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).
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.
One of the more powerful memories I have of my Summer Camp experience has been those quiet evenings after a long day of activities. In many camps throughout America, the end of a camp day is a great time of reflection. At my camp, we called this period of the evening as 'devotion'. Each night, a cabin group of campers and their staff would sit in their bunks, lay out and gaze upon the stars and have a discussion. Topics were often varied.
As a counselor, I often had a sense of humor about these topics and on occasion would be known to play Phish songs and ask the kids to discuss the meaning of them. It was quite the discussion when 12 year olds would dissect "The Mango Song" and delve into the meaning of the lyrics 'Your hands and feat are mangoes, You're gonna be a genius anyway" and watch it evolve into a discussion on inclusiveness for all people. Imagine if every 12 year old in the world engaged in discussions on inclusiveness (regardless of whether it came accidentally from a Phish song). I can guarantee, we'd have less talk of bullying than we currently do in society.
As I progressed through my years in Camping, I began to truly enjoy the impact that these 'devotions' could have on people. One of my last devotions while running a summer camp is one that I will remember forever.
During a staff training, I led a devotion with many of our younger camp counselors. We sat outside under the stars and discussed the "dash" in our life. Too often we define ourselves by our length of time. The length of time we've had at a job, a home or a lifetime. As these young staff began their counseling careers, I asked them to reflect on what they want that 'dash' to be - that oh so important moment of impact that lies between our start date and end date for everything that they do. These young counselors talked of what they wanted their impact to be on the lives of their campers, the inspiration they wanted to bestow upon them, the ability to be remembered for their contributions, etc.....
As the stars illuminated the night sky, their hopes and dreams laid the foundation of their 'dash'. Planning their 'dash' became their blueprint for impacting people's lives.
At the conclusion of that devotion, I remember walking back to the camp with the staff. The cool summer night air was crisp, the stars were bright and theses young staff were even brighter. Little did I know that moment would be my last camp devotion as a Camp Director. It was a satisfying 'end' for me as far as devotions go, but it also was a great reminder of how fragile that 'dash' can be. How soon it can end.
What do you want your 'dash to be. How do you want to be remembered.
Here's a little ditty, prequel if you will, about my origins in Camping. Enjoy!
Way back in 1988, my mom sent me to the Frost Valley YMCA for a sleepaway camp. As a 14 year old boy making the transition into being a teenager, this concept was out of my comfort zone and in no way in my own summer plans. However in accordance to just about every disagreement I’ve ever had with my mom, Mom won and off I went to camp. When I mention the word ‘camp’, I am not referring to the traditional summer camp program. My mom signed me up for a two week backpacking trip through the Catskills in Frost Valley YMCA’s Adventure program.
The thought of hiking around the mountains, carrying my gear, cooking food in the wilderness and sleeping in tents did not sound appealing to me in any way. Reluctantly, I arrived at Frost Valley on Check-In day. My luggage was whisked away and soon enough I found myself with 9 other teens and our camp counselors. I distinctly remember over 1 million butterflies being unleashed into my stomach at the thought that I was on my own and this New Jersey suburban boy was going to go where no child on my street had ever gone before….into the wilderness.
As the two weeks progressed, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can climb mountains. I can tie knots. I can cook spaghetti in the woods. I learned random bits of inforamtion such as: porcupines like to eat salty (read: sweaty) items and to this day, will always keep my boots with me in my tent whenever I camp and not leave them outside. I made friends. Good friend and great friends. Friends that I’ve kept until this present day. The same friends who put pictures of me on the internet when I was 14 so I will never forget my camp experience.
After two weeks, I transformed from a boy who argued about going on this adventure to becoming a teen that absolutely had to do this experience again and again! 1 month later I found myself entering the doorways of High School as a freshman. The overwhelming feeling of adjusting to this new environment brought back a familiar feeling…the feeling of 1 million butterflies entering my stomach. However, I was prepared. I had climbed the tallest mountain in the Catskills! I climbed three mountains in 1 day! I had made a fire! I had cooked in the outdoors! I even knew the inner wants and desires of porcupines! Surely high school would be no match for me!
High School had its challenges. Being a teenager had its challenges. Life has its challenges. However, to this day, I give credit to that very first backpacking trip through the Catskills in the summer of 1988. I gained such confidence and perspective, that allowed me to come ‘out of my shell’ and provide me with the tools I needed at such a crucial time in my development from child to teen to eventually adult.
I wanted to take a moment and share this story with all of you. This trip transformed my life in a positive way. In 1988, Frost Valley had a relatively smally offering of trips, however today I am amazed at some of the offerings that are available to teens. If you haven’t ever explored an Adventure Trip through a camp, I urge you to look into it. It changed my life.
Thank you for reading this little story about my own beginnings in Camping.
In 2005, our gift to the camp staff was a long sleeved t-shirt with the following blurb written on the back of the shirt:
"Camp Staff: Overworked, underpaid camp superhero who is expected to be everything to everyone, including, but not limited to: doctor, lawyer, police officer, child psychologist, paid baby sitter with neither television nor refrigerator, referee, coach, teacher, advisor, bathroom monitor, role model, song leader, entertainer, and play director. Crazy enough to work with bugs, caring enough to work with children. They must simultaneously stand on a pedestal while at the same time play in the mud. They can cure homesickness, air out bed-wetting, create a Neverland, all while singing 37 versus of Blaaaack Socks on just four hours of sleep, and without whom summer camp would cease to exist..."
Each summer, thousands of camp staff pack their bags and travel to their summer camp to impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. They make up the backbone of each camper's experience. They are a whole industry of themselves with the power to inspire, direct, change and impact the lives of everyone around them.
I chuckle because this is true power....yet the rest of the world dismisses this as something that isn't "a real job".
It's the most 'real' job you are ever going to have.
In August of 2005, I had just wrapped up my very first summer in a director role at a residential summer camp. Shortly after the conclusion of camp, as I celebrated the end of the summer, Hurricane Katrina ravaged part of the southern United States.
At that time, as the nation struggled in its own baffling response involving FEMA, people fleeing New Orleans and surrounding areas from rising flood waters, millions upon millions of dollars in damages, homes and lives destroyed. People were glued to their TVs and watched as a city and region drowned and faced catastrophic destruction.
As the nation struggled in their response, I found myself several hundred miles away, tucked in my cozy summer camp safely away from this disaster. I've always known that 'my camp' was a special place, but never did I imagine being asked to attend a meeting that simply started with "What are we going to do to help with Katrina". We brainstormed ideas and dreamed up many different things we could do to support the various organizations and people of the Louisiana area.
At the end of the meeting, we received a call from two retired camping professionals who were driving in their RV from Minnesota to New Orleans to support local YMCAs in their relief efforts and wanted our help. As they drove across the country, a plan was devised and several of us from our own camp volunteered to head down to support them in their efforts.
The overall plan: Provide support and relief for families of relief workers who tirelessly labored to help their community. How would we do that? Well, we'd do what we do best - we'd create a summer camp that would function as a relief center - right in the midst of the New Orleans vicinity. We'd take over a childcare center attached to a hospital and we'd provide programs for children who's parents were working round the clock to save their city and neighborhoods.
We didn't know where we would be staying, what we would eat, how we would do it, but we packed our gear and headed out into this great unknown of Summer Camp Disaster Relief. As we prepped to leave, word began to spread of our efforts and we welcomed several other people from other YMCAs throughout the Northeast. We were a group of over caffeinated summer camp freaks heading out into a great unknown to try and make a difference.
This adventure had most of the team pushed out of their comfort zone in many ways. An unknown environment in a disaster setting, Where would we stay? What would we eat? To this day, I will never forget our friend, "E", who upon hearing that food might be an issue packed over 750 Strawberry Nutri-grain Bars..."you know, just in case". This adventure provided many memories, but seeing a large suitcase crammed and overflowing with Nutri-grain bars is something I'll never forget.
When we departed for New Orleans, we were one of the first planes to begin landing in New Orleans. It was awesome feeling as everyone on the plane consisted of relief workers: construction, police, sysco, pepsi, army, etc.....and us, a small rag tag bunch of camp people from the YMCA. It felt like we were right out of the movie "The Right Stuff", sans the Astronaut outfits of course.
The "Camp" that we created was awesome. Kids as young as just a few months old to 17 years old joined us every day as their parents went off to save their city. While their parents fought the good fight of restoration, we gave the kids their own 'relief' from the chaos of their homes. Every child had stories of how their homes had been damaged and their lives effected by the hurricane. Morning, Noon and Night, the Red Cross arrived on site to provide meals for the kids in our 'Camp'....and yes, as we consumed Red Cross fare, it slowed down our Nutri-grain consumption. (in case you were wondering).
We tirelessly created memories for kids out of little material and a lot of imagination. We hardly stopped to rest. Often it was common for us to rotate from working with one age group to another to mix up our own experience. In one moment you could be leading team building activities with teens and then changing diapers and rocking babies. After a few days of supporting the families of relief workers, we opened our doors to anyone.....and all of this without every charging a dime. Kids came to us and their parents tried to restore their cities, or in some cases, their lives.
One memory I'll never forget involved the day I spelled another friend and entertained all of the toddlers in our program. Throughout my life, I've always worked with teens. It happened to be lunch and the Red Cross arrived to feed us......Chili. So here I was, with about a dozen children from 2-3 years olds, a table, chairs, a handful of napkins, plates, utensils and tons of Chili. Toddlers don't eat Chili on their own too well. By the end of the meal, all of us were stained with a red chili tinge to us, Chili was EVERYWHERE.....and the episodes that occured in diapers later....well, that might be best left up to your imagination. I still makes me shudder.
After one week, we learned we would be relieved by other YMCA staff throughout the country. This camp continued to run for several weeks over the next few months, each week with new YMCA staff to take part in what is now known as "Kamp Katrina". We returned home...our homes were still intact and the many families we left still were in a process of rebuilding. However, through the crisis, we provided laughter. We provided a release from the stress of disaster. We provided friendship. We made a dent in those Nutri-grain bars. We even provided Chili.
It's been several years since Hurricane Katrina, but I still think back on that experience daily. People can work together in challenging situations and help others. People can make an impact.
You don't need to wait for the next disaster. Begin your impact today.
This Is The Life You Have......
I don't have many pictures of this trip, but here are some shots of the first generation of "Kamp Katrina"
When I first got into Camping professionally, never did I realize I would have the opportunity to travel the world.
In 2006, I received an invitation to travel through several countries in Asia to help interview people who wished to work at a Summer Camp in America. This organization thought it would be a great idea for a Camp Director to screen their candidates to determine if they would succeed in Camp programs.
I spent 3 weeks visiting the countries of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand. This organization that hosted me is one of the largest non-profits in the world and impacts a great many people throughout the US and the world. In the United States, there are hundreds of camps for this organization and thousands of community facilities making a difference in the lives of Americans. Halfway across the world, I was humbled at the work that this organization does in impoverished communities.
In my visit to Thailand, I toured around to visit some of the sites that made a difference in the lives of kids. One of these places is called Ban Pian-Suk, or in it's English translation, "Happy Homes". Happy Homes is an orphanage that helps children who have lost their parent to AIDS. Part school, part refuge, the staff of Happy Homes are there to help kids who would otherwise be on the streets. The face of the kids lit up when they saw me and I found myself surrounded by these awesome happy faces! I taught them a camp song and everyone shared in the laughter. Moments later as I walked away, my guide shared with me that many of the kids themselves were HIV Positive and how the organization worked very hard to provide care for these kids.
I thought back to my own home, my job, all of the wonderful people and benefits in my life. I thought about all the good I believed I had made through Camping and looked into the eyes of these kids and staff and thought: "I'm not doing enough". I need to do more. I thought about all of the resources that were at my own fingertips and found myself questioning how can I do more. How can I further my impact.
Happy Homes was one of my last stops before I headed back to the United States. As I drove away from the orphanage, I sat in the car and promised myself that from that day forward, I would do everything I can to make an impact everyday.
Life is all around us and it's up to each of us to make an impact.
This is the life you have.....don't waste it.
This photo above was taken at Happy Homes with some of the kids and staff in 2006 and still serves as one of the moments that fueled me to make an impact every day.
It isn't an Adventure until you are sitting at a table eating worms! I kept thinking "french fries" over and over as I crunched my way through a heaping does of fried worms!
I've never been a huge fan of setting New Year's Resolutions. In fact, I tend to have more of a reflecting personality around this time of year.
This entry is a reflection on a point in my past.
In March of 2008, I was attending a Camp Conference in Atlantic City. I sat in a seminar on a Camping professional who was/is making a difference in the lives of at-risk children in South Africa via Camping. Through Camping, he created a program that educated children from Soweto (a 'suburb' of Johannesburg in South Africa) about life skills, AIDS awareness/prevention as well as giving them an opportunity to experience a Camp. He had tremendous success and runs several 2-3 week camp programs when schools are not in session. Employing domestic staff from South Africa as staff and inviting International Volunteers from all over the world to compliment this program.
I left this seminar blown away by the difference this one man has made. He simply saw a problem and did something about it. His program, Global Camps Africa, has given 1000's of at-risk children at experiencing camp and providing them with valuable life skills that, in many cases, saved their lives.
Shortly after the conference, a colleague and I began to research what it would take to volunteer. After careful research, a fundraising campaign to make a donation to the program and the crafty negotiating to take 1 month off from our jobs, we boarded the plane and set out on our journey of impacting lives through Camping in South Africa. It never occurred to me of the impact that it would play on my own experiences.
At this point in my life, I had been a Camp Director for a very large (and super awesome) sleep-away camp for several years and had facilitated the arrival and orientations of hundreds of international camp counselors arriving in America to experience Camp. Up to this point, I had never experienced life in the role reversal. It was fascinating to be dropped into a completely unfamiliar environment, amidst staff who spoke many languages (most staff spoke 12-20 different variations of Zulu in addition to English!), a different culture, and a new camp. It was amazingly awesome, yet frightening to be in such a new environment. I believe it is a very similar feeling to the thousands of internationals who travel to America to work at camps each summer.
This particular session of camp was for girls, and during my stay, I helped assist in teaching AIDS Awareness and Life Skills to these campers, which ranged in age from 8-18 years old. Many of the campers came from impoverished areas. The information we were sharing was eye opening for them. Here is a photo of a neighborhood that many of the children resided in when they weren't at camp:
This particular neighborhood had 1 Faucet of running water for 10,000 people. I'll say that again....1 faucet for 10,000 people. How many faucets do you have in your own home? It was clear to me that through this camp, we were giving them the tools to help save their lives!
In just a few short weeks, my life was transformed and was proud to have helped make a difference in the lives of children who needed camp very badly. I'm proud to be associated with this awesome program and recommend the experience to anyone.
In addition, I feel strongly that this experience has helped shape my own life as I lead my own company down the path of impacting lives of people through camping.
Here is a video of me whooping up the crowd of kids and staff at camp with a song. Enjoy. While you read this excerpt, watch this video, or run your hands over the water in the many faucets in your home, ask yourself, how will you make an impact in this world?
Hello 2012! Writing a blog has been on my 'to do' list for the past several years. With good intentions, I never seemed to get around to actually creating one and making a go of it. So here I am, it's 2012 and figured its about time to start. The Mayans and their apocalypse are marching on our doorstep and the time is now. I'm not quite sure where this blog will take us, but here we go.....
One of my biggest passions is being involved in Summer Camps. At the age of 14, my mom dropped me off for a two week summer camp experience - little did she (or I) know that just two weeks would alter my life. Since then, I've held a myriad of jobs in the Camping industry and have enjoyed every step along the way. One of the things that I truly enjoy about camp is the opportunity to impact lives. Having the opportunity to direct a large summer camp for several years, I loved being part of the process that helped develop campers and staff to achieve their full potential. Over time, putting together a camp staff to create the magic at a summer camp truly began to resonate with me. Taking someone from an interview through the completion of a summer, seeing their own expectations surpassed is an amazing feeling.
Two years ago, I began thinking about ways to expand the opportunity to impact lives beyond my own summer camp and began the foundation of starting a side venture/hobby/new company that helps connect International and US students with jobs at summer camps. Over the past two years, this has grown from an idea to hobby to full fledged company hell bent on providing that same level of inspiration and impact that I experienced to people at summer camps throughout the United States.
To date, it's been fun. I'm working with several experts in the Camping industry who are also dear friends and one of them took the plunge, quit his 'other' job and began working full time on this endeavor. To say this is exciting is an understatement.
It's a really neat and scary feeling to go 'all in' on an idea, an investment, and a passion. There is always the fear of failing, however I've never been so positive to know that we are going to be successful. We are going to impact lives in countless ways, and ultimately make a difference in people's lives.
This is the life I have. It's 2012 and I'm 'all in' on my professional dream.