Leadership Week

We are 2 full days into our Leadership Week where our Group Leaders, Program Directors, Division Heads and other leaders come together to learn from each other, our camp policies, how to be the best role model and form special bonds that make Bryn Mawr so unique.  Below is an excerpt from one of Dan’s Leadership Week sessions to our leadership staff of summer 2011.  We thought you would enjoy reading it.

LBMC is successful because we have leaders who set high standards and goals on cabin row and in program areas.  These strategies are developed and refined in the non summer months with the assistance of Bob Ditter and our full time staff.  They are implemented during our Spring Retreat and staff orientation.

This week – Leadership is about goals, values and concepts.

Our leadership team will set the tone and influence our camp environment and create the culture.

We set high standards and our values reflect the concern we have for our staff and campers.

These goals, values and concepts make up the LBMC culture and how our parents and campers judge us.

Welcome to LBMC Leadership Week and becoming part of the 91st chapter of our illustrious history.

Preparing You and Your Camper for Camp!

The below blog entry was written for us by Bob Ditter, a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Boston.  Bob has been working with the Bryn Mawr staff for the past eight years.  In addition to training our staff, Bob spends four days at camp during the summer “in the trenches” helping campers and staff.

As always, feel free to call or email if you have any questions or concerns!

Getting Ready for Camp
If you are the parent of a first time camper at Lake Bryn Mawr Camp and you are like most parents, you are probably both excited about the prospect of your child going off to camp and a little nervous. After all you are about to open a new chapter in your family’s story—the start of a new adventure for your daughter! Camp professionals have been helping kids become more independent for years, and Dan and Jane Kagan are among the best at helping girls find their own voice while putting families at ease with the entire process. Dan and Jane think of camp as “life experience with training wheels”—a powerful way to add to and enhance the many strengths your daughter can develop. The Kagans see this as their true business. What your daughter will talk about are all the friends she is making and all the activities she is doing, like horseback riding, gymnastics, dance, theater, swimming or arts and crafts. What seasoned camp families know, however, is that by being at camp their daughters are becoming even more self-reliant, confident and self-assured. In other words, Bryn Mawr teaches coping skills for girls while having the time of their lives!

So what can you do as a parent to get yourself and your daughter ready for this life-enhancing experience we call camp? Having been involved with camp for over thirty years I have a few ideas that I’d like to share with you.

Getting Yourself Ready
First, notice that when I posed the question about what you can do to get your daughter ready for camp I included you in the process! There are 4 pieces of advice I offer to help you as the parent get ready for camp!

  • As parents you need to be absolutely clear with yourself about the reasons you signed your daughter up for camp in the first place. Whether it was to make new friends, learn new skills or learn to fend for herself in a safe and supportive environment, you need to put those reasons “front and center” in your thinking and not lose track of them when you inevitably have a sad feeling about seeing your child off on the camp bus next month! As I often tell parents, one of the best things we can do for our children is to encourage them to take on the world in a healthy and sustainable way. Camp offers the perfect opportunity for helping widen your daughter’s horizons.
  • Reassure yourself as a parent that you’ve done your job. All the advice, coaching, caring and goodwill is in there. Trust the job you have done. Your daughter has it in her! You are simply letting her try out her wings even if it means she hits a bump or two along the way! There are many caring adults at camp to help her on her way!
  • Have allies!  Letting kids go—off to camp, off to college, off on a long trip without you—is an emotionally charged event.  Let your friends, colleagues, or spouses support you emotionally as you adjust to the “child sickness” you may occasionally feel.
  • Take advantage of the new freedom you will have and make some plans! One of the best things you can do to develop your child’s independence is to have a life of your own. When children see their parents thriving and enjoying their adult lives it helps them think about growing up in a much more positive light. Parents sometimes tell me they feel guilty enjoying themselves when their children are away, but this is n fact a key to healthy living.

Inoculating your child against homesickness

Many parents ask about what they can do to minimize homesickness. First, let’s remember that homesickness is a natural phenomenon most kids experience and survive! That said, here are some ideas about what you can do to help your daughter get ready for camp:

  • Involve them in shopping for camp, maybe even doing some packing together.
  • Pack a favorite personal item, like a T-shirt, cap, small stuffed animal.
  • Have the child “practice” showering, sleeping over at friends or relatives and writing letters. (Most children today don’t write letters, so get them pre-addressed envelops and practice!)
  • Talk with them about the fun things they will be doing at camp. It can even help to watch the camp DVD together as a way of generating some ideas.
  • Share your own stories about your first times away from home, but keep it short and positive!
  • Point out what your daughter does well and how that will be an asset to her at camp.
  • Post a letter to your new camper a few days before she leaves for camp so it will be there on the first day when she arrives.

If your daughter does become homesick, tell her this is normal, that once she makes friends she will feel better and that you believe in her! Remember that children get caught up in “the moment,” and that even intense feelings eventually pass. I have seen children at camp speaking in desperate terms to their parents on the phone, only to be smiling and having fun minutes later while leaving their parents feeling devastated! Work with the well trained and experienced folks at camp and your daughter will grow from the experience!

Other conversations to have with your daughter before she comes to camp:

  • Every camper is part of a group and as your parent we expect you to cooperate and help out.
  • If you are having a problem, your counselor is there to help you.  Don’t wait to tell us, you can tell your counselor.  Be honest and ask for what you need.
  • If your counselor doesn’t help or is part of what makes you uncomfortable, talk to your Division Leader, Marjori, Max or Pilar.
  • Clean-up is part of camp; you do it everyday; we expect you to participate.
  • There are many new things at camp and you may not like them all or be as good at some as you are at others.  We expect you to try!
  • Go about making a new friend or two.  If you are timid about meeting someone new, ask about what they like and be a good listener. Your counselor can help you with this!
  • Not everyone has to be your friend, and you don’t have to be everyone else’s friend.  If you have one or two good friends at camp, that’s great!
  • Have fun and tell us all about it on your first call home!

Making a Difference: Camp and Community Service

Everybody knows camp is a great experience for the kids who get to go — they learn new things, make new friends, and have great adventures. But we think camp can be more than a fantastic place for campers. It can also be a place where they learn how to give back and make the world a little bit better for other people.

Community service is an experience more and more camps are incorporating into their programming. The parents we’ve talked to say they like knowing that they’re sending their children to a place where not only are they going to get a great personal experience, but they’re going to learn that giving back can feel just as good as getting. Dan (along with many of his fellow campers and, later, counselors) learned this lesson as a young man from his own camp director, Morry Stein of Camp Echo Lake. When Morry died unexpectedly in a 1994 plane crash, Project Morry (formerly Morry’s Camp) was founded to honor his vision of providing a quality summer camp experience to all children. Since 2003, Bryn Mawr campers have been swimming sponsored laps to raise money to support Morry’s Camp. Over the years our campers have raised more than $110,000, and all of our Bunk 1 campers have had the opportunity to visit Morry’s Camp, get to know the campers and see firsthand the good work that is done there for young people who don’t have the same advantages afforded many of our Bryn Mawr Campers.

This year, for the first time, the American Camp Association is organizing a coordinated volunteer effort among member camps through an initiative called Making a Difference: Celebrating 150 Years of the Camp Experience through Community Service. This summer is the 150th anniversary of the first summer camp opening in the United States, and to mark the occasion, many ACA camps will be participating in a week dedicated to community service, July 17-23. Camps across the country — even as far away as Alaska! — will be sharing the positive impact of summer camp by taking part in projects to benefit their communities (local, regional, national and international). The ACA says:

“By participating in this week of community service, camps will honor and celebrate 150 years of ‘paying it forward.’ When we teach children and youth to contribute to the world around them, we are fostering personal growth and development. And with over 60 percent of parents reporting that their child continues to participate in activities learned at camp, you can plant the seeds that grow into a lifetime of service to communities… one child at a time.”

Camps are planning projects that include assisting with Habitat for Humanity home construction, assisting at events in communities near their camps, visiting retirement homes, restoring local trails, inviting underprivileged children to participate in camp special events, and fundraising for causes like Morry’s Camp.  More on our specific projects in the Spring Poplar Post newsletter.

We’re excited to be part of a project that will not only get campers out into their local communities and serve as an example of the positive impact of summer camp, but will give all our campers the opportunity to feel like part of something bigger than themselves and show them how great it can feel to help others — at camp, at home, and throughout their lives!

Developing our Leadership Staff

Not Pictured: Audrey Fendell, Alicia Fidelman & Peter Lai

Recently on the blog, we’ve talked about how we help campers develop leadership skills. Being a leader isn’t a task that’s ever complete — leadership is an ongoing process of growth and development. Early spring is the time of year at camp when our senior staff — the leaders of the leaders at camp — focus on continuing to develop their own leadership skills. Here are a few of the things we do to keep growing:

Tri-State Camp Conference

One weekend each March, we gather with other camp directors and staff members for the American Camp Association’s Tri-State Camp Conference in Atlantic City. “Tri-State” is the nation’s largest conference for camping professionals, and we are amazed that no matter how many times we go, we always learn something new! This year’s Tri-State keynote speakers were Seth Godin (a bestselling author, marketing pioneer, blogger, Business Week’s “ultimate entrepreneur for the information age” and former Camp Arowhon camper) and Jean Kilbourne, recognized for her groundbreaking work in the exploration of the connection between messages in popular culture and their effects on girls and women. We also got to hear from some camp favorites (speakers like Bob Ditter, Jay Frankel and Michael Brandwein), and share some knowledge of our own. Drew volunteers on the program committee as the liaison between the professional speakers and the American Camp Association and Britton ran two roundtable discussions — one on being a head counselor, and one on the challenges of being a woman in camping. At past conferences, Bryn Mawr leadership team members have helped lead sessions on programming, facility management/safety and working with campers and staff.

Tri-State gives us a chance not only to hear from experts in child and staff development, but to reconnect with our colleagues in the camping industry to share ideas and best practices to keep making camp safer, more fun and more rewarding for campers and counselors alike.

Training with Bob Ditter

We have been fortunate enough, over the past eight years, to have developed a fantastic working relationship with the incredibly insightful Bob Ditter. Bob is a clinical social worker who dedicates part of his Boston-based practice to helping summer camps ensure positive experiences for their campers, staff and parents. Over the years Bob has visited camp many times to help train our counselors and talk with campers, and last week he sat down with Jane, Britton and our division heads to begin preparing for the summer. Bob works with our leadership team to help them work well together and provide an emotionally and physically safe environment for campers and staff. If you read this week’s blog post from Jocelyn Glantz, a Bryn Mawr parent and our new Junior Camp assistant division head, you’ve gotten an honest firsthand reaction to one of Bob’s leadership training sessions!

Annual spring leadership retreat

Each spring, we gather together our entire leadership team — directors and assistant directors, division heads and key staff members — to begin preparing for camp in earnest. It’s important to us that our leadership staff are on the same page as Jane and Dan when it comes to camp philosophy, policies and practices, and the leadership retreat held at camp is one of the steps we take to ensure that’s the case.

At this year’s leadership retreat, held the first weekend in April, we introduced new key staff members and gave the team an update on how things are shaping up for the summer — enrollment and staffing, operations and calendar overviews, and any business we need to take care of as we head into the camp season.

The rest of the weekend is spent talking about ways we can continue to improve the camp experience for our campers and staff, and making plans for the summer. We share the new knowledge we picked up at Tri-State, talk about what worked well last summer and what needs to be updated, and brainstorm new ideas for activities, special events and other fun additions to camp. Some of this is done in small groups (the division heads might talk about some camper-specific topics while operations staff discuss the physical running of camp), but major decisions are made by the whole group. For example, one of the questions our full leadership team discussed this year: How do we continue to make the camp experience valuable to parents while creating lasting memories with their children? How do we keep things fresh and exciting? This led to a variety of suggestions: Junior Camp division head Marjori Schecter will work with campers to create end-of-summer photo collages. Ty Widman, our director of adventure, will lead small groups of campers who want to learn outdoors skills, like how to build a campfire. And don’t be surprised if your daughter tells you about taking a moonlit barefoot walk on Wembley Field (supervised, of course) or a trip to the Court of America with Senior Camp division head Max Matovic to look at the stars, or sends you a photo of herself with her Peanut Mom, explaining camp traditions.

These are just a few of the ideas we came up with for keeping parents connected to their campers and camp life. And that was just one of many fruitful conversations we had over the weekend. Our leadership staff members have hundreds of summers at camp between them, and we value the knowledge and experience they bring to the table.

If you have any questions about the ways we continue to promote leadership development year-round, we’d love to talk about it with you!

Leadership Weekend: A Parent Perspective

So, what is it like to make the transition from parent to staff at Bryn Mawr?  This past weekend I had an insider’s view and was so impressed that I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

As a parent, I felt completely confident in my decision to send my girls to Bryn Mawr.  I knew that the philosophy represented the same values that my husband and I shared at home and it was clear that my girls were well cared for in a safe environment. But this weekend, I had the opportunity to see Bryn Mawr from a completely different perspective.

Of course, in the winter that never seems to end, last Friday was a cold, snowy day even though the calendar reminded us that it was April.   But, this was a weekend I didn’t want to miss. My first stop was Dan and Jane’s house in New Jersey for a day of professional development with Bob Ditter.  Wow…honestly, that is all I can say.  I knew that Bob served as a consultant to our camp but didn’t really know the depth of his connection.  He is a clinical social worker extraordinaire and I wish he could come live in my house.  Since that is not likely, I feel so fortunate that he comes to camp during the summer to work with our staff and children. Bob only works with a few select camps and we are extremely lucky to benefit from his expertise.

Then, after an enriching day with Bob, it was time to go to Bryn Mawr.  As I drove on the familiar roads up to camp, the trees were all bare, the sky was grey and everything looked quite different from the summer.  I pulled into the empty parking lot and I must admit I was a bit nervous.  Dan, Jane, Britton, Drew and the rest of the leadership staff were meeting at camp for Leadership Weekend.

From the moment I arrived, the atmosphere was as warm and welcoming as the environment that my daughters experience during the summer.  The leadership at Bryn Mawr is a close group of intelligent women and men.  Everybody took the time to introduce themselves and gave me an overview of their role at camp.  I was immediately struck by the genuine affection, admiration and respect they all seemed to have for each other.  What a wonderful example for my girls.

As we participated in team building activities and discussed ideas for the summer, I was overwhelmed not by the challenges that were ahead of me, but by the strengths of the team that leads our camp.  Their dedication to our children, and to the staff that takes care of them, is incredibly impressive.  Through each discussion, they tried to anticipate everybody’s needs and continuously asked, “How can we do this better?”  As a person who has always relied on her instincts, it felt so good to have all of my feelings validated.

I drove home this morning exhilarated by the weekend and excited to take on my new role within the Bryn Mawr family.

Bunk One Weekend and Traditions

We recently got back from a fantastic weekend at camp.

You might be wondering: Camp? In March?

Absolutely! One weekend every March, we mark an incredibly important event at camp: The Bunk One March Meeting. Jane, Dan, Britton, Drew, Pilar and Ty gather at camp for a special weekend with the ninth grade girls who will be our oldest campers — our Bunk One campers. The March Meeting is the very first official event of their Bunk One summer, and the girls have looked forward to it for years — some of them since they were tiny Manor House campers, or even before they started at camp, if they came to see older sisters and cousins on Visiting Day!

The March Meeting is an important milestone for our “Super Seniors.” Not only do the girls take care of some major business like picking special Bunk One uniform and selecting the top-secret themes for their Color War teams, but we take that time to help them start thinking about what it means to be the leaders at camp.

Bunk One is a special experience not just because it’s the final summer as a camper, but because our Bunk One campers serve as peer leaders for the rest of camp. They captain the teams in our annual Color War, lead cheers in the dining hall and the nightly singing of the Alma Mater, and help out with younger girls’ cabins during weekly leadership evenings and during special events. During the March Meeting, we talk to the girls about their leadership role in camp and what will be expected of them as leaders, but the truth is that they’ve been preparing to take the leadership mantle for years.

While Bunk One campers are the most visible leaders among our campers, those leadership skills don’t just magically materialize when campers finish the ninth grade. They’ve been learning leadership skills throughout their summers at camp, both by seeing them modeled by counselors and older campers and by learning how to be good leaders on the playing field and in program areas. We teach campers that being a leader means being kind to one another, and it means knowing how to “do the right thing” even when it doesn’t seem like the easy thing.

By the time they get to Bunk One, campers have been developing leadership skills for many summers, and one of the reasons campers look forward to their Bunk One summer — in fact, maybe the biggest reason — is that Bunk One plays an important leadership role in many of the girls’ favorite camp traditions. From secrecy-shrouded Chocolate Banana Night and the excitement of the weeklong Color War that caps off the summer to routine events like mealtime cheers and Friday night talent shows, Bunk One campers take the lead, getting camp spirit high and helping younger girls learn how camp traditions work. By watching them and following their example, younger girls learn that being a leader is something that’s fun and something to look forward to — and an important part of growing up at camp.

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National Bullying Prevention Week

Bullying occurs when someone gets hurt or scared by another person.  Bullying can be calling someone hurtful names, spreading rumors, being mean, physically hurting someone, excluding others, sending mean texts or photos electronically, or being threatened.  Bullying and cyber-bullying are at an all time high and affects millions of students across the country.  Bullying has no boundaries, but no one deserves, nor should tolerate being bullied.  We must all stand together and speak out against bullying.

Today ends National Bullying Prevention Week.  Across our country everyone has been coming together to heighten awareness, in order to help others.  Dateline aired a segment called “My Kid Would Never Bully” on March 6th (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600/).   President Obama hosted the first White House conference on bullying and reflected on his own personal experience with bullying.  Celebrities are joining forces to speak out – Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Jay Z, just to name a few.

LBMC works diligently not only during the summer, but throughout the year to enforce our no bullying policy.  Here are just a few of the ways in which we work to keep Bryn Mawr a safe haven for all of our campers and staff:

  • Staff Training: This is a crucial piece of successful bullying prevention.  Not only do we address bullying during several sessions at Orientation, but there is on- going training and discussion throughout the summer.  We give staff the tools they need to recognize bullying behaviors and train them to set clear expectations with their campers. Conflict Resolution is taught in order to be pro-active.  We help girls to be able to communicate with one another in a safe, comfortable, and non-judgmental environment.   Most importantly, our directors and leadership staff model appropriate behavior by being present on cabin row, at programs, and in the dining room everyday.
  • Girls Circle: This is a nationally recognized model for support groups for girls.  It provides a forum for girls to express themselves and their ideas in a safe environment.  Several members of our leadership team are certified trainers, and this program is offered to girls ages 8-14.  (http://www.girlscircle.com/)
  • Conferences: Directors attend conferences to keep up on the latest research and theories on girl’s development, relationships, and aggression.  (Girl Meets World Training with Rachel Simmons, Ophelia Project conferences, American Camping Association conferences, etc.)
  • Hands on Directors: We are hands on in cabins working with individual campers and are developing relationships so that girls feel comfortable to speak up and to ask for help if they need it.  Daily meetings are held with Division Heads and Group Leaders to check on each camper and how they are doing at camp.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: Every Friday night, girls come up on stage to acknowledge someone who has done something nice for them.
  • Outside Resources: Bob Ditter is a senior level clinical social worker who has worked with over 400 camps.  Bob is a year round consultant for Bryn Mawr and works with our leadership team year round.  He is also an integral part of staff orientation as well as staff training during the summer. (www.bobditter.com)

We go to great lengths to protect our campers while at camp.  The following links might be helpful in recognizing the signs of bullying and in learning about what parents can do to help:

  • Joel Haber is a Clinical Psychologist.  For 20 years he has worked on the prevention of bullying behaviors in children and adults. For more information please visit http://www.respectu.com/.
  • The government has recently launched a website that can be a useful tool for kids, teens, young adults, parents, educators and the community.  http://www.stopbullying.gov/.
  • The mission of The Ophelia Project is to serve “youth and adults who are affected by relational and other non-physical forms of aggression by providing them with a unique combination of tools, strategies and solutions.” Please visit them at http://www.opheliaproject.org.

Seven-Week All Girls Camping

A while back, we posted about “summer sisters” and the friendships that are formed at camp. Friendship is the number one reason campers love Bryn Mawr and come back summer after summer, but it’s only part of the picture. Seven-week camping — particularly in a girls-only atmosphere — offers a huge range of opportunities, advantages, and experiences campers just couldn’t have in any other setting.

We always like to say that “a day at camp is like a week in the real world.” That’s because we pack more into a single day than could ever fit into one 24-hour period back home. In one single day, a camper can literally go from the pool to the climbing wall to the riding ring to a tennis lesson to a soccer game to a play rehearsal, all before dinner, and then fit in a game of tennis at campus time before performing in an all-camp talent show. Multiply that by seven days a week, and then by seven weeks, and you can start to see just how much instruction and activity we pack into every summer at camp.

A seven-week session gives campers the opportunity to make incredible strides in skill development. Camp alone can’t make your child a great dancer, soccer player, rider, actor, artist or gymnast, but we do provide high-level instruction on a daily basis to help her learn, grow and build lifelong skills in all the activities she enjoys. Younger campers experience a taste of everything camp has to offer, and as girls get older they can choose to spend more time focusing on and improving in the activities they enjoy the most.

Seven-week sessions also let campers see long-term projects through from beginning to end. In our glass fusing program, for example, campers start out at the beginning of the summer with a blank piece of paper and a pencil; over the course of seven weeks, those projects go all the way from an idea and a sketch to a fully-realized, completed work of art. And at the same time, they’re also improving their jump shots, perfecting their serves, and taking first steps toward learning completely new activities, like weight training, field hockey or stagecraft.

We think there’s something particularly special about single-sex camps that helps amplify all the benefits of full-season camping. One of the best things about Bryn Mawr is that, in the all-girls environment, campers feel completely comfortable and free to try new things. The camp uniform policy means campers aren’t wrapped up in appearances, and with no boys around, the focus is really on camp activities. When girls aren’t worried about impressing anyone else, they’re much less reluctant to try something new, and consequently they’re far more willing to take on new experiences. That willingness to try new things translates quickly to building new skills, learning new activities — and taking advantage of all the opportunities they’re offered, all summer long.

Most of all (and we just can’t say this enough), a seven-week, all-girls environment is an incubator for lifelong friendships. Campers are encouraged to compete in healthy ways — not over clothes or boys, but on the playing field, with good sportsmanship (or should we say sportswomanship?) — and, after the game is over, they walk back to their cabins with their arms around each other, confident in themselves and in friendships that have formed over many games, many meals, many shared achievements, and many, many days at camp. Our campers talk about “living ten months for two” — spending the year waiting to get back to their summer home at Bryn Mawr, where they can grow and try new things, surrounded by staff and fellow campers they know want them to succeed and feel good about themselves.

Staffing & The Hiring Process

When we meet people and tell them we’re camp directors, the number one question we hear is: “But what do you do all winter?” If they only knew! It really does take a whole year to plan for camp, and work is already beginning on the next summer as soon as the buses roll off Main Campus in August.

One of the biggest projects we have to handle is hiring staff members. During the summer, we employ more than 200 staff members. Even with a 40% staff return rate (over 90% for leadership staff), we still need to hire, a handful of leadership staff, counselors and support staff.  An average of three to four staff members are hired each week to make sure all our positions are filled by the time we’re ready to open summer camp. Continue reading “Staffing & The Hiring Process”

Summer Sisters: Friendships, Experience and Returning to Summer Camp for Girls

Summer Sisters

Have you ever heard the phrase “summer sisters”? If you didn’t go to sleepaway camp as a child, you might not know what we’re talking about. For girls who grow up going to camp, “summer sisters” are the friends they make at the lunch table, in the bunk, on the tennis courts, or around the campfire — the friends with whom they share a special bond for life. Summer sisters grow up to be college roommates, bridesmaids, godmothers, and friends for life — the kind of friend you can call up when you’re feeling down and know she’ll be able to say just the thing to make you forget all your troubles. Continue reading “Summer Sisters: Friendships, Experience and Returning to Summer Camp for Girls”