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The eyes and ears of camp: staff's role in health and safety.

Camp is, by definition as well as by design, a microcosm of society. We plan, create, and enact experiences with the intention of enriching lives, fostering connections, and building safe and caring communities. Camp staff members have both profound impact and significant responsibilities. They are partners in health and safety - the cornerstone of a wonderful camp experience.

Camp is about participating in a wealth of opportunities. No one comes to camp saying, "I want to spend time in the health center." Campers come wanting to participate, play, have fun, smile, and grow.

The first step in providing this opportunity is to build a solid foundation of safe facilities and programs. To achieve this aim we are guided by the American Camping Association's standards and guidelines. But even a house needs more than a solid foundation. It needs constant maintenance, periodic updates, and a good dose of love and care to make it a healthy and safe home. Camp staff provide the keen eyes and the personal touch that make a camp a healthy and safe home for campers.

One model for creating a healthy and safe camp environment is based on three overarching principles:

* Model health and safety from the top down.

* Create a pattern of forethought and proactive behaviors.

* Foster collective caring among members of the camp community and share the responsibility for health and safety.

Model from the top down

Camp directors

The camp director is the point person for safety planning. Directors set goals, inspect sites, review programs, and administer camp rules. They constantly explore ways to involve the whole camp community in this process. A good rule for directors to follow is to demand the same of themselves as they do of their staff. For example, a director who has current CPR and First Aid certification and who can quickly and accurately answer emergency procedure questions for any area of camp sends an important message to staff about being prepared. Proactive directors express to staff this value for safety preparedness as early as the interview. They ask prospective staff members about their first aid training, emergency management, and their experience working with young people.

Senior staff

Senior staff members model the concept of collective responsibility by caring for and about staff members the way those staff members should care for campers. Nurturing, objective listening, and quiet understanding set the stage for staff to feel equally willing to provide the same protection and empathy to campers.

During orientation and throughout the summer, staff hear over and over the need to report potential hazards or unsafe practices. The only way to ensure that this will happen is for senior staff to be consistent and responsive when these issues are presented. When bottom-line rules are broken or safety is compromised, senior staff must follow through responsibly. This commitment to health and safety runs the gamut from ensuring campers are well hydrated on hikes, to enforcing lights-out so that everyone gets adequate rest, to providing staff personal time to reduce the 24-hour-a-day-job stress.

Other staff

Campers who are healthy and happy visit the health center less often, enjoy camp-wide activities more, and are generally more cooperative and happily engaged in the camp program. When staff see the benefits of campers with good hygiene, proper rest and hydration, and no aches and pains, they are enthusiastic partners in working toward wellness.

For the most part, camps are staffed by inexperienced counselors - young adults who come with a love of camp and an affection for young people but who have little understanding of the awesome responsibility that care giving entails. Many young staff were campers just a short time ago. Suddenly they are in loco parentis for other campers. They've waited years to "make it" to staff life and now struggle with the responsibility of meeting the needs of young people in their care. For guidance, they look to senior staff and the camp director. What they should find is a model of commitment and a pattern of proactive behavior. With this model, they can pass on an example for campers to follow.

Create a pattern of forethought

Health and safety issues require training. In every lesson about programming or camper care, staff need to be reminded to incorporate safety management.

Every lesson and activity plan should show concrete evidence of planning for the physical and emotional safety of each camper. For example, senior staff can review with counselors and program staff the emergency procedures in case of inclement weather or in case of an accident, plans to safely and effectively include campers with disabilities, and ideas for fostering positive interactions among diverse campers. Counselors also need to be reminded of the benefits of clean cabins, quiet time after meals, and establishing eye contact when listening to campers.

Training staff in the small ways they can proactively encourage health and safety leads to more time spent with campers in the learning environment and less time responding to accidents.

Share the responsibility

While it is the camp director's role to set the tone and structure for safety, staff are the eyes and ears of camp. Staff, and sometimes campers themselves, provide the cues and clues to potential hazards.

When staff know what to look for and feel comfortable sharing information, the camp is already a safer place. Are campers carrying hot soup in the dining room in the path of others? Is there a bees' nest in the nature center's eaves? Are campers experimenting by igniting leaves or branches? Each time a director or senior staff member acts on the information a staff member or camper brings forward, everyone is reminded that health and safety is a shared responsibility.

The degree to which staff feel they are vital to the functioning of the camp is the degree to which they will treasure their partial ownership of each camper's successful camp experience. Staff members who feel valued and needed return to camp. They serve as goodwill ambassadors for the camp and as recruiters for next year's staff. Over time, the combination of high staff retention and continuous training leads to a more natural commitment to health and safety.

A healthy, safe camp environment requires a proactive mind-set, woven through all staff levels, that's both explicit and implicit in every camp activity. It must be taught, modeled, nurtured, and reinforced. There is an undeniable connection between physical well being, emotional stability, and the ability to get the most out of the camp experience.

Irving s. Dunn is a consultant for Caring Community Consultants, Inc. He has 10 years' experience in overnight camp and adventure program management and administration. He was most recently business administrator for Camp Ramah in New England.

Beth H. Giladi, M.S.W., is a school counselor at Gaudineer Middle School in Springfield, N.J. She has spent 10 years at Camp Ramah in New England, in positions including teen camp director, staff trainer, and guidance counselor.
COPYRIGHT 1997 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Giladi, Beth H.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:May 1, 1997
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