Monday, January 21, 2013

Leaving On A Jet Plane: The Journey of Our International Staff

Right now, as I type this, thousands of international camp staff are counting down the days until they ship off for Summer Camp in America.  They don’t realize it quite yet, but they are about to embark on a journey that will leave lasting impacts on countless numbers of campers and staff all over the United States.  I should know, I spent many years after my very first summer as a camper trying to emulate and idolize my first camp counselor.  His name was Colin and he traveled from England in the summer of 1988.  Do you think that Colin set out in that summer knowing that one of his campers would be blogging about his impact 23 years later?  Of course not, besides the fact that blogging wasn’t in existence at that time, how could he possibly know he was going to shape someone’s life?

The opportunity to impact lives is one of the greatest strengths of camping.  However, before we can begin to shape our campers’ lives, we must begin to impact and prepare the lives of our staff.   Where do you start?  How do you start?  What can you do to influence the int’l staff of your camp so that they are charged up, juiced and moving in the direction that your culture of camp promotes?

It begins with communication, followed by communication and ends with communication.  These staff are traveling halfway around the world, are experiencing a new country, yet alone a camp culture.  Communication prior to camp is a great way to ease the millions of anxious butterflies that are consuming their stomachs as they count down the days until they go to camp.  Communication helps them to begin to understand what is expected of them.  

I’ve broken down a communication plan into three different segments of camp: Pre-Camp, Staff Training and Summer Camp.

Pre-Camp Communication: 
·         Facebook is a great way for your staff to connect with you and other staff. If you have an active Facebook Group for your camp, it can provide a great avenue to communicating with all of your staff

·         Follow up with staff to make sure they know what their role is and how its important. (In my first summer as a Camp Director, an international I hired to be a special needs counselor arrived and he believed he was working as a member of our maintenance staff.  Somewhere there was a disconnect and imagine traveling halfway around the world thinking you are in one role and finding out you are in another. He did great BTW!)

·         Empower your returning International Staff to help you in the communication process.  Having someone who has gone through the experience can provide excellent insight.

·         Syke them up!  They are embarking on the journey of a lifetime! Get them jazzed for the adventure they are about to take.

·         Review Travel arrangements.  Verify their flight times, airport, etc…Inform them of the plan to pick them up and getting them to camp.  If you don’t have a plan to pick them up, get one!  Your staff are traveling halfway around the world and might very well be terrified at thought of maneuvering around America’s transportation system. Make the positive first impression that you care and have a friendly smiling face to greet them as they clear customs.

Staff Training:
·         Greet them…even if they are arriving in the dead of night. Having that friendly face who has been the point of contact really goes a long way.

·         Know who they are.  These staff are going to be making lasting impacts on your campers!  Know their name, where they are from, their job, and memorize two to three things about each international staff and work it into a conversation.  That first impression of “WOW! They really know me!” can help with them feeling acclimated with camp.

·         Have an “International Only” Session during training (preferably in the first 24 hours of arrival) – cover basics about your camp culture.  Where is the phone/internet access?  How do I contact home? How/When do I get paid? Is there really such a thing as Vampire Deer? (go ahead – google it and find out).  Ask returning internationals to help out.  Hold a Q&A session.

·         Be intentional in your training plan to incorporate the Intl’s into camp.  Camp can be a very intimidating place if you feel you are alone.  Take extra steps to connect them to your culture.  The sooner they connect, the sooner they’ll be making connections with your campers.

Summer Camp:
·         Celebrate them.  Int’l staff have the gift of culture.  That impactful lasting moment in which campers are exposed to diversity, culture, and perspective.  Hold several events celebrating international diversity throughout the summer.

·         Check in with your staff – all of them – encourage them, support them, surprise them, praise them publicly and privately. 

·         Give feedback – be it informal or formal.  Staff want to know how they are doing.  They want to improve.  They want to make an impact on a camper’s life. 

Your staff – domestic and international – are going to have countless opportunities to make an impact, make a difference, and inspire the lives of your campers.  Invest in these staff.  Commit to them. Give them the very experience they are going to strive to reach with your campers.  You won’t regret it.  I know I don’t.

This is the life you have......

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Through the years from a young teenager to an adult, one of my most favorite things to do in this world is to sit by a fire and look up at the stars.  There is just something that is awesome about the smell of a campfire, the cool crisp Catskill night air and the evening stars.

I love the stars.  Maybe its because I grew up in New Jersey and was only able to see my allotted 23 stars that were visible through the air of the "Dirty Jerz", I'm not sure - but I find stars that light up a night just breathtaking.

Tonight i discovered a photo taken by Mark Deff Photography of the Frost Valley YMCA.  He captured the essence of those very same stars that I used to look at for countless nights through my youth and adult years.

Thank you Mark Deff.  This photo brought a smile to my face and memories of a wonderful experience at a summer camp.

This Is The Life You Have......

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Idea

In the many years I have been involved in Summer Camps, one of my favorite things to do has been to hire and develop camp staff.  There is something so very awesome in creating a team that will come together from all corners of the world and through their efforts will make positive lasting impacts on the lives of kids.

It's awesome to help coach or even sometimes simply witness the transformation and development of an individual into a leader, a mentor, a coach and a friend.....this magic happens EVERY DAY in a summer camp setting.

In the spring of 2008, I found myself at the American Camp Association's Tri-State Camp Conference in Atlantic City.  As I walked through the vendor exhibit hall, I had an idea. For years I had worked with many international organizations to help find camp staff from various countries throughout the world and helped them become amazing leaders at the camps.  I thought of the thousands of people I had met in my career who came from different countries and worked at camps and thought "I could do this!  I could create a company that takes my freakish passion for camp, staff development and impact and share it with ALL camps"  Imagine the impact!

And for a time.....this idea was simply idea.  It was filed away in my brain with hundreds of other ideas that have been hatched throughout my life.  We all have them - those ideas where we say "wouldn't it be great if we do this......" - and then we file that idea away and never act on it. How many of us have those ideas that are simply just that....ideas?  Imagine if we acted on our ideas and where our lives would be now?

As months passed, this idea never went away, as a matter of fact it began to grow and sprout into several directions.  Within a year,  I had attracted some other like minded individuals to join me in this endeavor. For a few years, we developed and implemented a business plan and had some great successes as this idea evolved into a hobby,

In late 2011, we took the plunge and a business partner (and dear friend), took the plunge, quit his job and began working full time on this endeavor.  I sat back and watched this idea.....this tiny little thought that developed from the passion I had from years in the Summer Camp industry.  It was exciting and slightly terrifying to watch my friend forge out from the comforts of a stable job into a new enterprise.  We couldn't fail now....we had camps depending on us to provide amazing staff, we were recruiting and finding great people from all corners of the globe.  This idea had become reality!

While this idea soared into reality, I found myself itching to join in the fun.  I mean, after all, its no fun sitting on the sidelines watching your idea take off.  After some soul searching, advice, and serious thought, I decided I would 'retire' from my current position with the YMCA and jump into this idea turned hobby that became a business.

After 13 years, I was stepping out of the comfort zone that had been my career with 'the Y' and blazing my own path.  So here I am, in a few weeks I'll be joining in the fun of recruiting people from all over the world and trying to make that perfect match with a summer camp that will help create lasting impact on the lives of kids!

I can't wait.   In the coming weeks, I'm going to be blogging a bit about this transition and this new venture.  In the meantime, I'd like you to meet our idea.  May I present to you......3 Adventures!

What idea do you have that you have been waiting to act on?

This Is The Life You Have.....

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A glimpse into 50 years at a Camp

Time flies.  And if you catch yourself not paying attention to it, a whole month will pass by and you'll be left wondering where it went.  Today I realized that a whole month had passed since my last entry.  I found myself day after day saying "I'll do it tomorrow".....days became weeks and weeks became a month.  This is the life you have and if you aren't careful, it'll pass you by!

Below is a link to a video that was created to celebrate my camp's 50 year anniversary in its present location in the Catskills.  In May of 2008 I had attended an annual Board of Director's meeting/dinner.  During dinner, sitting with our volunteers, staff and supporters of the Frost Valley YMCA, we were shown this video.  As the lights dimmed and the movie started, I found myself being swept away in emotion.

This video captured the essence of camping - with still photos dating back to our camp's early days in the 40's and 50's to present day snapshots.  While I did not know many of the people in the video, I found such a strong sense of connection to many of the images that I was seeing.

I know my view point is biased.  I'm the kid that was dropped off at camp, didn't want to go, threw a teenage hissy fit leading up to going to camp - and as soon as I arrived, my life changed forever.  When I watched this video for the first time, that feeling of magic I experienced as a kid came ringing through my brain loud and clear.

Every time since May of 2008, it evokes the same emotion.  I don't know many of the people in this video, but I find myself strongly relating to them.

The video is great.  The experience is greater.

This Is The Life You Have.......

Monday, January 23, 2012

Summer Camp and The Toothless Rooster Man

Have you ever been put on the spot to tell a story to several hundred people and not have any idea what is going to come out of your mouth?

Well, this post has an audio link of me doing just that.  Enjoy as I ramble through a story about a scary yet utterly ridiculous character called: The Toothless Rooster Man.


This Is The Life You Have.....

Saturday, January 21, 2012

25 Random Things About This Author

1. I once sang a 20 minute duet with Sinead O'Connor in London. 
2. I've eaten worms. 
3. I love to travel and have been to several countries: England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and South Africa. 
4. When I was 16, I wished upon a star that I would become the Camp Director for the Frost Valley YMCA
5. I spent 6 amazing years completing that wish. 
6. I'm a new dad to an amazing daughter who lights up my life. 
7. I've climbed the peaks of the highest mountain in the Castskills and the French Alps. 
8. I am an actual Simpson's Character.  Somewhere, I'm in the database as an extra for the TV Show"The Simpson's"
9. In College, I was the music director for a radio station. I was one of 311's first radio interviews.  
10.The best concert I've ever seen was Living Colour/Fishbone/Public Enemy. A close second was Rage Against the Machine & Quicksand. 
11. I have an unhealthy obsession with the movie 'High Fidelity' and must watch it whenever it is on tv. 
12. Condiments are the antichrist to me. Seriously, if you come running at me with mustard, I might start swinging! 
13. In high school, a shot-put hit me in the head and I didn't fall down. 
14. Cliffs of Moher in Ireland is my #1 favorite place on Earth. 
15. In 1997 I stood on the shoulders of my best friend, Brian Butler, in Speakers Corner in London and preached to over 200 people about finding their 'inner vegetable'. The energy of the crowd was amazing. 
16. This means nothing to most people, but I won the spirit award in the Frost Valley Olympics 3 times in my career and am still very proud of the accomplishment. Australia, Israel and Russia forever. 
17. 26 Cows attacked me by pooping all at once. I barely survived. Barely. 
18. Volunteering with Global Camps Africa has been one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. 
19. In 1990 I went on a 10 day hike through the Catskills and it still is one of the most memorable moments in my life. 
20. I've been a golf caddie, stromboli maker, DJ, Record Store Employee, Movie Usher, Camp Counselor, Warehouse employee, Software Reseller, Music Director, Sports Director, Teen Director, Camp Director and Executive Director. 
21. I'm co-owner of an amazing company that provides amazing opportunities for people to impact lives through Camping. We're called 3 Adventures....and we rock.
22. I met the most amazing person at the greatest place on Earth and can't wait to spend the rest of my life with her. 
23. I have a zombie plan.  It will work.
24. Autumn is my favorite season, but Summer will always be where my heart is. 
25. Blue Man Group is and will be the best theater performance I ever will see.

I'm in the middle, alongside my wife Kelly. (a former Frost Valley alum and good friend is an artist for the Simpson's).

This Is The Life You Have........

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Summer Camp and The Dead Poets Society

In the spirit of the Dead Poets Society, there is a neat tradition at my old camp that I feel is truly fantastic.  Just as in the movie, our camp’s “Dead VC Society” is a way for the many dynamic personalities in camp that have come before current generations of staff and merge the memories and experience with the past with the drive and energy of the future.  Each summer during our “Village Chief” training, our Unit Leaders, Directors and various camp leadership would huddle together late one evening and read letters of advice from those that have come before them. The power, inspiration and magnitude of these messages are felt by each and every leader in that camp. 

Shortly after leaving this camp, I was asked to provide my own ‘Dead VC Society’ letter.  This is an excerpt of a letter I submitted for the leadership staff of the 2011 season:

"To The Greatest People In The Entire World:
I truly believe in you. Right now, each of you in this room are the greatest people in the entire world. In just a short period of time, staff and campers will be looking up to you for guidance, instruction, leadership, laughter and perspective. Regardless of your position, you'll make lasting impacts on thousands of people this summer. You'll alter the course of people's lives. You'll inspire kids and staff in ways that you never imagined. Someone, somewhere is going to change what they want to “be” as a result of you this summer. 

This is power. True Power.

And society does not classify this as a 'real job'.

While you read these words and the other letters throughout this devotion, I want you to take a moment and look at those around you. Chances are that 365 days from now, they'll be a slightly different group of people taking part in this devotion. This moment is yours....all of you are together for one summer to lead staff and campers. All of you are together to impact their lives. You'll never be together fully again. People will move on after this summer, take on new roles, and further their journey in whichever way it takes them. 

Embrace these moments. Embrace this summer. Embrace the glory and honor that comes with impacting lives. Embrace the challenges. Everyone's Camp experience has an expiration date. Live every moment as if this will be your last. Treat every opening campfire as it is the last time on earth this will happen. While you may have several opening campfires left in your time at Camp, the camper who is here for two weeks might only have 1. Give them the experience of a lifetime. 

I believe in you. Believe in yourself. Make a difference this summer. I wish I could tell you that making a difference is easy....unfortunately that is not the case. Making a difference sometimes comes at the most inopportune times. You might find yourself tired, wanting sleep, or simply time alone, when that moment comes that requires your attention. Embrace those moments, life is waiting to be impacted at that time. 

As I write this little letter, I am thinking about my own past summers at camp. I'm thinking about the 1st year Counselor who was so nervous to be working with teens flourish into a leader amongst her peers today. I'm thinking about the little girl who grew up at camp dreaming of being a director and excelling in that role today. I'm thinking about young counselors thrust into the role of a Village Chief mid-summer and providing several more summers of leadership. I'm thinking about the 16 year old CIT who was hired as a Nurse's Aid for 4 weeks climb his way into the Director of Camping Services position. All of us are on a journey and where it goes, only you can decide. Think about your summer. Think about your staff. Think about how you can shape lives.

The camp is waiting for you. Treat it with care. Choose right over wrong, ethics over popularity. Save the Carrots. Choose Dumbledore's Army over the Death Eaters. Defy Gravity. 

No wizard that there is or was is ever going to bring you down. 

What are you waiting for – go make your impact!"

This Is The Life You Have……