One of the great things about striving toward — and succeeding at — running a camp well is that it all looks so easy! And that’s the point. Our campers come to camp to enjoy themselves, have fun, make friends, and do it all without wondering how all that magic comes together.
But it’s not all smoke and mirrors. It takes getting myriad details just right to pull off camp each year. And that’s a job we love to do!
Tell us your secret
People always ask, sometimes a bit incredulously, “What do you all do in the other nine months of the year when you’re not running camp?”
I remember talking to the principal of the school where I used to work about this very question. And she could relate, having always gotten, “What do you do in the summer when school’s out?”
She and I would really commiserate over that, knowing that the work never ends!
So the unmasked truth is that…things don’t just magically happen on June 18th when the counselors arrive (or September 1st when the students arrive at schools). There’s so much planning, organizing, strategizing, learning, explaining, detailing, scheduling, paperwork, meetings, interviews, and et cetera et cetera that goes into a summer of camp sessions.
Knowing that the “off-season” is as busy as a bee hive, camp directors all over will joke about the answer to the above question, ranging from: “Oh we sit around eating bon-bons all day,” to “Do you have an hour?” to “Do you want the long answer or the short one?”
Being cautious about whether someone will “get” my sense of humor, I usually respond gently along the lines of “Well you know, there’s a lot to do, like marketing, recruiting, hiring, program planning, etc., and it really does take up a lot of time…”
I say it sort of rushed, trying to breeze past it, concerned that maybe the person won’t believe me so I should just get on with it or something.
Nuts and bolts
But I don’t know why I doubt myself because we do have enough work to do to fill up the entire nine months.
And I’m not just talking about me — I mean our core team of Camp Alleghany Director Sam Dawson, Assistant Director me, Louise Dawson the Office Manager, Program Director Taylor Fellows, and Facilities Director Garrett O’Dell. We’re joined at critical times by Mini Camp Director Beth-Anne Clark-Thomas and Special Events Director Bonnie Dawson.
So I thought it would be of benefit to our own Camp Alleghany community — as well as those in or contemplating getting in to the camp industry — to do a mini blog series on just what it is we do from mid-August after one camp season to mid-June of the following camp season.
Each month I’ll post a bit about the specifics of that month, how we go about it, and some of our ways of thinking about the upcoming season.
Of course, I won’t give away all our trade secrets. But we’ll pull back the curtain just wide enough to share in the joys and goals of camp management to give an insider’s look into running a camp.
And I’ll tell you a little of what we’ve already done now.
It starts before it ends
Family Camp is actually a very busy time for us in the office because not only are we trying to wrap up term camp, but we’re hosting many alums who want to come in and chat with us and say hello and see how the year went. We love this and so we book in the time to make this a possibility.
But we make this happen in between a lot of other things that must be wrapped up during that week — whether it’s summer employee contracts, payroll, questions about winterization of camp facilities — anything — there’s always some issue to be wrapped up during that final session of camp.
So we’re juggling what we love with what we have to do to close operations up — we wouldn’t give up either of these things so we just make it work.
Crossing off the to do list
Then there’s mundane but important tasks like managing the Lost and Found. We’ve got panicked families calling up looking for precious items and as they’re found they have to be packed up and mailed home.
Meanwhile there’s the paperwork— accounts need to be rectified, copies need to be filed, files need to be packed up, loose ends tied up, anything we need in the off-season needs to be packed up and sent home in a big trailer full of our goods — it’s really a project of coordination and identification.
At the same time we’re preparing, sending out, and analyzing surveys to Mini and Term Camp families.
And then there’s “early commitment” registration for current families. This allows them to register for next summer at an early payment discount, something families count on and a process we have to be ready for at just the right time when camp ends. During this process, at the end of each session, we open registration online for three days, so that needs to be ready and set up to receive registrations.
For the last two weeks of August, my main objectives are:
- Posting the staff applications online, specifically the Junior Counselor applications, which are due November 1st. I like to post these by September 1st to give applicants a full two months to work on them.
- Getting in touch with recruiters to plan our marketing and recruiting strategy for the year ahead.
- Getting our website fully updated with anything pertaining to the next summer while deleting anything for this past summer, like dates, rates, etc.
Change of seasons
Our fiscal years ends on September 30th, which means Louise and Sam are working hard to finish rectifying all the accounts before that deadline. So between laundry and food, payroll and facilities, buses and supplies, and so many more things, this is a precision task that demands total focus.
Sam also begins the joyful but tireless work of getting the yearbook ready with the printer. Because the yearbook reflects so much of what Camp Alleghany is about, this task demands a loving and accurate touch, which Sam does with pride.
Meanwhile I have one of my truly most favorite post-season jobs: planning for the fall administrative team retreat weekend, which also takes place in September. We’ve blogged about this before in case you want to read about what we’ve done in the past.
This year our retreat is taking place at my parents’ house in Staunton, the new Camp Alleghany winter office. In the past we’ve held the Fall Retreat at BA’s relaxing river house in Greenbrier County, but with so many camp resources available to us in the office, this location just makes sense.
In September I spend a lot of time preparing for and then executing the retreat, which is a valuable time for processing as a team all that we experienced, experimented with, and learned during the previous camp season. So look for a blog on this year’s retreat coming up.
And so that wraps up August and September.
Tune in in October to find up what we do then. But there will be plenty of blogs in between, so subscribe to our blog feed and follow us on Facebook.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls