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The History of Camp

Bus to CampIn today’s hyper-fast, multi-tasking world, one of the great attractions of camp is tradition. Each camp passes down its own stories and lore. Campers appreciate that they’re enjoying some of the same activities, in the same way, as campers before them have done for generations.

But few people realize just how much history the camp industry embodies.

The Gunnery CampThe first camp – called the Gunnery – was founded in 1861 in Washington, Connecticut. That’s right — camping is as old as the Civil War, and this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. Early campers enjoyed boating, fishing and trapping. It’s pretty impressive that two of those activities survive at camps, a century and a half later.

An 1876 camp was created to take “weakly boys” into the woods. We wouldn’t use those terms today – but camps still serve all kinds of children, in all kinds of ways. And we’re still in the woods.

Dinning Hall - Camp AgawamThe first YMCA camp was Dudley, in 1885. It’s still around – the longest continually operating camp in the United States. Scores of other camps date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

With over 100 camps – some dating back 100 years, welcoming scores of camping “generations” – Maine has long been one of camping’s most popular states.

Boasting crystal-clear lakes, pine forests, mountains and (don’t worry) moose, Maine is (like camping itself), “easy to get to, but very difficult to leave.”

Camping boomed nationally in the 1950s and 60s – along with much of post-war America. In 1948 the American Camping Association adopted Standards – the basis for ACA camp accreditation. There are currently 300 Standards for health, safety and programs. They’re recognized by courts and government regulators – a seal of approval for any camp to which parents entrust their most precious possessions.

Waterfront

The ACA was a pioneer in anti-discrimination resolutions. The first was adopted in 1950. Since then, the industry has continued to emphasize youth development. Camp directors constantly study research in areas like child and adolescent development, and risk prevention. They understand that positive experiences, strong relationships, challenging opportunities and solid personal values are vital to helping young people grow into healthy, caring and responsible adults.

Sailing

Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail might not have used terms like those 150 years ago, when they founded The Gunnery Camp. But they intuitively understood the many benefits that camping provided. All of us in this important industry proudly honor the traditions of the past.

My colleagues and I will not be here 150 years from now to carry them on.

But we’re confident our successors – and our camps – will.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey
Guest Blogger and former Maine camper and counselor

*Historical photos courtesy of the American Camp Association – www.acacamps.org

A Summer Full of Adventure

Few people think of finding a summer job while bundled in scarves, coats, and gloves as they attempt to maneuver roadways and college campuses after the latest snowfall.  However, whether 2011 is the first time you’re considering a summer camp position or you’re a seasoned veteran, February is exactly the time to start the process of securing summer employment, if you haven’t already done so.  Many camps attend campus recruiting fairs in order to assemble the perfect staff.  So why should you attend one of these fairs or complete an online application now?  To begin with, a camp job is definitely fun, but also a lot of work…so be prepared! Where else can you get paid to play all day while building valuable job skills? Whether you work in a specific area and focus on a sport, activity or hobby you love or you work as a counselor who travels from activity to activity with campers, your day is full of exciting challenges and a probably even a few surprises, both of which will develop your problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiation skills.

If you like working with children and aspire to a career in a field such as education, sports training, psychology or sociology, then you already have another reason to work at a camp.  Camp is an excellent place to gain valuable experience and is impressive on a resume.  Although camp seems lighthearted–and it is in many ways–working at camp requires a lot of responsibility, flexibility, and adaptability, all of which are very valuable characteristics sought by employers.   Each day guarantees new challenges, many of them unexpected.  Summer camp is often organized chaos.  Yes, there is always a plan in place, but the unexpected is also inevitable.  While this may seem scary the first couple days, it also brings an excitement and satisfaction that delivering pizzas or serving food (or even working at an investment bank)  never could.  Working at camp also requires a lot of communication and interpersonal interaction, two more transferrable skills that are highly valued by employers.  At camp, you must effectively co-exist with your campers, co-counselors, and other staff members to be successful.   You will also be able to tell future employers that you worked with people from all over the world and from many different socio-economic backgrounds.  That you’ve overcome cultural, language, and social obstacles with others tells recruiters that diversity is not something you fear, but rather embrace.

Working at summer camp can also be very healthy for your bank account.  You won’t become Donald Trump spending your summers at camp. However; camps provide housing and food in addition to a salary. It’s possible to live virtually expense-free for a couple of months.  Many summer camp counselors take home all or most of their salaries at the end of the summer.

Finally, you will form lifelong friendships at camp.  You may arrive alone and nervous in June, but you will leave in August with literally hundreds of friends from all over the world.  Two months may not seem like a long time, but when one lives and works in close proximity with co-workers, it’s more than sufficient to form bonds that ordinarily would take years.  There are always  tears on the last day of camp, not only when saying goodbye to your campers, who will have secured a special place in your heart forever, but to co-workers—the ones you know you will see again as well as the ones you know you will not.  Regardless, the world will seem like a much smaller place to you.

Though it may seem early to begin planning such a special adventure with so many possibilities, building a successful camp staff not only requires individuals who possess all of the qualities previously mentioned, it requires finding the right mix of personalities and talents.  Such an endeavor, of course, takes time.  Camp recruiters review literally thousands of applications each year and speak with hundreds of candidates to find those who are the best fit for their camp’s atmosphere, philosophy and program.  Starting your job search while the ground is still white and the tree branches still bare provides you with the advantage of a larger pool of positions from which to choose.  By April, most camps have nearly completed their hiring and only difficult to fill or highly specialized roles remain.

So, after a winter of wading through piles of snow, are you ready for a summer full of adventure?

What’s happening at camp right now?

How would you describe the essential elements of a summer camp? Do the adventures of spending days with peers, learning new skills, trying new activities, bonfires and skits, great counselors— all the fun of the whole experience— first come to mind? These are definitely important elements of summer camp from a camper’s perspective, but there are a lot of other elements that have to be in place for a camp to be successful year after year. Have you ever wondered what it takes to set the scene and develop communities where good times can take place? I have.

The camp experience is part of the heritage and culture of the United States, and for generations, American families have sent their children to camp—about 10 million children last year alone! As you can guess, each camp has it’s own story and distinct cultural and physical environment, so each camp experience is unique.

The American Camp Association (ACA) is the professional organization that educates camp owners and directors in the administration of key aspects of camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff. The ACA also establishes guidelines for policies, procedures, and practices when running a camp. Of course, Camp Laurel is a fully accredited member of the ACA. Each year, camp professionals gather for a national conference to discuss their work. Last year’s conference title alone, 20/20 Toolbox: Tomorrow’s Camps, Today’s Realities illustrates how camps are focused on creating the very best experiences for today and also into the future.

The staff at Camp Laurel works all year to make sure that facilities are maintained and prepared for when camp is in session. There are so many details to take care of— from making sure that buildings are cared for, to improving camp facilities, adding or updating equipment and ensuring that health and safety codes are met. Camp owners and managers also have to keep up with changing demographics and expectations from their clientele. So long before campers arrive, camp staff are learning about new practices, meeting up to date regulations, putting current ideas into practice and working towards providing the best of the best. There are activities and events to plan, qualified counselors to recruit, ideas for even more fun than last year to implement and new campers to meet around the country. As camper’s needs and tastes change over the years, camp staff are dedicated to making each year as special as the last–and while traditions are an important part of camp life there is lots of room for fresh programs too.

Here’s some of what’s happening at Camp Laurel. . .and what’s new for 2011. First, we’ve added a brand new Music and Recording Building for this summer. It’s a cutting-edge facility with separate studios for keyboard, guitar and drum lessons. For vocal ensembles, we have also added a state-of-the-art recording studio with the very latest in digital sound equipment.  Laurel also added an amazing new Gaga Court and updated its fleet of watercraft with Four (Yes…4!) brand new Mastercraft Pro Star 197 Championship Tour Ski Boats and a new 16-Person Fishing San-Pan Pontoon Boat.  That’s not all…we added a new Extreme Mountain Biking Track that’s out-of-sight AND underground-irrigated all our lawns and sports fields so we’ll be Laurel Green all summer long!

Emma

Thank you for the image whereareyousimon.

Pre-Camp Has Arrived…

Just about 15 days until we’re all together again on the shores of Echo Lake. We’ve been in Maine for about three weeks with 20 counselors who joined us from all over the United States who are part of our Pre Camp Crew. Along with our contractors (builders, roofers, hard court painters, electricians, landscapers, turf and field specialists, boat mechanics and others) these counselors are weed-whacking, cleaning up and getting everything ready for your arrival.

It’s a lot like regular camp now….except there are no campers yet. We get up…have breakfast…then have four hours of activity in the morning (working on the grounds, setting up all the sports equipment, moving picnic and ping pong tables, raking leaves, getting the barns ready, etc.) Then we have lunch…followed by more activity (setting up docks, putting in the slalom course, sorting staff shirts, setting new routes on the Climbing Towers) until it’s time to…eat dinner. After dinner the counselors get a good break, play volleyball, take a swim, work out in the Fitness Center and enjoy Maine.

In a few days, all the pre-season training will begin. Inner Quest from Virginia comes to certify the adventure staff; swim staff update their waterfront certifications; outdoor trippers head all over Maine and New Hampshire to scout our camping trips; equestrian staff will break-in our ponies and horses…and it will all come together.

Debbie and I love being up here at this time of year…but we can’t wait for you to get up here. Anabel and Madeline love it too…but are already asking when the campers will arrive. Baby Tess has also given Maine the thumbs-up. Tonight we have our annual Pre Camp bar-b-que at Alliquippa to thank these awesome counselors for the hard work.

Get psyched! We’ll see you in Readfield before you know it!!

As always,

Jem

Camp is … just around the corner!

We’re so excited to begin the May countdown to camp. The staff is hired…the fields are green…the new Hockey Arena is just about finished….and we are ready to start moving beds and cubbies getting everything set for arrival day. Believe it or not, our first group of “Pre Camp Staff” heads to Maine this week to work on opening preparations.

Claire has been busy in the Westport office communicating with the 250 plus counselors and staff members who begin their journey soon from all over the country…and the world…to Readfield. We have counselors coming from more than 50 colleges throughout the United States. In early June, the Campus Leaders come to work with myself, Debbie, Peter and Claire for a 6 day “Campus Leader Workshop.” They are followed by the entire Adventure Staff (those are the folks who lead our outdoor tripping, ropes, climbing and mountain biking programs) for their orientation program with Inner Quest and SOLO Wilderness Expeditions (these are two groups from Virginia and New Hampshire which have been leading our adventure Orientation programs for 15 years!). Next to arrive is the smallcrafts staff (sailing and windsurfing) who will jump right into their training with Warren, Holly and Geoff….and then the Department Heads come on June 14 before all counselors hit the scene on June 17.

We’ll check in from time to time to keep you updated with news from camp.

Back in Connecticut, we’re so thrilled to announce the arrival and new addition to our family — Tess Alexandra Sollinger. Tess will, of course, be with us at camp this summer. Tess was born on April 22nd and she and Debbie are doing GREAT! She can’t wait to meet everyone (camper and counselors). Needless to say, Anabel and Madeline are thrilled to have another Sollinger girl in the family and can’t wait to show her Camp Laurel in action come June.

As always, Debbie joins me in sending her warmest and best regards.

Jem

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