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Love Letter from Camp Weequahic

Posted Thursday, February 14th, 2019 by

Dear Parents,

Hi. This is Camp Weequahic. (Yes, the actual place – not that crazy guy Cole who runs around all the time.) I know we don’t talk much this time of year. Hey – it’s really cold and I’m not one for talking much.

But, in mid-winter, I get a chance to think a bunch without all the commotion of the summer.  One thing I realized I need to express to you is this: thank you.

Thank you for sending your children to come play on my grounds, learn in my classrooms, & swim in my lake. I’ve been around for a long time and each summer feels like the first.

Starting in April, all these great young men and women pour over me for several weeks, giving my grass a cut, fixing up the little dings from Mother Nature’s winter, preparing great things for the coming party.

These staff members get so excited when talking and thinking and planning about the kids arriving. I do, too.

And then it happens: cars and buses arrive full of kids! Young and old, new and returning, happy and (a few) fearful. They arrive from all over the place – different backgrounds, different experiences, different states and countries…. It’s so much fun!

What amazes me is how the pageantry and party of the first day transitions into the ‘normal flow of awesomeness’ so quickly. My Dining Hall literally rocks with the singing and dancing. My fields are full. My arts facilities smell of paint and clay and wood dust. And it all just works and sings and shines, no matter the weather.

(Yes, my grass gets pummeled but I’m here to help grow great kids, not grow grass….)

I can’t tell you happy it makes this old camp to host so much love and joy and laughter and learning. It’s a gift to see these children grow into young adults. It’s even more fun to see so many return as staff members to help the next generation of campers grow into independent, courageous, competent, and confident people.

Parents, I’m old enough to realize that this would not happen without your trust and your desire to give your child the gift of summer camp. Without you, I’d probably be a condo complex or sub-division or field for cows to enjoy. Being a place where kids come to learn and grow is so much better.

Your kids are a gift to me. And the community they get to create at summer camp is a worthy launching pad for their limitless futures. I can’t wait to see what they have in store me this coming summer.

So, since it’s Valentines Day, I wanted to express all this to you.

Love,

Camp Weequahic

Now. Here. This.

Posted Friday, February 8th, 2019 by

As you can imagine, there are a lot announcements during a day Camp Weequahic. Not all start the same, though.

In the dining hall or around the flagpole, you’ll hear ‘THREE, TWO, ONE, SHHHhhhh….’ to get everyone’s attention. For the activity day announcements, you’ll hear music from the speakers and the melodious voices of our office team. Moo Call is announced with, well… mooing. (Seriously!)

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, not too long ago ‘Now hear this’ was used to get everyone’s attention. You’d hear it barked through megaphones and read it in newsprint. It was everywhere, normal.

Father Greg Boyle, founder of the largest gang rehabilitation program in the world, wrote a book that captured me for a week. In it, he uses this ‘Now hear this’ phrase in a different way.

Now

We often get caught up revisiting and reliving the past or imagining the future. Some of this is certainly useful.

Reviewing our past mistakes to learn the lessons therein is useful. Remembering times when we did something really well leads to confidence. So does imagining ourselves doing something perfectly in the future.

But when we get caught in those spots, we fail to live our lives now. And, when we fail to be totally immersed in the ‘right now’ we miss opportunities, delights and simple joys.

Here

Be where your feet are. I’ve noticed this saying a lot lately. Rather than focusing on somewhere else, be fully immersed in where you are.

Walking around camp the first few days of the session, you’ll find a few campers thinking about home. It’s completely natural and missing home is a real thing. Rather than being ‘where their feet are’, these campers have one foot at camp and another back home.

Like Mr. Myagi said, you can’t walk down the middle of the road. You’ve got to choose one side or the other. At Camp Weequahic, we do everything we can to help our campers revel in being ‘here.’

This

What you are doing right now is important. Doesn’t matter if you are making your bed, laughing with your friends, or learning a new skill.

We spend a lot of time in our own heads. Even when someone is in front of us, we are often making lists of things to do, thinking about what’s for dinner, or looking around. Often, we are thinking about our response to what they are saying rather than truly listening.

Whatever is in front of you deserves your attention. (Except for your phone. Put that down. J) Focus completely on what is in front of you.

The more we practice the Now. Here. This. Idea, the more joy you’ll get and give to the world around you. Yes, there is a need to review the past and dream of the future. Careful, though, that you don’t sacrifice the present.

 “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Teresa

 

PS – Amit Ray said, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” I enjoyed a great campfire conversation with Bob Ditter about just this topic. I hope you’ll take a few moments to listen.

I Want You to Fail

Posted Friday, February 1st, 2019 by

Yes, you read that right. I want you to fail. And not just once but again and again and again. I want you to screw up, mess up, flub the line, tangle the string, drop the pass.

Why? Because, if you take it correctly, it’s the only way you’ll learn.

Learning from Mistakes

When you’ve made the mistake, take a moment and think. Review what happened. Where was your attention? What did you not understand? Is there someone who can help think through it, diagnose the problem?

I know you are probably upset but remember – the space between what happens and how you react is yours to use as you want.

Once you’ve thought about the recent past, take some time to think about the near future: what will you do differently next time? In fact, once you have the knowledge you need, I want you to go so far as seeing yourself doing that ‘thing’ perfectly.

(Make sure to include the joy you’ll feel in accomplishing it!)

Then, get after it. Again.  Remember…

Competence Is Earned

When I was in elementary school, my friends and I watched a baby bird coming out of its shell. Seeing it start to struggle at pecking through its shell, I reached out to help.  Before I could get to the shell, the scoutmaster stopped me and said, “No, that bird has to get out itself. Otherwise, he won’t grow.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not but it made sense. It still does today, four decades later.

Like that baby bird, you have to struggle in order to know how to overcome. When you realize that challenges are there to instruct you, inform you, and engage you, you’ll start to develop grit, stick-to-it-ivness and confidence.

It is not easy and it is really important.

Want the good news? The people at Camp Weequahic can teach you how to make this learning fun.

Learning from Mistakes at Camp Weequahic

First off, your parents aren’t at camp. That automatically takes some pressure off of you. You can fail all you want! (And, those parents who are there act like they aren’t!)

Camper, speaking as a parent and for our parents: we don’t mean to apply ‘pressure.’ We don’t want you to be perfect. We want you to be a good human who can handle the challenges and joys of life as you grow old. And, we want you to call us often when we get old!

Instead of your parents, you are surrounded by all these great mentors and teachers, people who are only a few years older but have the experience to teach. They also have fresh memories of their own mistakes and are excited to support you in the learning process.

Secondly, you realize at Weequahic that some of ‘struggle’ is internal – building the courage to make a new friend, try a new activity, be vulnerable. And, some of it is external for all to see – muffing a line on stage, dropping the baton in the relay race.

The good news is you are surrounded by a TON of friends who are going through it, too. All they want to do with you (rather than at you) is laugh and have a blast. Again, this takes the pressure down a notch.

Finally, we try a lot of different things and do our best to make sure they are fun attempts. (And, of course, we keep things as safe as possible!)

Healthy Habits

In the end, you learn to frame the mistakes as ‘learning opportunities’ rather than failures or losses. And, when you pile up enough learning, you’ll start winning. Not just at the game or with that tricky part of wood shop work, but in building a life of meaning.

And that, campers, is something we should all get after.

So, go out and fail today. Just don’t fail to learn from it. We’ll be watching and supporting you the whole way!

Have a great week,

Cole

PS – If you’d like to listen to a Campfire Conversation Podcast on this subject, you’ll find a short conversation between me and some good friends on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

The Space Between

Posted Friday, January 25th, 2019 by

It’s late in the afternoon and we are tired and full and hot. It’s been a fun day – climbing, waterskiing, soccer. In Grill Masters, we made these crazy kebabs with chicken, onions and pineapple.

Lunch was actually really good – wing day! – and the dancing was hilarious.

But, we were up late last night goofing off, telling stories, laughing, and pretending to be asleep, whispering to each other until who knows when. That last round of gaga was great… and tiring.

Time for ‘shower hour’ and everyone is back in the bunk. I catch a look from someone I’ve not seen since lunch. And then another. What a second – was that a dirty look? Did they really just sneer at me?

What the heck? Hm… we didn’t talk at lunch. They were sitting on the other end of the table and wouldn’t pass the ketchup.

What the heck is this all about? Snotty kids…. I can’t believe they’d look at me that way. I going to….

Stimulus and Response

As I hope you can tell, the above is a fictional account of what could very easily go on in a bunk at camp. Not often, mind you, but it does happen. And… I wanted to get your attention. This is a classic camp example of stimulus and response.

Here are the basics: a change in the environment is the stimulus; the reaction of the organism to that change is the response.

In other words, someone tells a joke you think funny, you respond by laughing. You hear a loud crash in the middle of the night, you respond by waking up and looking around. Someone gives you a look you consider mean, you start to react.

It’s pretty solid science, this stimulus and response reaction. But here’s the caveat – you can determine how you respond.

One of my favorite thinkers of the 20th century is Viktor Frankel. An Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, he was a survivor of the Holocaust camps. One of his thoughts that has always stuck with me is this:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

You Choose

At Camp Weequahic, our campers get to choose their activities. Whether they want to focus on swimming, creating, competing, or adventuring, we’ve got it covered. Everything from robotics and cooking to sports leagues and waterskiing. Your summer, Your choice; it’s a tagline for a reason.

But that’s not all our campers (and staff) get to choose. Their most important choice, made daily and often without much thought, is their reaction.

It’s our goal that campers (and staff) learn to use the space between stimulus and response to become more mindful and intentional of their reaction. It’s an important habit to develop and camp is full of opportunities to practice in a safe, thoughtful environment.

The more we can help our campers (and, yes, our staff) practice using the space between what happens and how they react, the more freedom and growth they’ll enjoy in their lives.

It’s important to remember that the collection of these responses over time determines a person’s attitude. And, that attitude will determine a vast part of their future life.

Here’s to the space between….

Bright Lights Don’t Need Spotlights

Posted Thursday, January 17th, 2019 by

Last summer around the campfire, I spent some time talking about mirrors and binoculars.

The idea is simple: we have a choice. We get to either stare at the world through a mirror, reflecting only ourselves and the people that are ‘with us.’ Or, we can pick up the binoculars and look outward, explore, and welcome others in.

(And, yes, I challenged everyone to do more of the latter.)

Bright Lights

I happened on a quote recently that reminded me of this lesson: bright lights don’t need spotlights.

In other words, if you are asking for all the attention (the spotlight), stop! You don’t need it – you are already bright enough.

Instead, you should be shining your light in order to illuminate the world for others. Sharing your light doesn’t diminish it. It does the opposite – you actually help your light (and the world) get brighter.

One of the best examples of this is our wishboat evening each summer. When one camper lights their candle and sets it off on Sly Lake, you notice but you can’t see anything else around its glow. Once we have 600 of them in the lake, you see a lot.

You may think it easy to spot the ‘bright lights’ around you. Odds are, they’ll be really funny, really smart, really creative, or really athletic. Not all of them want the spotlight. The ones that do, though, are takers – they aren’t giving in the relationship so much as they are taking from those around them.

Share Your Light

Here’s the thing – we all have a lot of ‘brightness’ in ourselves. Doesn’t matter if you are someone who loves to read quietly or someone who loves to be loud and interact with everyone. We all have gifts to share, light to lend. It doesn’t have to be much; it just has to be genuine.

So, if you are demanding the spotlight, you might want to change your approach. You are already shining brightly – you don’t need the extra light! Instead, make your light brighter by sharing your light with others.

On the flipside, if you are walking around hiding your light, you are taking something important away from those around you – your true self and gifts. We all have light within us – and we need you to share it!

Have a bright week ahead, everyone!

 

Camp in Winter

Posted Friday, January 11th, 2019 by

I’m happy we run camp in the summer. As I sit at our kitchen table having just walked camp, the temperature gauge is resting at 9 degrees. Dry snow everywhere, ice on the lake, and a cold wind blowing.

Brr!

That said, camp continues to live on. We’ll spend a chunk of tomorrow with 200 of our Weequahic crew in NYC. In two weeks, the party will be in the DC area with close to 60 friends, new and old. Then we head to Florida for the southern side of things. It’s going to be a great, camp-filled next few weeks.

Keep the Fire Going

While we gather around the campfire each Friday night during the summers, I hope a little bit of that flame still burns on in the hearts and minds of our campers (and staff) as they move through the year. There, we talk showing gratitude, choosing your attitude, and developing courage.

We laugh. We think. And, most importantly, we sit TOGETHER, side by side. Campers young and old, staff new and long-time are truly with one another while we ponder and celebrate in a special spot.

I wish we had more of these moments during the year. But, the memories of Friday nights at camp can keep us warm during the winter months.

Sure, a few lessons may have been helpful – the lessons of a pencil, binoculars vs. mirrors, a life of thank you notes, filling up your bucket in order to fill up others….

The greatest lesson, however, comes in just simply being together. No technology to distract. No neon lights flashing or cars buzzing along. Instead, it’s the occasional song of a bird, the lapping of the lake, the crackle of the fire that fills us.

So, as the days grow shorter and the air gets colder, take a few moments to remember our time at the lake. Then, spend a few more on the laughter and time spent together with friends from near and far.

Do this often enough and not only will you fill yourself up with warmth and light, you’ll start shining for others, too. Have a great week!

A New Start

Posted Sunday, January 6th, 2019 by

We are just about a week into the New Year – hope it’s been a happy beginning for you!

Looking back over the past week, have you started 2019 the way you intended? If not, don’t worry. I missed the first Campfire post of the year, my desk is a mess and the leaves still haven’t raked themselves…. We all have room for improvement!

New Beginnings

What are you going to do in the new year? We’ve not had a 2019 before – it’s a fresh palate, a new canvas, a calm lake.

What kind of ripples are you going to make? Are they going to spread out through your personal puddle, touching only the sand and leaves that surround it? Or, are you going to be a part of a big pond and have your ripples compliment those around you who are making waves of their own?

Are you going to compare yourself with others? Careful… comparison is the thief of joy. Rather, how often will you celebrate the victories, small and large, of those around you? Caring for others before yourself will make you more unique – and significant – than you realize.

Will the little person in your head that spouts terrible, draining, and impatient noise win out over the big person that actually drives your actions? Or, will that calming, patient, and uplifting voice from the big person triumph?

It’s a struggle we all face daily. Remember, the voice you feed with your attention the most will win out.

Act It Out

Finally, I’ll leave you with the thought which made the biggest impact on me this past year. It’s something I’ve always known but had forgotten:

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

Want to get better at something? Start now. Want to be kinder to your siblings or parents or friends? Stop thinking about it and just do it. Want to live a more grateful 2019 than ’18? Want to get strongStart writing down your ‘thankfuls’ and sharing them with the people who matter.

You’ll find your mind follows your actions. And so will your mood.

So, as we move into this brand-spanking New Year –  shoulders back, chin up, and smile at everyone coming your way. You get to decide how you act and think in the world. Why let that kind of gift go to waste?

Have a wonderful end to 2018 and start to 2019. Let’s make it a great year… together!

Let’s Make Last Summer Jealous

Posted Friday, December 21st, 2018 by

It’s near the end of 2018 and I’m in a nostalgic mood.

We had A LOT of fun this past summer. Beautiful days bouncing, swimming, fishing, sailing, and skimming across Sly Lake. Championships contested and (some) won. Incredible creations and shows performed. Rainy day goofiness enjoyed and untold laughter shared. Friendships rekindled, newly made, and stamped for ‘forever.’ Heck, even the food was great!

In other words, 2018 was one of the best summers we’ve yet to enjoy. That said, I know we can make last summer jealous.

How? It’s simple: we do it together.

Here’s the Plan

First, camper back home needs to hug their parents and say ‘thank you’ for the gift of camp. It’s not a right, it’s not something that you are ‘owed.’ Instead, the gift of camp is something to celebrated. You get to go to camp! Show your gratitude by saying ‘thank you.’

Second, start to set your attitude to ‘let’s get it on!’ The key word in that phrase is the first one – let’s – since it implies lots of people in the party. We are not saying ‘I’m going to have a blast.’ Rather, it’s we us….

Third, we need to start practicing being courageous now. Remember, courage is like a muscle. If you train it, courage will grow and grow… without you getting sore one bit! Fail to use your courage and it will get smaller and weaker and more useless.

It’s a big deal to go to camp! Campers, you are away from home, living with a bunch of kids you may or may not know, exploring new activities, trying new food, and… gasp… having to make your bed. Every day!

However, with a grateful heart, increasing courage and an attitude set to ‘arms wide open’, you’ve got the makings of an incredible, jaw-dropping, unforgettable summer.

Summer 2019

New Basketball Courts? Check.

New Weelicious Cooking Studio? Check.

New Waterski boat? Check.

Updated Dining Hall? Check.

New Fashion Design Studio? Check.

Best staff in the business? Well… that’s subjective and lots of camps have great teams. However, are they the staff who best fit our vision of a great summer and can’t wait to create amazing for everyone? You bet!

Campers from all over the US and fourteen countries outside the US who can’t wait to make new friends, build new experiences, and have the time of their lives this summer?

Oh yeah!

Laughing, playing, learning, talking, eating and more together, we have a great chance at making Summer 2018 jealous of Summer ’19. We’ve got all the ingredients necessary. Let’s get in there together and stir the pot.

I don’t know about you but I can’t wait until camp!

Community and Camp

Posted Friday, December 14th, 2018 by

I enjoyed a conversation with a friend recently who had never experienced summer camp. Neither he, his bride, nor his children had ever been a part of our kind of party and was honestly asking what all the fuss was about.

I fumbled around a bit about the joy our campers feel, the crazy evening activities, the benefits of being outside, the ‘no technology’, etc. Then I hit on the theme, the principle, the core of the matter:

Community

The inter-web is ripe with studies and articles on the effect of loneliness in America right now. It’s a sad thing. Even with the rise of technology and general connectivity, there has actually been a fall in true connection – face to face, shoulder to shoulder interaction. Though connection has surged, we’ve not seen the benefits to the community.

Our kids today have little conception of the world before the tech we all now enjoy. (And, let’s face it – we do enjoy it!) Like any generation, they have a hard time looking at the world as a place in which a LOT of things happened before them.

They’ve no appreciation that, not long ago, community was built around the dinner table. Fast food and takeout weren’t around three generations ago. Before that, community was centered around the hearth and homestead… for a couple thousand years. Prior to that happy development, community was focused around the campfire… for tens of thousands of years.

There is something in us humans that reaches out for those much older ‘campfire’ days, days of stories and connection and dependence on each other.

In our modern world, we live longer, eat better, know more than any previous generation. There are so many wonders of the modern world – from the making of a ‘simple’ pencil to a mission to Mars – that it’s hard to fathom.

And yet… a lot of us are lonely. We are at risk of living a life with little meaningful connection. Even with all our wonderful, incredible advances, we yearn for the presence of interested, engaged others.

Community at Camp

In my experience, there is little out there that offers such a connection than summer camp. To quote Kurt Vonnegut:

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

That’s exactly what the right camp does for each child (and staff member!)

Not every camp is the right one for each child. That’s up to the child and the parent to decide upon. However, when you find the right fit, there is no better way to forge the connection to a community than summer camp.

You live together. You play together. You laugh, cry, argue, run, eat, rough-house, giggle and guffaw together. Each person is heading in the same direction, for the similar enough reasons, as the rest of the crew. Together.

When the power goes out, you all party like it’s 1718. When the thespians put on an incredible play, you all celebrate with them. When there is a birthday, you all sing and cheer. When taps is played, you all say ‘Goodnight, Camp Weequahic.’ When… well, you get the idea.

That is community. That is summer camp. And, I don’t know about you, but I want more of it.

Thanks for being a part of our community. Talk with you soon.

Hopeless… But Completely Worth It

Posted Friday, December 7th, 2018 by

While traveling to see families this past weekend, I got to speak with one of our very fun staff members. He told me a story from Summer ’18 that made me laugh and think a bit.

The outline is this: one of his campers spent a few rest-hours trying to teach him how to throw a baseball. While certainly athletic enough, our staff member is not from the States and had no idea what he was trying to do.

After about 30 minutes of instruction and failure and many laughs, the camper looked to him and said “You are hopeless… but completely worth it.”

Our staff member took it with a smile and agreement. While we moved on to different discussion points, that story, and that ending phrase in particular, stuck with me.

Let’s break it down a bit:

You Are Hopeless

I’ve been told, by 9-year-olds mind you, that I’m hopeless in the gaga pit. They may be right. Over my ten summers at Weequahic, I’m 0 for 457 in terms of wins. That’s right – I’ve never won a game.

I promise – it’s not for a lack of trying. But, more importantly, being hopeless has never stopped me from having a blast.

Sure, I could work at my quickness and flexibility and strategy to improve. But, let’s face it: this 45-year-old camp director is not going to put in that much effort. So, I’ll accept that title – hopeless – because I choose not to work at getting better.

There are lots of things in my life for which I would classified as ‘hopeless’ – brain surgery, ballet dancing, telling really good jokes, walking past Chef Daniel’s chocolate cookies without eating one, and so much more.

But….

I’m not trying to get better at any of those things. I’m lucky to know some great brain surgeons, I’ve met Baryshnikov (a lot of power packed into that small, creative frame), Kate is more than funny enough for the two of us, and the cookies are just too good!

Given enough time, effort and training, I would become something better than ‘hopeless’ in all of those categories. Well… maybe not walking past the cookies.

A wise man once told me the secret to the word ‘but.’ Whatever comes before it in a sentence is forgotten and replaced with whatever follows it. For example, ‘You are really a nice person but I’m choosing someone else.’ Or, ‘I like what you did there but it’s all wrong.’

You get the idea.

In fact, we’ve gone so far as to train our staff not to use the word ‘but’ in those situations. Instead, we use ‘and.’ By changing that one little word, it allows you to convey both a positive and a constructive criticism or piece of bad news without invalidating the positive.

But… (sorry, couldn’t resist) in this case, the word is a perfect choice. Because we are all…

Completely Worth It

This does not apply just to our erstwhile staff member who still can’t throw a baseball. It applies to all of us. We are ALL worth it. And, by ‘it’, I mean effort, attention, patience, kindness, caring, interest and love.

We talk to our staff members about the what, the how and the why of camp. The ‘what’ is pretty simple: we run a residential summer camp for boys and girls that is three or six weeks long. ‘How’ we do it? By creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude, and courage. The ‘why’ though… that’s the bedrock, the foundation.

For us, it’s because we are all worth it – the effort, attention, patience, kindness, caring, interest and love. It doesn’t matter if you are a first-time camper, a fourth-generation alum, the staff member who washes toilets or the one holding the clipboard.

Sure, you may be hopeless at a lot of things. But, we are all completely worth ‘it.’ And realizing that, at this festive time of year, may be the best present of all.

Happy Holidays, y’all. Talk with you next week.