Your Neighborhood Camp

Posted November 8th, 2019 by

I remember growing up hearing the trolley sounds, the high-pitched puppet voices, and the piano music. But, what I remember most from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was his even, friendly, patient voice and the silence he let go on while we thought about what he’d just said or done or shown.

Mr. Rogers was attempting something new in a medium (television) that was used only for two things: entertainment and news. At the time, that entertainment included mostly aggressive or argumentative people acting out situations not entirely appropriate for children. Instead, Mrs. Rogers wanted to create an educational program for children and families.

Over the course of several decades, Mr. Rogers taught, inspired, and comforted us. While I’ve not yet studied the man as I should, what I do know has certainly molded me and the camp Kate and I direct in many ways. Here are a few quotes from Mr. Rogers that have made an impact on me. I hope will be helpful for you, too.

“I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.” And the corresponding follow up: “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

We talk all the time about meeting our campers ‘where they are.’ We have no idea where they are going after camp is over for the summer. There are too many inputs in their future to be clear of what will happen next for each child and how those experiences will mold and shape them.

So, we focus on who  they are right now. And that is more than good enough for us.

“Our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence…And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives.”

We spend two minutes at Friday Night Campfire just sitting together and being silent. Yes, I can hear you now: “Two whole minutes, Cole? Seriously?!”

You should try being silent and present for two minutes. It’s wonderful! And, the baby steps approach has been shown to help build habits across the board. Sitting and being silent will actually increase your sensitivity to the wonder in the world both inside and around you.

“Real strength has to do with helping others.”

We talk a lot at camp about becoming part of something larger than yourself. Helping others, putting their needs and wants before your own, listening to their questions and doing your best to answer them or support them in the process of answering their own… this is how we do it.

Ask the counselors about their summer and they won’t hesitate to say that they’ve found their strength in helping others grow. Ask the CITs about some of their favorite memories and you’ll hear about leading an EA or spending time with their JJ’s.

Just as you’ve got to lose yourself to find yourself, by serving others first, you build the strength inside your heart and mind.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.”

Watching the kids on stage shine could not be more fun. You can feel their excitement, see the joy etched on their faces, and share in the triumph by showering them with applause. Same thing with the kids who climb the wall like spiders, score touchdowns and baskets, create something scrumptious, or come up with a new game in the bunk.

We all have something different we love to do. Pushing yourself to improve, because of the love of what you are doing, and sharing that love with your friends is what camp is all about.

You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

We believe in giving kids a chance to choose at Weequahic. Whether it be their activity choices, the clothes they are going to wear, or the food they’ll eat, providing a safe environment in which they can make these choices allows for growth and self-knowledge. Through these moments of choice and self-discovery, we get to see our campers (and staff members!) become more informed, independent and confident humans.

I’ve got to share one more.

Who in your life … has helped you love the good that grows within you?

We all have good within. Our camp counselors do a wonderful job, in their best moments, of reminding our campers (and each other) of that good and helping it grow. If only we could provide the same reminders back home for the rest of the year.

Instead, we’ve got to make the memories, the moments, and the experiences so intense, so fun, so memorable that they keep you going all year long. Here’s to more of that.

Mr. Rogers wanted us to be good neighbors. Let’s celebrate that wonderful man’s legacy by making it so. Have a great week!

PS: If you’d like to hear more, check out our Campfire Conversation podcast about Mr. Rogers and summer. You can also head out to see the upcoming movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

The Gift of Thanks

Posted November 1st, 2019 by

Campers, have you recently said ‘thank you’ to someone and really meant it? The standard ‘thanks’ whilst looking at a screen or jumping out of a cab, or running to the next door for more candy doesn’t really cut it. I’m talking about stopping everything else, connecting with the person who just served you in some small or big way, and saying ‘thank you.’

Did you know the word ‘thank’ comes from a Latin word that is roughly translated as ‘I will remember what you’ve done for me?’ Keeping this in mind, think back over your last few interactions with your parents, friends, the check-out person, waiter, etc. When you said ‘thanks’, did you really mean I’ll remember what you’ve done for me?

This is certainly not how I’d judge all of my past interactions. And, because of my lack of intention, I’ve robbed many of a gift.

Simon Sinek wrote two of my favorite leadership books. Short quotes from him arrive most mornings to my inbox. Today’s read:

Giving is sometimes as simple as saying “thank you” to someone and meaning it. We should all give a little more.

Waffle House Lesson

Spending the morning in a diner close to a meeting, I decided to try out Simon’s prompt. When my server, a young lady with tattoos up her arms and a smile on her face delivered my breakfast, I smiled, looked her in the eyes, and said ‘thank you.’

You know what? It felt great. For me.

I got a big smile from the server and, later, a free refill with a ‘shhh….’ as well! So, I’m pretty sure the ‘gift’ was received and enjoyed.

Typing this much later in the day, I’m still on a bit of a high from the whole experience. That one small moment of genuine connection with another person has lifted the sails on everything else throughout the day, even the tough conversation I had with a former staff member and the workout I really didn’t want to do.

After a Halloween night full of candy, laughter, and fun, don’t you think it would be a good idea to spend the next few days thinking about ways you can say ‘thank you’ and really mean it? It’ll be a gift to the recipient and to yourself as well.

Have a great week!

A Technical, Traditional Future

Posted October 18th, 2019 by

You are probably familiar with the ‘yin yang’ symbol. It represents how two seemingly opposite ideas, forces, or what-have-you, may actually be interconnected or complimentary. Like fire and marshmallows, right?!

Believe it or not, this dynamic perfectly describes the interplay between the traditional summer camp of our past and present and the technological needs and challenges of our future.

Technological advances have been enormous over the past several centuries. These advances and won’t stop coming. You’ve experienced AI phone receptionists, dreamt about drone delivered foods, and used auto-spelling daily. Our fridges can now order food, IBM’s Deep Blue can diagnosis medical ailments, and cars can drive themselves.

There are a lot of really cool things happening out there, boys and girls.

Camp to the Rescue

But, do you know what all these advances need to keep going forward? The good ol’ sklls taught at camp: building communities, learning from failure, creativity, confidence, and collaboration among others.

Without the human centered skills of the past, our futures will not be as bright. The pace of change will stutter and take directions that may not be in our best interest. Do you want a voice in the future before you? Then start thinking creatively, reach out to build connections, stay curious, and learn from your mistakes.

When your project, idea, or attempt doesn’t come out your way, instead of ignoring the result, lean into it with curiosity. Figure out the inputs (or lack thereof) that caused the poor result, make the adjustments, and try again. We practice this approach in robotics, at back country cooking, in gymnastics, and at waterski all the time.

When you feel lost or at whit’s end, reach out and ask for help and different ideas. If you can’t get through to that kid or are stuck on the wall or have no idea how to design that welcome sign… you reach out to those around you for ideas, suggestions, and help.

We do it all summer. Why not try it home, too? Here’s the funny thing about asking for help: you’ll connect with someone else and make them feel both needed and useful. It’s a nice feeling to enjoy!

‘No way! They’ll laugh at me,’ you say?  Well, then they are showing they aren’t very friendly or interested. There are lots of people who are – go try again! Courage, young camper. Courage!

The Good News

Want to know the best thing about camp? You are being prepared to tackle the future with gusto, with skill, and with joy… and you don’t even know it because you are having too  much fun.

Let’s keep the fun times going!

PS – If you’d like to listen to a really smart person talk about this, please enjoy the Campfire Conversation with the American Camp Association CEO, Tom Rosenberg. If you care about preparing our young people for the future, it will be a useful 30 minutes!

Let’s Stick Together

Posted October 11th, 2019 by

There has been a lot of discussion this week on who can be or should be friends with whom. Can you be friends or friendly with someone who does not share your every thought on every subject?

I think about our vegans at camp: I don’t share their opinion on eating meat and I really like them all: Photo Ben, Waterfront Julia, Finch, and everyone else. We also (I would imagine) have very different views on politics, religion, and many other hot topic areas.

You know what? I don’t care about that because I care about them.

At camp, we get put all that stuff aside and just be together. We ‘close ranks’ and focus on a few things which we can all agree: act gratefully, choose your attitude, build your courage, and be kind. Oh… and have a ton of fun.

That’s it. Nothing else needed.

Am I naive about this? In terms of what’s going on in the media culture right now – yes. In terms of the historical record of humans on our planet? Nope.

We’ve got to stick together, regardless of our differences. In fact, that amazing, improbable combination of ‘difference’ and ‘community’ actually makes us stronger than any other living thing that’s walked, crawled, swum, flew, slithered or grew on Earth. It’s helped us survive and thrive.

Let’s circle up around the campfire. Let’s celebrate our differences while we stick together. Why? Because our lives will be better for it.

Rehearsal

Posted October 4th, 2019 by

Seth Godin recently wrote that, when thinking about memories…

“We don’t actually remember much of what happens. Instead, we get what we’ve rehearsed. 

If we fail to rehearse, the memory will fade.

And if the memory isn’t serving us, we can work to stop rehearsing it.

Choosing what we rehearse is a way of choosing who we will become.

Summer Memories, Fall Rehearsal

What will you remember from this past summer? What will you rehearse in your mind?

Will it be showing courage in the face of missing home or getting to make new friends? Perhaps you’ll rehearse trying something new or making it to the top of the climbing tower or getting up on stage in front of everyone.

Could it be reaching out a hand to someone who needed some support, asking for help when you needed it, or making the decisions about what you ate, what you wore, or how you reacted to everything without your parents close by?

What will you choose to forget, to let fall away? What memory or thought or habit do you want to let go of? Remember: you’ve got that memory, thought or habit; it doesn’t have you.

A long time ago, a teacher of mine relayed a story that touches exactly on this point.

Fred Couples, then the greatest golfer in the world, got my teacher’s attention and asked, “Doc, before I hit a shot, I think of the best shot I’ve ever hit with that club. Is that good?”

“Yes, Freddy. That’s pretty good,” Dr. Rotella replied with a rye grin.

You get a lot of what you rehearse. Make sure you are seeing yourself succeed and then work towards accomplishing that goal. Will it be a perfect result? Certainly not. But, you’ve got a much better shot at making it great than by just ‘winging it.’

Be thoughtful. Remember the good stuff, take the lessons from failure, and battle on. Have a great week!

New Year

Posted September 27th, 2019 by

Many of our families will soon celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the start of the new year for our Jewish friends. In doing a bit of research about the celebration, I’ve found some similarities with camp.

According to Wikipedia.org, Rosh Hashanah is translated as ‘head of the year.’ Did you know the ‘weequahic’ means ‘head of the cove’ in the Lenni-Lenape language?

From a biblical sense, it’s a day of ‘raising a noise’ or ‘shouting.’ Ok… that’s the second similarity. Camp is rarely known to be quiet!

Finally, there is a reason to celebrate. It’s the start of the new year, a time of planting and parties, of feasts and fun. Our Jewish friends rejoice for the start of the new year while we rejoice in gathering around Sly Lake each summer. And, as we know, there is a great deal to celebrate.

Starting Again

The Weequahic year-round team often speak about having two ‘new year’ experiences in the calendar. We enjoy the turn of the year from December 31st to January 1st like everyone else. It’s a time for thinking over the past several months and planning some new ideas for the future.

And, when the campers head home and the staff have helped us close up shop, there exists a definite ‘restart’ for us once again. We spend time catching our breath, thinking over the past handful of hectic, fun-filled months and planning ways to make camp even better next summer.

There are a lot of opportunities to look back, think and start again. Sometimes, we are excited about the changes we’ve made and the new habits in our lives. And that’s cause for celebration! Other times, we aren’t as happy with the results in which case, it’s cause for celebrating the opportunity to learn. As writer F. Scott Fitzgerald has said:

It’s never too late to become who you want to be. I hope you live a life that you are proud of, and if you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start over.

For those who are celebrating, shanah tovah umetukah! For those who are choosing to look back, celebrate, and start again, I know you’ll have the strength to do so. Have a great week!

WIN

Posted September 20th, 2019 by

Win. Yes, that’s what we do at Weequahic. We only win. All the time. At everything. Basketball, football, dance, the swim meets, archery competitions, Color War. You name it, we win. All the ti….

What do you mean we don’t? Hm… you know, maybe we don’t win all the time. But we should. Let’s break it down so you see what I mean.

W.I.N.

The acronym is short for ‘What’s Important Now?’ It’s a useful and powerful question. It strips away everything else and asks you to focus on two things: context and aim.

To answer the question, you’ve got to look around and get an inventory of what’s really happening right now. Are your emotions running amok? Is your list of things to do longer than your arm? What are your teammates, family members, teachers, or friends going through?

Once you get a true sense of what’s going on around you, then switch to the end result you want: finishing the art project, helping the play be a success, scoring the goal, or making that new person feel welcome.

Take those two pieces of information into account – context and aim – and then answer the question: what’s important now? Going through this process will help you determine what’s important and how to act. It helps to remove the emotion and assists you in thinking logically through the situation.

Golf Lesson

As a high school senior, I was a good golfer. Captain of our small team, I was following in the footsteps of two older golfers who’d won individual state titles and Player of the Year honors. I knew I was not to their level… which was the problem my coach helped me fix.

Sitting around our his table (he was also the school’s headmaster) and talking about the upcoming Region Championship, he looked around at the six of us and laid out a specific rule.

“If you find yourself in the woods or in a bad situation, I want everyone to take the easy way out back to the fairway,” Coach Chambers said. We all looked at him and nodded.

And then Coach pointed at me. “Except for you. If you think you can make it, go for it.”

Perfect Advice… Twice

Wow. Talk about answering the ‘what’s important now’ question! He knew a couple of the team members needed to be reigned in. And, he knew that I needed a shot of confidence, of belief. He knew I needed permission.

You know what I did on the first hole that next day, brimming with the confidence Coach had just shown in me? I made a seven on a par four… with a four putt. It was UGLY. And embarrassing. And frustrating.

Walking to the next tee, Coach put his hand on my shoulder, smiled, and said, “What’s important now is that you focus on what you want to do with this next shot. After that, focus only on the next shot. And then the next. And so on… you’ll get it.”

Because I trusted him, I did. And, because I did, I played the next 17 holes four under par and won the tournament, my first ‘big’ win.

Coach helped me WIN.

Winning at Camp & Home

We think camp can help you WIN, too.

At Weequahic, we have a bunch of incredible staff members who help our campers remember to ask ‘what’s important now.’ We help everyone bring their emotions down a notch or three, survey the situation and ask the question in relationship to their end goal.

This happens in the bunk where we want to create a summer family, on the stage when we want to try something new, on the wall pushing through a self-set limit and so many other spots around camp.

At home, though, those amazing near-peers aren’t often available. But their voice and their memory still exists inside your head. I’m sure they’d be whispering, smile on their face, “What’s important now?”

Whether it’s give a high five, sit down and do your homework, ask for forgiveness or clean the dishes, go ahead and do it. Figure out the one thing you need to do and you’ll make some progress to your end goal.

That’ll help you win at home just as often as you do at camp. Now… go out there and be a WINner! See you next week.

Shine and Dance

Posted September 13th, 2019 by

Heading to school with our oldest who is driving on his temporary driver’s permit, something caught my eye. We’ve done the trip together 80 times or so with me in the passenger seat and I’d not seen this before.

On the right side of the road, a regular, every day road sign was glimmering and dancing, like it was alive and producing light from the inside. Of course, it wasn’t. It was just a road sign. But yet dance and shine it did. It’s play of light was fun to watch for the five seconds it took us to pass by.

I looked expectantly at the next sign, about 250 yards up the road. It stood stolidly in place, showing it’s warning and nothing else.

Of course, the dancing sign was moving because the wind was hitting it just right. And it was glowing because the angle of the rising sun made its reflective properties come alive. And yet that combination of factors made the properties of that normal, everyday sign come alive and show something… beautiful.

Coming Alive

I think we’d all agree that there is equal worth in every human. Considering you are 99.9% alike genetically with everyone else on earth, I hope you’ll agree! And yet, despite that almost indistinguishable sameness, we are so different. Different looks, colors, innate talents and predilections.

What it takes to make one person’s talents, interests, and whole-being come alive is different than the next and the next and the next.

The key is to keep looking for those moments and situations that draws out the best, the true, the pure inside. Like that sign coming alive, it takes a combination of factors. I would posit it takes the melding of community and aim.

Community

At camp, we get to create a ‘kids focused’ community. We aren’t worried about test scores, sports results, fashion faux pas, or work. It’s all about the kids… and the staff. We’ve shown at Weequahic that kids with different accents, languages, experience and knowledge can get along beautifully.

As songwriter Ani DiFranco has said, “I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.”

For us, that overlap is the central idea of worth, isn’t it? We come together already knowing each of us is valuable beyond measure, full of joy and potential. We just need the right combination to set all that good free.

So, we come together and form a community with enormous potential. What unlocks that stored potential is the aim.

Aim

When we are all pulling together towards a common goal, we create a sum greater than our parts. We create waves and currents that scoop up others to join in, something together that is meaningful, wonderful, and so much fun. We take that community and make something more: a family.

At Weequahic, we use the ideas of gratitude, attitude and courage. We’ve found these ideas to be bedrock principles on which we can build a community that turns into a family, especially when ‘fun’ is the mortar that holds it all together.

When we combine ‘community’ and ‘aim’, we get a whole of shine and a whole lot of dance. We get people young and old who come alive, aware of their true selves and open to honestly showing the world.

Challenge

So, the trick, then, is figuring out how to create that same combination of factors when we aren’t at camp, isn’t it? How do we build a community around ourselves in the world that is full of people busied by their own lives, aspirations, and pains?

Intentionally. Thoughtfully. Courageously.

Collect the people around you that help bring out the best. People who challenge you, hold you accountable, love on you, and support you. Friends who’ll laugh along with you and cry by your side. Those who’ll be open and honest and listen when you are brave enough to speak.

Be patient in building this community back home. It takes thought and effort and the bravery to be open. But, creating a environment that helps you dance and shine may be the most important thing you can do. Not only will it unlock you but it will help others enjoy the show. Have a great week!

Weequahic at the Bridge

Posted September 6th, 2019 by

I was recently introduced to Horatius at the Bridge, a poem written in the 1800s by Thomas Babington. It depicts a battle in ancient Rome. Three men, led by Horatius, volunteer to hold the foes as they tried to cross the only narrow bridge across the Tiber and into the city.

As a horde of thousands gather to cross the bridge, all looks lost. Horatius looks at his commander and says: 

“Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,

  With all the speed ye may;

I, with two more to help me, 

  Will hold the foe in play.

In yon straight path a thousand

  May well be stopped by three:

Now who will stand on either hand,

  And keep the bridge with me.”

The poem in its entirety speaks to my romantic side as well as my affinity for the Roman and Greek myths of old. This passage, however, is yelling at me in a different, more relevant way for today.

The World We’ve Built

Parents, the ‘world’ in which we grew was very different than the one we’ve made for our children. Technology, of course, is at the forefront of this change.

A great deal of this change is certainly an improvement. When I feel the desire to rail against the advances of the modern world, I think of writer AJ Jacobs’s admonishment: “Repeat after me: surgery without anesthesia.”

With the host of advantages our ever-modernizing world delivers, there come a few challenges as well. Two things, in particular, jump out at me: the images our kiddos see on a daily basis and the lack of real-life human interaction in our young people’s lives.

The photoshopped and filtered perfect worlds, clothes, parties and bodies of ‘influencers’ is something we never had to contend with. Sure, we got to see the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous once a week and could thumb through People or Sports Illustrated. But these images were a small part of our weekly digestion. Now, new images – and the self-comparisons they inevitably create – are a thumb swipe away all day, every day.

Screen time is certainly having an effect on our young people and it’s not very positive.

The fall of free-play with friends and true connections with interested near-peers and adults is having disastrous effects. There have been several studies confirming the rise of anxiety and depression in our kids. As writer Kim Brooks recently reported, “kids have fewer opportunities to practice social-emotional skills.”

In simpler terms, we’ve taken away the opportunity for our kids to play, create, and interact in the places and ways we did and their grandparents did as children. This deficit is truly harming our kids’ futures.

At the Bridge

Valiant Horatius had only two companions at the narrow bridge into Rome. That proved enough.

The bridge to our future is much wider and requires more people standing shoulder to shoulder. Thankfully, at Weequahic, we have our two hundred staff members who choose to live by our values of gratitude, attitude, courage, and kindness. And, we’ve got a huge cohort of families who feel the same way.

With the help of our families and staff, Weequahic will continue to pick and choose the most beneficial of our ever-growing technologic powers for our community and shun the rest. We’ll set the standard of behavior (and dress) that draws our kids’ community together in reflection of our values rather than apart by comparison. And, we’ll continue to foster growth and creativity through play and laughter, challenge and training, community and connection.

Parents, thank you for standing at the bridge with us. And, thank you for helping us support SCOPE who is making this same stand available to others.

Let’s keep it up… together. Have a great week!

 

 

 

Own Your Skills

Posted August 31st, 2019 by

Dr. Tim Elmore is someone I enjoy following. In a recent blog post, he talks about the 14 skills every young person should own before leaving ‘the nest.’ While some of the items aren’t covered at camp – we don’t teach balancing a budget – many skills are practiced, honed, and owned at Weequahic.

New Skills

This past summer, campers developed distinct skills. We learned to build new friendships, developed deeper levels of empathy by living together, exercised our ability to choose an attitude as modeled by our staff, and deepened our courage by trying new things away from the safety of home.

Yes, we learned to waterski, climb a wall, project our voice, throw a pot, and more. However, these skills are secondary to the primary importance of the personal and interpersonal skills we fostered together.

Cooking a Meal

Most of us learned to cook real food. Sure, we enjoyed some playtime in the kitchen – who didn’t love the s’more fondue?! But, we also learned how to truly cook and clean, an important skill set for the future.

Needing Less

We developed an understanding that we really don’t need a lot. Dr. Elmore talks about ‘minimizing our needs.’  This is an important mindset both when you are starting out – you don’t have a lot anyway – and as you age.  At camp, it’s a bag of clothes, a good pair of shoes, bedding for a small bed, and a whole bunch of friends. No phones, no video games, no malls….

For three or six weeks, we were reminded that life can be better with less.

Managing Our Schedule

Because of our choice-based program, we learned to manage our own schedules. That, combined with living away from home, is the single biggest factor in the growth of your independence. You get to decide what you’d like to do.

Is there structure? Of course. But camp provided a wonderful opportunity to practice using your voice over your choice.

Clean Up

While it may have been grudgingly, we learned how to clean. Admiral William McRaven wrote a wonderful short book on changing the world…  by first making your bed. While the first thing we do is get breakfast, we all must make our bed, help with our chores, and put on sunscreen before starting the day.

Valuing People

Finally, we learned to value people. Let’s think back to a few paragraphs above. Without the people we love and with whom we laugh, camp is pretty pointless. Henry David Thoreau said, “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” Woodrow Wilson also had something good to say about friendship: “it’s the only cement that will hold the world together.”

The relationships we fostered, whether they started for the first time or were rekindled a 10th time, will warm our lives for a long time.

Hone Your Skills

Campers, take these skills you learned this summer and practice them at home. Make your bed, clean your room, smile (with meaning) at those around you. Continue to develop your courage, empathy, and independence. Value all around you and seek those who will continue to lovingly push you to develop in all ways. And, be aware and grateful for the gifts in your life.

You learned the basics at Weequahic this summer. Now go make them yours out in the world!