Loyalty means being true, faith and honor in all we do. Beauty is in more than skin, beauty comes from deep within. Merit is working hard all day, developing virtue along the way. Comradeship is being a friend, loving others ‘til the end. As Bryn Mawr Angels we’ll uphold these four values: the Angel Code.
When I first started working at Bryn Mawr I had no idea just how much that paragraph up there would change my life. I thought I was in for a one-time deal, a summer job that would let me experience the East Coast and maybe an introduction to sleep-away camp that I had never had before. Imagine my surprise to find myself sitting here, in my 7th summer, writing this blog!
You know that Bryn Mawr is a unique place, a place that fosters lifelong friendships—‘summer sisters’. A place where your Angel can be free to express herself and to try new things. A place where she can roll out of bed, throw on a uniform, and greet the day where the emphasis is on her experience rather than her appearance. It is a place where the Angel Code is so deeply entrenched that it is a part of every activity and every program lesson.
I am here to tell you that Bryn Mawr is a unique place for a completely different reason, and one you might not have even considered. The staff, a team of professionals who are here doing what they do best—inspiring, leading, teaching. The staff, who come back summer after summer for the very same reason your daughters do! The Angel Philosophy and what it means in our lives also. The staff at Bryn Mawr genuinely understand the magnitude of the responsibility they have been given for the summer—your children! Understanding that responsibility makes the four virtues in the Angel Philosophy that much more important because in order to teach it and pass it along we need to feel it, embrace it, and allow it to change our lives just as surely as it changes the lives of the campers. And I am here to testify that it does!
I will be writing more about the Angel Code as the summer goes on. I will be looking for those situations that exemplify the Angel Philosophy so that I can share it with all of you and give you not only a glimpse into the summer home that your Angels love so much but also just why the staff here are so inspired and passionate and even awestruck to be working at LBMC.
Today, we hosted a parent panel for our staff members. It allows selected parents to explain why they chose Bryn Mawr, what they expect and would like from our counselors. It also allows our staff to ask questions and get first hand answers from our parents. Through staff evaluations, we have found that this session historically rates as the most meaningful during the week. Below is an email we received last year from one of those parents who participated in this session.
It is not often that a person gets invited to look inside the guts of a business, a restaurant, a hotel, a school or even a home. And, for good reason, most of us don’t really want to know what is on the inside – as long as the person, product or end result is what we wanted, we feel good about it. Simply put, when you don’t want to risk the chance of falling out of love with something because you see too much – sometimes its just easier not to go inside.
I never really wanted to see inside LBMC. In fact, I never really thought deeply enough about the inner workings of a girls camp to care. I just knew that it was considered a great camp that was safe and seemingly well–run. That is, until I had the chance to go deep inside. I wasn’t invited in at the time the camp was fully operational with kids – rather, I had the chance to see under the hood at the most vulnerable time for a camp or a business – when it is not yet open for business, when everything is exposed, when people are who they are – no pretenses, no show, no nothing. It’s one thing to see a camp fully functioning with happy kids – it’s another to see what happens behind the scenes – and to gain a better understanding of why the kids are in a place to be happy.
What I saw and experienced, even surprised me – a 15-year camp veteran who held a senior leadership position in a respected boys camp for many years. I saw a team of professionals doing what they do best – teaching, leading, inspiring and digging deep. I saw young women and even a few men absolutely soaking up the lessons and opportunity. I saw a culture being articulated and understood and most of all, embraced. I saw people at work who genuinely understood the magnitude of the responsibility ahead. To many of the young women I spoke to, this wasn’t just a summer job, but an opportunity of a lifetime. That alone made me feel great about where my daughter was heading in a few short days.
I followed the counselors training schedule for an afternoon. It was jam-packed with activities – real learning opportunities, both for them to learn about their responsibilities as well as for the camp’s leadership to learn about them. Few businesses go to the lengths to train full time year round employees like LBMC does with their staff. They understand the psychology and attention necessary to prepare their team for our children.
One of my highlights was getting to watch the “traditions” presentation and sing the camp’s alma mater. It was moving – the camaraderie, the commitment and the detail of what my daughter was about to experience. It was incredible to see snippets of every major tradition and planned highlight of the summer.
But, there was more. I was put to work. I had the honor (at first I didn’t understand it) of serving dinner and breakfast. I had the chance to personally interact with people of all different backgrounds from across the country and globe. I got to experience a genuine warmth and gratitude from the staff – just for putting eggs on their plate. It was an amazing feeling.
I also had a chance to spend time with the male staff and to replace all the beds and mattresses. There was nothing wrong with any of the oak framed beds and most of the mattresses were in fine shape – when I asked why – I was told that we wanted to build new beds that were more appropriate for our campers. They didn’t have to, and quite honestly no one would know they ever changed them out, but they did it anyway. It is the story that I saw replicated again and again – from the bunks to the kitchen to the fields. It was also a reinforcement of the type of people that are employed by the camp and the unusual level of commitment to doing it right – because it is the right thing to do.
I also got to see something that I wish I fully appreciated for my daughter over the first 2 years she has been at camp. I saw Jane and Dan and their full leadership team meet for more than 4 hours discussing every single counselor in excruciating detail – going through their backgrounds, their job interviews and the notes from the days training sessions so they could perfectly match the personality and skill set to a particular set of campers. At the end of the four hours, when I thought they were done, they shared that this meeting would be repeated at least 4 other times – not including the hundreds of the sidebar conversations about each of the individual counsellors. And, that there were exercises designed to provide even greater exploration and assurance that the decisions they had made, were in fact the correct ones.
I had always hoped that my daughter’s counselor would be well vetted and trained. And, I had hoped that the camp would give her a good counselor. I never, in all my years in camping, have seen the absolute obsession with getting it right – for the kids and the counselors. It is as close to a science and an art as any professional placement I have ever seen.
There is never a guarantee that a child is going to be happy. But, by going to the lengths they do, they give every child a chance. They put each child, long before they get to camp, the chance to be herself and to succeed.
I wasn’t just there to look inside for the fun of it. In reality, it was accidental. I was there as part of a specific staff training exercise (and since I live far away, I had to fly in the day before). Along with 3 other parents, I was invited for a one hour session to talk to staff from a parent’s perspective (and in my case, not just a dad but a former counselor, group leader.)
Before last summer this had never been done before at LBMC, or probably any camp around the US. Remember, a camp counselor is not a parent, but a young woman who acts as a parent, an older sister and friend for the seven weeks our daughters are at camp. Jane and Dan believe it is important to not only have experts come in and train staff, but actual parents. The result was an understanding of why we entrust our daughters to LBMC, and what we hope they will get out of the summer. The counselors left with an even deeper respect for their role and an understanding that every child is some mom and dad’s little girl, and that individual needs to be understood for who she is and loved all summer.
As I left camp on Father’s Day, away from my family after spending two days as an insider, I realized that the greatest gift I could have ever been given, was given that day – the absolute understanding that my daughter is in the safest, most loving and caring environment with people who not only know, but are truly committed to doing it right.
Jane and Dan are the difference. I have never seen two people so committed to others – employees and campers alike. They demonstrated an understanding that that regardless of the history, the rich traditions, the activities, the friendships — it is the individual that matters – from top to bottom and everyone in between. As they shared, some people may think knowing a name is important – what is important at LBMC, is really knowing the child — each child, each family, each counselor and each other. I learned that its not the surface conversation, but the in-depth understanding and connection that makes the camp what it is.
As I left camp, after feeling that I had been there for the summer, I was flooded with emotion. I don’t remember ever being as awestruck, inspired or passionate about something as I am about LBMC.
Now, I can only wait with absolute excitement and childlike anticipation for my daughter’s bus to arrive at camp in 4 days for what I know is the beginning of an amazing summer with people who know her and care for her deeply. Thank you for allowing me inside. Thank you for letting me see it the way that it truly is. Thank you for doing it right. And, thank you for loving my daughter for who she is.
In past blog posts, we’ve talked about how we teach our campers to be role models. One important part of that process is providing campers with great staff role models who can show them what good leadership looks like. And we spend a lot of time working with our staff members to help them, in turn, understand how they can model great behaviors for our campers. We really meant it when we said the learning never stops, even for our directors and leadership staff!
We start off each summer with two weeklong sessions designed just for our staff members, to get them geared up for the season, ready to do their jobs and make camp the best experience possible for our Bryn Mawr Angels. During Leadership Week, our group leaders, program directors and other key staff members spend their days reacquainting themselves with camp, talking about Bryn Mawr philosophies and preparing to welcome a new crop of counselors.
At the end of Leadership Week, we welcome our entire staff — returning counselors as well as new staff members who made it through our rigorous recruiting process — for Staff Week, a special week of camp planned just for our general staff.
We plan Bryn Mawr Staff Week with five goals in mind:
1. Introduce staff to camp: facility, policies, procedures, etc. 2. Make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in their surroundings. 3. Help staff understand what their role is at camp. 4. Prepare for the arrival of campers. 5. Make sure all staff members understand the LBMC camp philosophy.
We believe our Staff Week is one of the most unique counselor orientation programs in summer camping. Lots of camps do a fantastic job of helping their staff members learn rules, traditions and emergency procedures, and while all those important topics are covered during Bryn Mawr’s Staff Week, we strive to make our staff training an experience that immerses counselors in camp life so they really understand what it means to be part of the Bryn Mawr family. We provide information in unconventional ways — for example, instead of just going over uniform rules, our group leaders put on a uniform do’s-and-don’ts fashion show, and instead of explaining what the surprise breakout for an all-camp special event like Color War or Olympics is, we organize a scaled-down special event so counselors can get a taste of camp at its most spirited. We’ve found over the years that these unusual (and entertaining) methods of teaching counselors about camp are extremely effective in helping staff really understand what Bryn Mawr is all about. Our counselors don’t just learn about camp from a handbook or an informational speech, they get to experience it for themselves before the campers ever arrive.
During Staff Week, we give counselors as realistic a camp experience as possible, introducing them to Bryn Mawr traditions and spirit, orienting them to the campus and the daily schedule, and getting them up to speed on rules and policies. Just as important as the nuts and bolts of daily camp life, though, are the sessions on leadership, role modeling and working with girls. Counselors reflect on who they were as children and what they wanted and needed from the adults around them. We talk about what it means to be a leader and a role model and how we can all model positive behaviors for our campers. We give counselors opportunities to practice positive leadership through role play scenarios. We bring in camp guru Bob Ditter to provide in-depth training. We even bring in camp parents to talk to the staff about their hopes and expectations for their daughters. Staff Week is all about understanding camp and understanding the important leadership role of a counselor.
Counselors finish the week excited about camp, ready to meet their campers — and prepared to assume the responsibilities of being great leaders and role models! But the training doesn’t stop once the campers arrive. We continue to provide ongoing leadership training throughout the summer in weekly staff meetings and through one-on-one and small group sessions. Bob Ditter returns to camp later in the summer as well, to check in with the staff and work with individual counselors. From the moment they set foot on campus to the morning they set off for home in August, counselors are learning just as much as campers what it means to be a role model — and passing those lessons on to Bryn Mawr campers.