-media for the summer.
I’m thrilled and impassioned to bring something new to staff training and the whole of the summer that I’ll leave as a surprise…but it has to do with connection to the earth and learning about grounding.
Life in Balance
To me, with a lifetime at camp, I see Fully Connected as a gift, as something to look forward to, as a chance to foster balance as a community and as individuals. Something to renew us here, and something for everyone to take back home with them. Maybe we’ll spark a trend!
Now this doesn’t mean that there’s no anxiety around it — we will help everyone through that. Simply having to do that, help with this transition, is a sign of how far how fast American culture has gone Internet-obsessed from the vast terrain of quieter human history before now.
Cellphone life crept up on us at camp, too. We felt something subtle about camp was “off” and it took us a while to realize, “Wow, it’s all these phones and all this social media and all this life lived online.”
Even though counselors never had phones on tent row or on their person during camp, still, those phones and that social media life tugged at them, pulled them into private worlds in the Counselors’ Lodge, and broke down the highest expression of our community just enough to make it feel like we were at war with a subtle invading force.
So as an administrative team, and with our head counselors and leadership counselors, we talked for a couple of years about what to do. We looked at what other camps were doing, heard how they wrestled with the invasion of the cell phone, and learned about various approaches and what was working, what wasn’t.
We read research, opinions, anecdotes, and we listened — to parents, campers, counselors, and each other.
Arriving at boldly asserting ourselves to be a Fully Connected Community took many years. We did it slowly, thoughtfully, and intentionally, with a lot of discussion.
Our campers always say that getting away from phones, social media, and the pressures, pace, and abstraction of e-life in general is one of their favorite things about coming to camp. We intuitively know what they mean. And now we realize that that shouldn’t have to change when you become a counselor.
Counselors, young adults, young workers, you’re finding your way in the world. We believe that you should have your own voice and that voice is found by living fully into the moment, undistracted, believed in, and supported.
Come join our Fully Connected Community. We can’t wait for you to be a part of it!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls