As the snow begins to pile up at camp, we begin the process of assembling the elements of our staff for the upcoming summer. Counting a fairly high staff return rate (over 50%) allows us to enjoy continuity and strength in our mission and feel confident that the grand majority of our counselors care deeply about youth development and understand the value of a Winnebago summer.
Building upon the blocks of our returning staff, a new group of Winnebago alumni annually joins the staff ranks and we are happy that we will have another strong group of returning alumni in 2018. Understanding camp from a camper perspective and then spending four years away from camp (counselors must be 19 years old or completed one year of college), alumni staff have a unique perspective on camp that helps inform their work and their colleagues in a variety of ways. During our week-long Staff and Leadership Training (SALT), alumni staff help their peers understand the lessons they learned from former counselors, ways in which successful counselors cultivated meaningful relationships, and how counselors can create an atmosphere of trust and safety so campers can more easily stretch their comfort zones in order to grow.
Camp is not only for the campers. Being a counselor at Camp Winnebago is personally rewarding and provides valuable experience that can be parlayed into giving staff a leg up when they enter the world of full time employment. Being a counselor involves consistent decision-making and leadership opportunities, conflict resolution, listening, planning, and working with a large group of people in a constantly changing landscape. During SALT, we teach real world skills including: effective communication, lesson planning, group dynamics and problem solving. During the summer we augment that learning and support our staff with a 360-evaluation process, weekly staff meetings and on the job training. The skill sets developed as camp counselors are consistently lauded by business leaders as invaluable in creating high functioning employees and future leaders.
By recruiting, hiring and training intelligent, thoughtful and hardworking individuals to be Winnebago counselors, we create an atmosphere where campers enjoy enriching experiences, build skills and enjoy relationships that last a lifetime. And, in becoming amazing counselors, our staff develops skills that in turn help them gain a leg up in their burgeoning careers.
The Summer of the Elements, it is truly elemental!
Each year we choose a theme, which creates the framework for the entire summer. The theme is integrated into staff training, summer t-shirts, campfires and beyond.
The theme for 2018 is:
The Summer of the Elements
Whether in the realm of science, mathematics or weather, Elements are the building blocks that unite to create a greater system. For 99 summers, Winnebagans have gathered on the shores of Echo Lake experiencing Winnebago’s building blocks. Excellent role models, a diverse program, and deep and real friendships are combined to create a set of unique experiences allowing campers to flourish and develop into their best selves.
We are excited to see how the Elements come together in 2018 to create yet another unforgettable Summer!
Through informational sources, children begin to formulate their worldview and value system. This process in past generations happened in a much more micro manner. Young people gained information from their families, through interaction with their school and community and via books, articles and conversations. Families sat down around one media source (the family television) and watched a show together and often processed the content as a family unit. Those days are over, according to research by C&R Research, 22 percent of young children (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18) own a cell phone. What this means is children are left to gather, interpret, navigate and process information largely on their own.
It is essential that parents create an atmosphere where their children feel comfortable processing all of this information. There are some useful strategies that we teach camp counselors each summer, which are also applicable to parenting that relate to creating an environment where campers feel the freedom, safety and desire to open up about complex feelings and thoughts. Here are a few of the tips.
1. Create a structured time where you check in with your son. Each night counselors take the time to check in with all of the campers. They use games like High – Low – Hero, where campers offer the high point, low point and a person who was a hero for them that day. Children appreciate structure, it makes them feel safe and if you consistently create a structured way to express their thoughts, they will naturally begin to open up to ideas tangential to the original topic.
2. Pay attention to invitations to talk about difficult subjects. Children take indirect routes to talk about difficult subjects. As adults, helping children open up about complex issues, we have to be very mindful and aware. When a child says something like, “I don’t like mean people”, they may be opening the door for you to explore the interaction they had recently relating to someone acting mean.
3. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. When they open up about an interaction they had, ask them how it made them feel or what they thought of that person or instance.
4. Talk less, listen more. Avoid using your conversation as a time to let your child know what they should or should not be doing/thinking/saying.
5. Avoid killer statements. A killer statement is any phrase that shuts down their process of exploration. Killer statements can be as blatant as “Well that’s just silly/stupid.” Or as subtle as, “I can’t believe that happened at school”. A statement like the latter is an indicator of your judgment and halts their process. This leads to the next and one of the most important points.
6. Be careful of letting your reactivity or emotions shut down the conversation. By creating a space for your child to process information you may learn that they have been exposed to ideas or images, which shock you, or you would prefer them not to have seen or heard. The surest way to halt this process is to react impulsively. If you are feeling this way, take a deep breath and try to continue the conversation with the intent being to help them understand and for you to understand their perceptions. If new boundaries need to be set, which will keep them away from certain content, set them at a different time.
The most present and mindful parent is regularly confronted with the limits they have in sheltering their children from negative influences. By making it a point to not just regulate your child’s media consumption, but to create a space to help them process it, you help them understand and process the complex world they are living in.
We love to hear from parents of the positive behaviors that their son(s) have acquired at camp. Behaviors range from increased responsibility around the house, to an uptick in social awareness, or a willingness to inform parents of successes and struggles they are facing. Many times changes are a result of behaviors that are consistently promoted during the summer. They happen because counselors create an atmosphere where boys see the value in acting in a manner in which they are not accustomed and by repeating the behavior until it becomes habit.
As the weeks and months pass and the Winnebago summer fades, it is important to continue to recognize and reinforce positive behaviors from campers by employing a few strategies that we use at camp. These interventions can be generalized and used for any behavior that you are hoping to preserve or increase in your child.
- Counselors are encouraged to focus on positive behaviors instead of problematic behaviors. Often times, our attention is drawn to what we do not like instead of what we like. Instead of stating, “You used to make your bed every morning when you returned from camp, but you only do it once in a while now.” Wait for your son to make his bed and then let him know you noticed and appreciate it.
- Name the behavior; state why it is laudable and why it may be useful in the future. For example, “When your brother fell and hurt himself you immediately checked in with him to make sure he was OK. That was really empathetic of you; you showed that you cared about how he felt. People are really going to want to be your friend because you are so kind.”
- Set clear and achievable expectations of your children.In establishing a healthy bunk at camp, counselors are encouraged to have a meeting with all the campers in their bunk. During this meeting they allow the campers to create the rules under which their community will function. By bringing the campers into the process they feel like they are living by their own rules instead of being subjected to external forces.
Overall, it is important to remember that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Creating an atmosphere where positive behaviors are praised is an excellent strategy in reducing negative behaviors.
Next week senior Winnebago staff members meet in South Portland to plan for the upcoming Summer of the Path. Annually, we eagerly gather for our spring summit to discuss staff and leadership training, integrate lessons learned from past summers,
examine potential new ideas and trends from inside and outside the camp world and prepare for another fun and edifying summer. Our senior leadership team is comprised of dedicated individuals who care deeply about creating an environment where campers are afforded the greatest opportunity to have a fun, enriching, educational and experiential camp experience.
This year we are thrilled to count over 80% of returning or alumni staff. With such a veteran and knowledgeable team, we look forward to a dynamic and thought provoking staff training with a sustained focus on creating a high level of intentionality in every facet of camp. Additionally, we welcome back a number of staff returning after a summer or two off who return with added life experiences and a love for Winnebago. We are committed to forming a staff that brings with them a wide variety of talents and experience thereby giving campers opportunities to learn from and appreciate the role models that they are in many different forms.
The Summer of the Path will wind through many twists and turns and thankfully, we have experienced staff guides to safely and skillfully lead campers through their adventures. We can’t wait to get the summer started!
At the same time, we open the treasure trove of metaphors. 250 individuals traveling their own path to Camp Winnebago and beyond, and together we embark upon a path leading us to athletic achievement, refined skills, profound relationships and deep personal insights.
We are excited for The Summer of the Path to lead us on a winding journey full of excitement, joy and tons of fun and trust we will navigate this path with the intentionality and spirit, which has been been a part of Winnebago since 1919.
Happy New Year from Camp Winnebago where our gaze is beginning to shift towards June 23rd when the buses will roll into camp and disgorge a cadre of gleeful campers marking the beginning of our 98th camp season.
In the next five months, one of our primary focuses is building a staff full of talented, mature and fun loving counselors who will teach, role model, inspire and help create a safety net for campers to explore, grow and enjoy deep friendships. We recruit staff from all over the globe and seek individuals who are excited to work with children, to learn and grow themselves, and have a mastery of skills that they will teach. Their job is multi-faceted; they instruct in a focused activity, live with and supervise campers, and develop healthy relationships with campers that they use as a platform to teach life skills, and inspire campers to take safe risks, which helps promotes camper self-discovery and growth.
Because of the diversity of the counseling job and the importance we place on the staff, our interview process is multi-tiered. We spend hours interviewing candidates, and their references, honing in on who they are as people and what experiences they could bring to the Winnebago community. Counselors often comment on the Winnebago interview process as being unique, deep and thought provoking. The most common candidate response is, “I’ve never had a job interview like that before”.
Because we are not only hiring individuals but also building a community, we seek to understand the values each candidate has incorporated into their life. We explore their family backgrounds, the role models in their lives, and their developing worldview. We seek individuals who have unique perspectives and the ability to articulate their points of view. Because counselors wear many hats, we seek individuals who can teach their activity while owning a broad and diverse set of skills to share with the campers.
Potential staff appreciate the rewarding aspects of working at camp and our investment in their personal growth. S.A.L.T Week (Staff and Leadership Training) is an in-depth and intense training that focuses on personal awareness, child psychology, Winnebago values and many practical tools to help them be wildly successful counselors.
Like all aspects of camp, we strive to bring thoughtfulness and intention to the hiring process. This is of utmost importance so we can feel confident that when those busses roll into Fayette in June, we have created the framework and assembled the talent to help create another unforgettable summer at Camp Winnebago!
The winter solstice is approaching marking the beginning of winter and the shortest days of the year. As we settle into our comfy warm clothes and sip hot cocoa, 2016, a tumultuous year to say the least, begins to fade into the background while 2017 begins to crest the horizon and present itself to us all. The last weeks of December are a time to reflect on the past year and hopefully begin to formulate an intentional plan for the upcoming year.
At Winnebago, we have just completed a series of reunions across the U.S. Campers, counselors and parents came together, thumbed through summer yearbooks, reminisced on the past summer and played games.Thank you to all who attended and those of you who couldn’t make it, know you were in our thoughts and your presence was missed.
In this time where spring flowers and warm weather seem so far away, know that preparation for camp has already begun. A beautiful Maine fall allowed our maintenance crew to make many improvements. We’ve already begun to hear back from last years counselors and it looks like we will have a significant returning group from last summer’s exceptional staff. We have spent the Fall reflecting on the past summer in order to set course towards an exceptional upcoming summer.
Camp Winnebago has long been a place where boys are supported by positive role models and encouraged to explore their own developing world-view and personal value systems. For many, our weekly campfires are ground zero for that type of introspection and thought. Each campfire is based on a theme such as truth or friendship or other more playful topics like laughter, which last summer resulted last summer in a camp fire full of funny personal stories and jokes. Other themes can be more complicated such as peace or perseverance.
The purpose of introducing these concepts to campers is multi fold. For younger campers, we introduce these themes and help them understand their meaning and why they may be important. It is an amazing moment when a young camper comes to understand a concept like truth and then hears an older camper discussing the theme and perhaps how it relates to their camp experience while becoming role models for perhaps the first time because of what they think.
On a deeper level, intellectual and verbal exploration of themes gives our older campers a platform to use critical thinking in an abstract manner. Often times, children have an innate understanding of right and wrong but lack a deeper cognitive connection to the value system. By exploring a concept and finding the words to express their beliefs around it, we are helping campers clarify their thoughts. Campers who are not as comfortable with this process often reap the benefits of listening to their peers and internalizing the thoughts of others.
Exploration and verbal expression of values is an essential component that children should use to better understand their own belief system. By helping children become more deeply connected with their sense of right and wrong, we increase the possibility that when they reach a moral crossroad they will act more intentionally and less instinctively. By doing so we increase the chance of wise decisions and the development of a strong and healthy self-concept.
Now that fall is here, leaves burst with color and complete their journey, which began as buds on bare limbs in spring. This spectacular display of fall is a beautiful extension of spring rain and summer sun. At camp, we too make the transition from season to season. Our maintenance crew is busy making improvements around camp and we are happy to announce a number of reunions across the country where campers and counselors will have the opportunity to connect with fellow Winnebegans, see pictures from the summer past and reminisce about the incredible “Summer of Imagination.” Memories of trips, B&G games and summer swims will rush back to the boys as they receive and pore through their Echoes.
Whether your son attends a reunion or not, we encourage parents to take some time with their camper(s) and reflect on the past summer. Just like it is important to review materials covered in a class at school, the more subtle value based lessons learned at camp are embedded in a summer of friendships and fun. We mention how campers consistently share that they find their most genuine selves at camp and at the end of summer we encourage Winnebagans to reflect back on the lessons learned when they return home. Our reunions give boys a chance to remember and reflect on both the fun and what they learned at camp.
If you have a camper who is unable to attend a reunion, this would be an excellent opportunity for them to write a letter or an email to a camp friend and a chance for parents to help teach their boy(s) the art of sustaining relationships over time and distance. To show your child that thinking of a friend or acquaintance is nice, but taking action by making contact is the work, which gives a relationship the opportunity to deepen. This level of awareness, thoughtfulness and initiative is a useful life skill, which will help your child both socially and professionally.
May you enjoy this beautiful month of October and please keep your eyes open for our Fall newsletter that will arrive in the next few weeks. It will be wonderful to see many of you soon!