Memorial Day

Posted May 24th, 2019 by

In running a few errands for the kitchen late this afternoon, I passed a lovely church and its cemetery.

Several men and women were bent over working with weed whackers, racks, and shovels removing up the winter debris. Others were cleaning gravestones and affixing small American flags. They do this in honor of those who have come before them and fallen in the line of service.

Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

Remember those who came before us is something we ought to do more often.

Camp Memorial

Taking a walk around Weequahic this evening after dinner, the idea of Memorial Day struck me hard. I had just spoken with an alumnus of Weequahic whose son is coming to camp for the first time. The conversation led to speaking about the Lustig and Seffer families who got this whole party going.

Most of us never met Mr. Al Lustig. He was a teacher and coach at Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ. The story, as I understand it, was that Mr. Lustig was a bit of a ‘pied piper’, someone who instructed and taught in all the right ways.

In the early 1950’s, Mr. Lustig was encouraged to find a piece of property that would become a summer camp for kids. In 1952, Mr. Lustig closed on the 110 acres of farm land and opened the doors of Camp Weequahic in June, 1953.

From 1953 until 2008, the Mr. and Mrs. Lustig, along with and preceded by their children and grandchildren, built Weequahic into a thriving spot for children. The traditions of Tribals and Olympics, Moo Call and Canteen Raids, Campfire and Burning the W… all came from our founding family.

Mr. and Mrs. Lustig have passed as have Mr. and Mrs. Seffer. The work they and the rest of the founding family of Weequahic completed set us on the path to where we are now – a thriving place that cares for children by behaving gratefully, choosing your attitude, and building courage.

They were the heroes who got us going, who put in the work, and had the vision of what this place could become in time. I hope they are looking down and smiling now.

Happy Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day weekend, I’d first like to honor all of the men and women who have fallen in service of our country. Without you, we could not enjoy camp as we do in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Secondly, I’d like to thank the extended Lustig family for their vision of Weequahic. Without you all, we’d not have such a unique place to call our summer home.

Have a safe and wonderful weekend, y’all. Can’t wait for camp!

Choose To Be Brave

Posted May 10th, 2019 by

“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.” – Emma Donoghue, Room

Two summers ago, I witnessed a ‘standout’ act of bravery. One of our girls had a hard moment on the ‘pamper pole’, a forty-foot telephone pole that you are supposed to climb up, stand on top of, and jump off. (Yes, you are very well harnessed!)

She had made it to the top. However, rather than standing up, she literally curled herself around the platform, belly and face looking down at the ground 40’ below, and her legs and arms wrapped around the top of the pole. Tears intermittently rained down while her head shook from side to side. It was ‘full stop.’

After a bit of conversation, one of the instructors harnessed up and climbed up next to her. About two minutes later, she was standing wobbly on the top. A minute after that, there was a leap, a scream, lots laughter, cheers and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen slowly returning to earth.

“I was terrified!” she said when I asked her about the experience. “But Sarah got there and promised I’d be ok and that I needed to be brave and trust her that I could do it. Oh my gosh… I’m so happy I did it!”

Fear and Bravery

Here’s the thing about fear: it doesn’t go away. It’s our ability to take the fear we are feeling and move forward with our purpose that makes us brave. And that bravery, the actions we take when feeling fear, is what opens up our world.

Fear affects us all. Going into a situation where we do not know anyone else or don’t have an idea how it will turn out. Putting our knowledge ‘on the line’ by taking a test or playing a recital or joining in tournament. Spending the night out at a friend’s house… or going camp.

When we fear, we focus on ourselves. We get ‘insular.’ And the best way to keep the fear strong? Keep staring at ‘yourself’ – your problems, your fears, your self-perceived short comings.

Want to get through the fear? Try this:

Recognize your fear. Name it and make it the object. (You are the subject.) Rather than ‘I’m afraid’ say, ‘I’m feeling fear about getting out of my comfort zone.’

Once you’ve recognized your fear, say I’m not going to let fear stop me from xxx.” You don’t have to love what you’ve decided to do. But once you’ve decided to write that kind note, speak up about something that should be changed, or try waterskiing, don’t let the fear you are feeling stop you.

Then, get after it! Focus on the end result you want and remain open to other inputs coming in. In other words, rather than constantly focusing on the fear you are feeling, spend your energy and focus on what you want to occur and those around you.

A few things will happen with this approach:

  1. The fear won’t go away and it won’t feel as big any more.
  2. You’ll learn that you can do things that, at first, you don’t think possible.
  3. Those who celebrate your efforts are a lot more important than those who try to tear you down for trying.

As old Winston used to say, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Be brave. It’s a choice and an important one at that.

Your Private Garden

Posted April 26th, 2019 by

It’s spring time here at the ‘Winter’ office and everything is in bloom. The flowers are lovely, the trees full, the grass is greening up. It’s a beautiful time of year in Athens, GA.

Outside my office window, I have a little herb garden the boys and I planted years ago. It’s nothing special and certainly not as fun as Camp Mom Judy’s garden at Weequahic. At home, we’ve got a nice stand of rosemary, some thyme and a little oregano the boys brought home from their science class so many years ago.

We’ve used these herbs often in our cooking over the past few years. The best thing I can say about the garden: it produces.

In the middle of the garden, though, there is a bald spot. Ants built a hive there last summer and vacated it over the winter. A short garden hose laid unused long enough for a lot of the thyme to grow around it. A board rotted away and much of the rosemary’s roots showed through due to the soil loss.

So, while our little garden still produces some nice results, it’s operating well below its true capacity. Does that sound like you? I know it does me.

I spend a lot of time running around not questioning old habits. Eating certain foods, spending time online, connecting with people, taking in media… mostly out of habit. In this manner, my life grows a bit wild. Some ‘weeds’ pop up. Some aspects of my life thrive while other aspects suffer. The soil (or soul) is neglected.

As for our little garden, it was time to put in some effort. I hacked away the dead parts of the rosemary that was just taking up room. The garden hose had to be cut up and removed from the thyme. New soil was churned in along with some fertilizer. Finally, some rocks for support and a side beam were added.

It didn’t take long – just one hour of work and a trip to the local hardware store. But, we’ll have better herbs for a longer period of time. Even better, I was able to clear enough room to add a few new basil plants.

When we let our lives spin thoughtless on, as I let our little garden grow, we get whatever life throws at us. There will be some good things, there will be some bad, and a lot of stuff will just get sucked up without you recognizing it because, well, that’s how you’ve always done it. Things are just… fine.

But, you don’t want ‘fine.’ You want great! You want AWESOME. And that result, young camper, requires some effort on your part. You’ve got to take some time to prune the garden of your life, invest in new soil, cut some of the dead things away and plant new ideas.

Only then will your garden truly grow.

Have a great week!

Change the World

Posted April 19th, 2019 by

I get to fly around the country often during the ‘off-season.’ (It’s a funny juxtaposition to my life at camp when I never leave!) When I fly, I always ask for a window seat so I can look at the landscape as we pass high above. One thing that always hits me: the Earth is huge!

When you travel and see things like New York’s Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Grand Canyon, you realize that we people are pretty small. When see a relatively small slice of land from 30,000 feet up, you feel even smaller.

With that in mind, it’s hard to grasp the idea of changing the world. It’s not even comical. If taken as a challenge, this idea is downright impossible.

And yet….

Ripples on Sly Lake

Human culture is too big to change by yourself. Have there been a few people to have done it? Yes. But the massive changes that came from Buddha, Abraham, and Jesus took centuries.

There have been others more recently like Marie Curie, Einstein, Mother Theresa, and Bill Gates who have done so more quickly. (And, yes, there have been some bad guys who have done the same but I’m not going to speak of them.) Their genius combined with the modern technological age allowed their ripples to effect us all.

But making a big change on your ‘world’ doesn’t have to include the whole world. We spend our time running around in our little worlds. Yes, these are connected to others but our homes, our schools, our camps… these are the little worlds in which we truly live out our days.

Do you think have you the ability to change those worlds? Of course you do. And, whether you realize it or not, you influence those ‘worlds’ every single day.

When we sit at the campfire and watch the swallows dip down and fish rise up, we see their ripples expanding ever outward. You create the same ripples with every kind word, every smile, and every helping hand. You also create ripples for the opposite actions and from inaction.

What kind of ripples are you going leave behind today? What effect are you going to have on the world around you? You get to choose. And that choice matters.

Have a wonderful weekend. See you soon!

Gratitude In Action

Posted April 5th, 2019 by

Around the campfire during the summers, I get to speak with our campers and staff about big ideas. The idea is to enliven their imagination and get them thinking about foundational values. Stories are shared as are quotes from thoughtful people.

Preparing to speak about gratitude for the first time around the campfire, I came across JFK’s quote:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

Ten years later, JFK’s quote came up again. In a wonderful conversation with two of my favorite people, Co-Director Kate and Asst. Director Dana, we kept circling back to acting out our grateful feelings and intent. I’ve always thought of it as an ‘attitude of gratitude’ but that’s only a small part of the equation, isn’t it?

Action is more important than words or feelings. Yes, I want to have a more grateful outlook on life but my actions will show me and everyone else what I truly believe. Jerry Sternin said something about this:

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.

THREE HAPPIES AND AN APPRECIATE

One gratitude ‘hack’ that we’ve enjoyed for two decades is the sharing of 3 Happies and an Appreciate.

The idea is simple and powerful. Throughout the day, collect the three things you were most happy about, i.e., ‘my child got the therapy he needed’ or ‘it rained on my flower garden today.’ Right before you go to bed, share those three happies with your child and your spouse.

Kate and I started doing this while courting and have practiced it every night for 18 years. When the boys showed up, we extended the habit to them as well. When your voice-changing, smelly, phone-addicted fourteen year old comes back down the stairs saying ‘you didn’t get my happies!’, you know it’s working.

The ‘appreciate’ was a new addition 10 years ago and it’s made a big difference in our lives. At the end of saying your happies, you look at the other person and tell them one thing you appreciated about them that day. Simple, yes, but hearing that you are appreciated is a powerful and wonderful thing.

THANK YOU

I’m grateful you’ve read through all this and hope it will be useful to you. I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you sharing some with me. And, if you’d like to listen to how we think about gratitude, take a listen to Kate and Dana’s recent podcast: Grateful Kids, Happy Adults.

Have a great weekend!

What Game Are You Playing?

Posted March 29th, 2019 by

Games have taken over the world, haven’t they? I remember playing checkers with Granddaddy as a boy. My brother and I made up games in the woods or on the beach. Dad would throw footballs for hours with us. We played Ms. PacMan and Mike Tyson’s Punchout on the Atari for as long as our parents could stand the music.

(I believe the record was about 34 minutes….)

Now, all of pop-culture seems to be screaming about Fortnite, the Final Four and Game of Thrones. Games certainly take up a lot of our attention. In fact, I’ve found myself looking at the scores in the WGC Dell Match Play championship writing this!

Those games, the physical ones we can all participate in, are not what I’m talking about with the title to this piece. Instead, I want to focus our attention on the social, mental and emotional games we are playing.

Your Billboard

Tim Ferriss, the writer and podcaster, asks almost all of his guests this question: if you were given a billboard and could write something up there for everyone to see, what message would you offer? Graham Duncan, a recent guest, brought up a quote from Kwame Anthony Appiah:

In life, the challenge is not so much to figure out how best to play the game; the challenge is to figure out what game you’re playing.

In the podcast, Graham talks about the games of ‘making money’ and ‘building power.’ Those games aren’t in your wheelhouse right now, camper.

That’s not to say that you aren’t playing any games, though.

What’s Your Game?

Is your game ‘I want to look good to the teachers and just get by’ or ‘I want to learn as much as I can regardless of what it looks like?’ Perhaps you are older and playing ‘whatever I can do to get into college x.’ Or maybe you are playing the ‘I’m scared and I don’t want anyone else to know’ game.

We all play games, kiddos. Your parents (and your camp director) do, too.

Some games are easy to play without even knowing it. Trying to keep up with those around you that you deem to be doing better in whatever we than you. Going along with the herd. Those are easy to do… and not always worthwhile.

The game I would have you play? Here are two ideas:

  • How can I make a positive difference in someone else’s life today?
  • What I can do to become a better ‘me’ today?

I was going to write down a few more. The more I think about the important games we can play, though, the more I believe these are the two most valuable. If you ‘win’ at each of those games each day, the world around you gets better. And that ripple effect will surely be a powerful thing.

Campers, it’s the quality of the relationships in our lives that matter most. That idea has been proven by both life and science.

Therefore, if you want to lead a life of meaning, fill it full of games that draw you nearer to those you love and the person you want to become. We all play. Choose your game wisely.

Have a great week!

Look Up

Posted March 22nd, 2019 by

Go to any spot where a lot of people are moving around you’ll see something that used to happen only rarely: people walking with their heads bowed down. College student walking through campus, professionals crossing streets. There even men and women riding bikes and driving cars… all with their heads bowed down.

In the past, this scene was only available at monasteries, abbeys, and convents. The monks and nuns, heads bowed, were walking and worshipping, their aim focused on their God.

I fear we are walking and aiming, too. but on things a bit less important.

Choose Your Aim

Everyone aims. Whether you’ve got a bow and arrow in your hands, a needle to thread, or a potential friend in your sights, you are aiming. Your focus is on the end goal and giving that goal your attention is a huge part of what you ultimately complete.

Campers, what we aim at is important because ‘it’, the goal we want, shapes us. That which we reach for, that to which we give our attention changes us. In fact, this process of aiming even modifies the important stories we tell ourselves.

If our aim is noble, progressing towards that aim point is what brings positive emotion.  If we have no purposeful aim, no focus on some one thing other than to be entertained, then we are just blundering about. Where is the joy in that?

How do we aim? With the eyes in our head and the ‘eye’ in heart. What we seek out with our eyes will affect what we feel in our hearts and vice versa. Take a moment and think, really think, about what you are looking for, head bowed over your phone?

Look Up

One of the joys of being at Camp Weequahic is the surrounding. I’ve heard many a camper, staff member and parent comment on the beauty of the place (and how good the air smells!)

I agree, the place is beautiful. We have towering pines, lots of squirrels, birds, fish and chipmunks. The sky at night is filled with stars we rarely see and we are surrounded by stars who shine even brighter – the people of Weequahic.

With our eyes up and away from our phones, we see everyone around us. We start to live in the moment, fully open to the present which, at camp, certainly feels like a present!

This only happens when we look up and around us. With our aim pointed towards those around us, we are on a path that leads to true connection.

The path on our phone? It may help with connection. But does it really? It may give us access to enormous amounts of information. But is it information we truly need? It certainly gives us a lot to look at. But should that be our aim?

Campers, look up and around you. And help me do the same.

Have a great week!

You Don’t Have to Fit In

Posted March 15th, 2019 by

Our team often turns to Dr. Brene Brown when thinking about camp. We’ve read all her books, thought about how her ideas can help shape our culture, and bounced ideas off of her work. One of the big points we keep coming back to is ‘fitting in’ vs. ‘belonging.’

From an Oprah.com article:

“(C)ontrary to what most of us think: Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them.

Belonging is something else entirely—it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are….”

Belonging at Weequahic

The idea of belonging is one that drives us at Camp Weequahic. Our campers come from 13 different states and 14 different countries. Each one is different from the next – tall and short, young and old, English speaker and Texan speaker.

Some kids have a lot of camp in their family history while others are jumping in for the first time. Even the handful of twins we have are different people.

So, how do we ‘fit in’ when camp is so diverse? First, by accepting the fact that you already belong. Second, by living out the values of gratitude, attitude and courage. And, third, by having a blast alongside everyone else.

Out There

Yes, it’s easier to feel you belong at camp. We get to create a bubble that shields us from the comparison trap easily found out in the ‘real-world.’ Your clothes, social media presence, grades, background… none of that matters at camp.

What matters is you having a blast alongside everyone around you, treating others with kindness, and striving to grow.

Out there, it’s harder. We all fall into habits and routines that drive us, sometimes blindly, through each day. A snapchat post here, homework there, comparing test scores with that kid, sitting with the same people at lunch.

We want to band together, form a tribe that will keep us ‘safe.’ We just want to fit in. (I know – I do it all the time.) We don’t want to stand out. Wear the same clothes, show up at the same time, ignore the same people, be nice to the same people….

Here’s the thing, though – anyone who made an impact on the world around them didn’t fit in.

Standing Out

The little lady who saved so many in Sri Lanka? She knew she belonged and just did the work.

The man with the funny hair who played the violin (badly) and was dyslexic? He figured out so many big problems that he didn’t have time to worry about what others thought.

The leader who walks around in a robe all day who has written books, played with children, and climbed mountains.*

If you get to the base facts, it’s pretty simple. We’re all humans. We all live on earth. We all share the same air, are warmed by the same sun, and profit from the same blood in our veins.

You don’t have to fit in. You already belong. Have a great week!

*Can you guess who I was talking about? It’s Mother Teresa, Dr. Einstein, and the Dalai Lama

Welcome to the Party

Posted March 8th, 2019 by

I’m a big fan of learning throughout the year using podcasts. These bite-sized reminders, new info, and interesting stories always give me something to think about. (And, if you’d like to try a new one about the lessons of summer camp, check out the one we are doing: Campfire Conversation.)

Kate and I spent several hours listening to a recent talk between Tim Ferriss and his guest, Graham Duncan. There was a lot in the talk about finding the best people for your team – something we research a lot at Weequahic. Not so important for our campers.

However, there were three points I thought were perfect ‘campfire’ ideas to share.

Subject or Object

Don’t worry – this is not a grammar lesson. (Mrs. Leary, my 11th grade English teacher, still gives me the shivers….)

This idea is all about how you see yourself in relation to what’s going on around you. For instance, it could be pouring down rain. You’ve got two choices in this situation: it’s all about the rain (It’s raining and that stinks!) in which case the rain. In this case, it’s the subject.  Or, you can flip the script a bit and make the ‘rain’ become the object as in ‘Hm… I get to go splash in the puddles!’

The fancy way to say this is you are moving the ‘locus of control’ to yourself rather than putting it outside yourself onto something you can’t control. This has a lot to do with attitude and choosing how you react.

Bring It On

This is a great idea to use when you know you are about to go through something uncomfortable or, gulp… painful.

Let’s say it’s your turn to run the mile in PE class. You never liked running and your normal ‘self-talk’ is to say ‘I really don’t like to run.’ This time, try something different:

Rub your hands together, smile, and say ‘bring it on!’

This won’t make you a world-class middle distance runner. However, it WILL give you the best chance of doing your best.

Here’s the thing, you either bounce off of pain like it’s a wall or you get through to the other side. If you create a habit of ‘bring it on!’, you’ll start to get to the ‘other side’ of the discomfort.

Welcome to the Party

‘Welcome to the party. I’m your amiable host.” I love this idea because it makes me think about the first day of camp. We get stand up with all our campers and yell ‘welcome to the party!’

When taken in the right context, everything is our ‘party’ as our senses draw everything in towards us. So, with this in mind, welcome to the party joy and pain, contentment and fear, bravery and anxiety. I’m your friendly host, let’s rock it out.

Graham, in the podcast, talks about his young son leaving his parents’ bedroom late one night saying, “Welcome to the party, ‘scared of the dark!’” He got back in bed and went right off to sleep.

If it’s a party and everyone is invited, you get to be the type of host you want. Want to welcome experiences in a friendly way and shoo out anything that doesn’t fit? Or, do you want to sit back, let everything come at you and hang around, whether you want them to stay or not?

You get to choose. Welcome to the party!

Hat tip: Graham Duncan and Tim Ferriss

Road Signs

Posted March 1st, 2019 by

On a recent trip to West Virginia, Jack and I got to ‘enjoy’ the most winding, vertically challenging, foggy roads I’ve ever driven. To make matters more interesting, this was at night and at the end of an eight-hour journey.

For 90 minutes, we had switch backs and hairpins. Down the side of one mountain and up the side of the next. The experience moved from hair-raising to giggle-inducing and, finally, into quiet determination – for both of us.

You know what kept us safe on a night we could see only about 100 feet in front of us? Lots of road signs.

The Road Ahead

After settling into our hotel room and turning off the lights, I was still too jazzed to sleep. (Jackie-boy had no such problems.) As I lay there thinking about the crazy roads and the bright signs, it dawned on me: that road-trip was a lot like becoming an adult.

We knew our final destination. And, at the beginning, all was easy. The highways were clearly laid out, the sun shining, and several good options for breaks and rest. Kind of like growing up – work hard at school, play by the rules, play time with friends, etc.

All was fine and dandy with the regular bumps in the road until the darkness fell. There was some traffic, a poorly timed bathroom break, some bad radio. Just like growing up: some friend-drama, (a few) failed quizzes, some mistakes I needed to make.

But, for the most part, fine sailing. Then, just like the road at the end of our journey, there arrives moment after moment of confusion and darkness.

For me, this started during in the first few years of college and ended… well, I’m not sure that it has!

You head out on your own for the first time. You start to make choices for yourself and the path forward is not as clear. In fact, sometimes, the path ahead can barely be found, even with all the looking you can muster.

That’s when it is so important to have bright road signs to point the way.

Your Signs

We all have signs, many of which are created when you are growing in your family, in your school, and in your camp. I can’t speak about what you’ve learned at the first two (though I can wager a pretty good guess), I can remind you what you are learning at Weequahic.

  1. A grateful heart is a happy heart.
  2. You get to choose your attitude.
  3. Courage is a muscle – use it or lose it.
  4. Be kind – it’s a choice, not a feeling.

So how do these habits become road signs for those dark and foggy days of your future? I’m glad you asked.

When you are grateful for all that you have – air in lungs, a supportive family, a bunch of opportunity, and so much more – you approach challenges with a better frame of mind. You are more likely to pick an attitude that will help rather than hinder your progress.

With courage, you’ll approach the challenges ready to reach out for help and expand your self-set limits. And, the more kind you are to all those around you, the more likely you are to have help happily offered.

My Signs

You’ll have a lot more signs in front of your if you pay attention. People with whom you work and study, opportunities that are scary and important.

You won’t have a lot of clear vision past the next turn. I say this is a former college golf coach, fund-raiser, frozen yogurt pourer, youth team coach, student, farmhand, substitute teacher and camp director. The signs laid out by my parents, teachers and mentors gave me direction in those foggy moments when I could have steered wrong.

Camper, take some time now to reflect on the signs building in your life. The path ahead is winding and not always clear. But, taken with the right attitude, it’ll be (mostly) fun and they’ll be plenty of road signs along the way.

Have a grateful week!