When we recently attended the American Camp Association Virginias conference we had the privilege of hearing Jennifer Pharr Davis speak about the positive impact that going to camp has had on her life, both during camp, and long after, into her adult years.
I really loved hearing Jennifer speak and I learned a lot from her masterful storytelling, notably how making a presentation personal can anchor larger concepts in something meaningful for the speaker, which translates into something meaningful for the listener.
Jennifer maintains a website called Blue Ridge Hiking Company, a business that provides custom trips and individualized itineraries for a wide range of hiking abilities. Her business is clearly an example of doing something you’re passionate about as more than a career path, but as a life path. I think that’s why she’s such an inspiring person — she’s truly doing what she loves.
It’s not just that she’s a record-setting, award-winning hiker who has turned that into a business. It’s that she’s a stellar communicator who has reflected on her passions and put them into the context of a larger meaning, universal themes that she talks about with ease, and which are immediately accessible to her audiences.
I was blown away!
Walk your talk
Nobody better fits the phrase “walking your talk” than Jennifer. She has literally hiked the Appalachian Trail three times — among many other “walks.” In other words she really hikes, and hikes, and hikes and that process and dedication has generated a lot of insight for her.
In her presentation to us she outlined some of her adventures on her first hike, when she was just 21 and recently graduated from college. Yet she related much of her success on that hike back to her time spent at a summer camp, and the words of wisdom her camp director had given to her.
Everyone at her camp called the director “Jim Daddy.” She really made her talk personal when she played recordings of some of his words of wisdom! The whole audience felt the love and warmth of Jim Daddy!
It was that early experience with a kind and effective camp director that was part of her inspiration in life. When she talked about that, it reminded me that everything we do as leaders and guides in childrens’ lives has the potential for very meaningful impact. It’s such an honor to be in that position, and the duty at that level is high.
So she thanked us as camp directors for all that we do, since she’s so grateful for Jim Daddy’s inspiration and encouragement in all areas of her life.
Her presentation was gripping — her adventures were really amazing and so much of it seemed so unbelievably trying. It’s mind boggling to think that people hike the entire trail all at once, day after day for weeks or months on end. Or that they go back and do that all over again! I admire her so much, and am really blown away to know she attributes a lot of her success to lessons she learned at camp.
I want to be a Jim Daddy! I want us all at camp to be Jim Daddy’s who inspire and affect kids’ lives so positively. And I know in my heart — and in our plans and actions — that that is what we try to do. But it’s great to hear someone speak of it in those terms, from the camper’s perspective. Moments like this are real shots of inspiration!
Jennifer and Ghany Girls
As you can imagine I’d love to have Jennifer speak at Camp Alleghany — possibly to both the campers and counselors. So stay tuned about that. There are of course schedules to sort out and other organizational elements, but we’re hoping to make it work out. If so, no one will be more excited than me to hear her again. I think I’m a fan girl!
She’s also written a book titled Becoming Odyssa that I know parents would love to read. I highly recommend it. But I’d suggest that any campers and counselors out there wait to buy it until you’ve heard her speak — it’s awesome to be able to read it in her voice, having heard her speak already. Also, the book will give away some of the stories from her presentation :).
Overall, she was incredibly inspiring, and made me feel like I could accomplish any goal I set my mind to. I haven’t been that inspired by someone in a long time. She definitely left a lasting impression!
–Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls