The Gift of Camp

Posted December 13th, 2019 by

I’ve spent the last several weeks exploring the ‘camp as a gift’ idea. The deeper I dive, the further it pulls me along. I’ve spoken about it with camp parents, newly alumni-ed campers, and our own team. A recent conversation with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson really slammed it home.

(You’ll be able to enjoy the whole conversation with Dr. Bryson on January 3rd.  It’s one of the most informative and useful campfire conversation I’ve enjoyed!)

I’m starting to see camp as a gift in lots of different ways. The only way I wrap my head around it is in terms of our family’s yearly goal categories. So, in that like, I think camp is a gift for the…

Body

What environment offers the same amount of vigorous all-day, everyday activity as camp? Sure, you could decide to a boot camp multiple times a day but it’s just not as much fun.

And that’s the key, isn’t it – the fun!

I’m not just talking about the kids who play in a WBL game followed by a WFL game and then spend time waterskiing or climbing. The benefits of such a schedule are self-evident. We have a number of kiddos who want to create rather than compete, build things rather than bomb around the courts. Their fingers become more dexterous, their endurance increases, and curiosity goes through the roof.

Plus, we have our free-play each evening that is full of gaga, sport court, chase and more followed up by an almost always active Evening Activity. Heck, just walking around camp will get you more than the steps you need.

And, let’s not forget the food, a key element to every body’s health. Chef Daniel and his crew do an amazing job combing good nutrition with good taste – an important combination at camp!

Mind

A ‘knock’ on camp is that it takes away from the gains of the academic year. I’ve got two counter arguments to such a viewpoint.

We don’t do a lot of book studying at camp, true. And, the learning goes into overdrive.

Whether you are a camper or a staff member, the amount of executive functioning, empathy, communication, leadership, and courage that gets exercised is off the charts. As all of these functions reside in the still-developing frontal lobes, the mind is literally being rewired by the summer camp experience.

Secondly, I think about a quote from an earlier ‘titan’ of the business world, JP Morgan:

“I can do a year’s work in nine months but not in twelve.”

With the demands of school and after school activities, our kids must have some time to get away and immerse themselves into something that captivates their imagination and rebuilds their reserves for the ‘work’ of school. The break allows our kids the chance to get some perspective by creating distance from which to view their world back home.

This is also good for the…

Soul

Personal joy. Lasting friendships. New-found capabilities and interests. Putting down the masks. A chance to be their best self. Flourishing.

These are all things that happen at camp when it’s the right fit for the kiddo. (And for the staff member, too!) How do you know when it’s the right fit? When there are more tears at the end than at the beginning.

This isn’t just for the kids and the staff who live at camp and breath the same air. This gift affects our parents as well. Seeing your child return home more mature, more capable, more confident and overflowing with fun stories of new friends and new adventures… it’s priceless. (And, a little jealousy-inducing!)

Camp is a Gift

Campers, camp is a gift for you. Make sure to thank your parents for making it happen. Often!

Staff members, camp is a gift for you. Few places on earth will help you grow and learn to care for others as much as a summer caring at camp.

Parents, camp is a gift for you. It will partner with you to help raise your child in the ways important to your family.

And, yes, camp is certainly a gift to me, too. Who would have thought Kate’s introduction of ‘summer camp’ would have led to this point? I’m incredibly blessed. Thank y’all for being a part of the gift each and every day!

Have a great week!

Perfect

Posted December 6th, 2019 by

I hope it’s pretty obvious that I love camp. The laughter and noise of the kids, the enthusiasm and thoughtfulness of the staff, the smell of the pines, the taste of the s’mores…. There is not a place on earth I’d rather be each summer.

At Weequahic, we get to venerate the connection to the old and celebrate the start of the new. We build lasting memories and skills and joy… together. Are there hiccups? Of course! There may be a bug in the cabin. The way our words come out are not exactly what we mean. We may run out of wings at lunch.

Nothing is perfect.

At least that is what I thought until last week.

Kenya

Kate, the boys, and I returned late last week from our first trip to Kenya. Along with friends, we have been supporting an orphanage outside of Nairobi for many years. As this would be (we hope) the last Thanksgiving that our boys don’t have team commitments, it was time to make the trek over.

I didn’t know what to expect at the orphanage. I’ve been to some pretty rough spots – the slums of Tijuana, the inner-city projects of Newark, even Camp Wayne for Boys. (I kid… Tijuana has some nice spots.)

Kenya’s First Love Children’s Home was, first of all, lovely.  All roads inside the compound were clean and true. The rooms were comfortable. Even the squawks and honks of the ducks and chickens was endearing. What I didn’t expect was the love of the children.

Play

First Love is a home for children who have no family who can care for them. As such, I expected to find children reserved, hesitant to reach out, to trust.

This idea was 180 degrees from reality: they craved play, laughed often and without restraint, and wanted to hold a hand or share a hug immediately. After several days living on property, I’m surprised to have convinced Kate to come home.

Were there problems?  You bet. But they were not the problems of privation.

Yes, the kitchen had no running water in the building but the wells were clean and deep. The oven used for cooking 125 people their three daily meals was wood-powered and mighty small but useful. The laundry was hand-washed and hung dry; it was clean. There were no snacks but plenty of beans, rice, porridge, and sustenance.

No, the problems were the same as those we see at camp: one child playing a little too passionately for the others. Someone asking for too many little treats and not sharing. A word taken out of context. Someone slipping and skinning a knee.

Perfect

In the midst of many challenges, in the wake of many hardships, these kids shared something perfect with us: a relationship based on play.

We played four-square and hopscotch. The kids and family danced and made goofy faces with and at each other. We swung and climbed, kicked the ball, and chased the chickens. Everyone made games with the food and make-believe stories with our minds, hands, faces, and words. We laughed and we raced. We read aloud and laughed together.

For four short days, the kids welcomed us into their home, just as welcome our campers in our own. A lot of bad luck led the children of First Love to their gates. Thankfully, many wonderful professionals were there, prepared to greet the children and meet them in all the right ways.

Our campers are much luckier in terms of family connections and material wealth. And, we at Weequahic hope to provide them with the same  experience the children of First Love receive: loving, playful, and completely open.

If we can do that, it will be perfect.  Have a great week!

Grateful to be More…

Posted November 22nd, 2019 by

I just enjoyed several great conversations with some of Weequahic’s finest. We were talking about the idea of camp making us more of one thing and less of something else. You can listen in on Nuge, Elise, Chopper, Ben, Len, Jeff, Jordan and Carly by checking out the Campfire Conversation podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Our experience with camp certainly makes us both more and less. Over the past two decades, I’ve become more patient and less rigid, more prone to listen first and less to likely charge ahead on my own. I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Thankfully, Kate and our team have been happy to help me learn.

It doesn’t have to be so. Not everyone who enjoys camp changes much over time. In order change, you must think back over an experience to determine what you should have or could have done differently. These moments of reflection, especially when looked at with clear eyes, can teach you a lot.

Because of Camp

Finish this sentence: Because of camp, I’m grateful to be more _______.

If you are a camper, I bet you’ll say something like independent, confident, gratefully, courageous, connected to my best self, friendly, adventurous or ‘secure in my canteen choice.’ (Well, maybe not the last one….)

I bet our staff would finish the sentence in similar ways as those with whom I spoke: confident, empathetic, grateful and aware.

If you are a parent, I hope the response is more along the ideas of courageous, patient, relaxed, ‘confident I’m on the right track in my parenting approach.’

Spending time at or with Weequahic is supposed to make each of us ‘more.’ I’ve love to hear or read what you think about when answering the question. Take a moment to think a bit on it and let us know your response on either facebook or Instagram.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

The Gold Mine

Posted November 15th, 2019 by

How many times have you walked away from a puzzle that someone else finished with just a few moves. Or that math problem that you just couldn’t solve which a friend or teacher says ‘what about this’ and leads easily to the right answer.

We all have those moments when, try as hard with all our might, we just can’t figure out how to make that paragraph work, schedule fit, recipe taste just right. And then your friend gives you the answer in a few seconds.

Frustrating? Maybe. Helpful? Certainly. Important? It’s hard to overstate the lesson.

Our Personal Goldmine

In the tough-minded and relentlessly optimistic book, Self-Renewal, John Gardner relays the stories of gold-miners who abandoned hard-worked mines for all sorts of issues. Every so often those seemingly ‘empty mines’ were found to be full of gold by the very next prospector to do some digging.

Much like these abandoned-yet-rich mines, “…most of us have potentialities that have never been developed simply because the circumstances of our lives never called them forth.”  Because we don’t spend time pursuing these potentialities “systemically or at least avidly”, we never really see just how much we can do.

I bet you know a lot of ‘successful’ people. I’ve got a friend who has been a State debate champion, college football player, Navy Seal, successful business person, PhD, and is an all-around great dad. He’s consistently put himself into situations in which he develops different capabilities and talents to their fullest.

But…

The Other Miners

He’s always had help when needed.

Whether it was a coach, parent, instructor, professor, teammate, partner or bride, my friend was supported, pushed, and aided by people who cared all along the way. He found new situations in which to push his own limits along with people to help him through the inevitable hard times. Rather than staying stuck, he asked for help. By learning, he has continually moved forward.

Though not impossible, it’s incredibly difficult to find the depth of your own talents on your own. It’s so much easier to battle through roadblocks and moments of doubt with the help from those around you, those who’ll pick up the shovel and lead you in a new direction or encourage you to keep digging.

That’s what community is all about, what camp is built upon: building a connection between those with so much potential and experienced people who want to help that potential flourish. We build camp in order to help us all keep digging, to find some self-set limits and pass them by on the road to the next iteration of ourselves.

Striking Gold

When the combination of courage, effort, and humility fit just right, you find levels of thought, performance, and success that originally seemed out of reach. It helps to have few or no expectations. Rather, by remaining curious, thinking to yourself ‘what if…’ and enjoying the journey, you’ll go further.

Will it be as fast as you want? Probably not. Will you get ‘there?’ Maybe not.

Will this approach give you the best chance to get where you want to go? Yes. Even better, this approach may uncover riches inside yourself you never dreamed existed.

So, pick a direction and start digging. Tell a trusted friend, loved one, or mentor the direction you are going. Ask for some help when you get stuck or feel there is nothing on the other side. They’ll help you through the obstacle or help you decide to stop digging.

Either way, it’ll be amazing what you uncover. Let’s start digging!

 

 

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!