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Camp leader: what does it take?

"I almost withdrew my daughter from the soccer camp because the registration process was so chaotic. I'm glad we stayed because her coach is terrific."

"The counselor for the day camp is so warm and caring. I just wish she knew more about child development because the projects are too complicated."

All too often, camp employees are known for their outgoing and friendly personalities, rather than their finely tuned professional skills. In an age when campers and parents demand high quality, here are some ways camp directors and staff can improve their professional image while providing recreation and youth development services.

Be Creative: Studies show creativity helps with problem solving. Go beyond traditional thinking. If a session has low enrollment, you can do more than print additional brochures: Add a twist to regular programs or a new benefit to the session. Combine with another program. Drop the program and start something completely different. Expand your normal framework by reading a book in a field outside your own, join a new club, or learn to play the nose kazoo!

Be Alert: Develop an awareness of overall department programs. Lifeguards don't need to know the exact time of every craft class, but they should know where to find that information. It's easy to say, "That's not my department," but a professional sees the overall picture. Think about the times you are in a long line at the checkout stand and the cashier is so busy ringing up items that he neglects to look up and see all the customers. When running your own programs, constantly be aware of what is going on outside your perimeter of focus.

Make contacts: We all know the importance of getting people's business cards. For networking to be effective, you need to give and get information. When people give you their business cards, jot down a few bits of information on the back to jog your memory. Occasionally send them an industry-related article or a short note to keep in touch. A strong networking base is essential for career development.

Plan: Yes, it is easy to wing it, especially with programs you've been running for years. However, disorganization and casualness soon become evident. Adults coming to a camp where you are short on registration staff quickly see the result of poor planning. Planning and anticipating problems result in higher quality programs. Sometimes a basic time management class is all it takes to make a few changes and improve productivity.

Laugh: Campers often laugh at silly skits, crazy games, and even spilled food. Laughter is often called "internal jogging" because it actually lowers blood pressure and expands lung capacity. As leaders, we set an example by incorporating laughter into appropriate situations. A gentle and lighthearted statement often disarms a potential discipline problem. If the dining hall roof springs a leak, do campers see you upset at the roofing contractors? Or do you bring out an umbrella and lead everyone in a rousing chorus of "Singing in the rain?"

Exceed expectations: What can your camp do to provide services beyond what is expected? Can you provide snacks on a long bus trip? Why not arrange for a college basketball player to visit your elementary sports camp? If a concert is delayed five minutes, soothe a restless audience with an impromptu sing-along or a large group activity. Giving people surprises beyond what they expect results in positive word of mouth and increased attendance.

Acquire unique items: We often lament, "I could do so much more if I just had a bigger budget." A camp leader looks beyond money for ways to provide quality programs. Ask local florists for flowers they are unable to sell. Roses that can't be sold for a premium price are certainly suitable for decorations at your teen fashion show. Send your camp T-shirt to celebrities and ask them to autograph them. The shirts make great gifts for board members or items to sell as a fund raiser. Ask a local artist for imperfect mat boards to enrich children's artwork.

Develop staff: Ongoing training is essential for quality programs. If national conferences are beyond your budget, check into local opportunities. Sit in on training offered by the parks and recreation department. Take a free storytelling class at the library. Community colleges offer management classes. Almost every city has Toastmaster clubs where you can improve public speaking skills in an unpressured setting. If nothing else, read books on leadership and supervisory topics. Numerous possibilities are available to train yourself and your staff.

Enhance experiences: Camp leaders provide opportunities for children to have memorable experiences. Do people go to Edmonton Mall(*) to buy socks? No, they go for the experience. Experiences are enhanced by such basic considerations as smiling staff, clear signs, and clean restrooms. Go beyond the basics and incorporate fun, games, and stories in everyday activities to provide positive experiences. Even waiting in line for lunch can be enjoyable if leaders play a few guessing games.

Re-create: High quality programs go beyond the ordinary. Re-create ideas and activities to make them more interesting. How about carving kiwi instead of pumpkins? Ever tried an evening Easter egg hunt using flashlights? There's a saying, "It takes so little to be above average." When planning a Hawaiian theme for parents' visitation day, set up speakers in the parking lot so people arrive to the mood-setting sound of Don Ho. Check the names of your camp programs. Instead of "Drama Workshop," how about "Theater Adventures"? A few innovative additions set your programs apart from others.

* Note: Edmonton Mall is a large indoor shopping center. It has a complete amusement park, giant swimming pool with waves, a complete dolphin show, hundreds of stores, and several hotels. Many people spend a week's vacation there and never leave the mall.

Silvana Clark is a professional speaker with over 20 years of experience in the recreation field. She is the author of Taming the Recreation Jungle and Taming the Marketing Jungle, both available for $6.95 from the ACA bookstore. Call 800/428-CAMP to order.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Clark, Silvana
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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