Safe–Fun–Meaningful

I’m a firm believer in fundamentals.

One year as a Camp Director I got a parent evaluation that has stuck with me for years now. It said, “Keep it simple. It’s just summer camp…..” I was offended, naturally. Here I was spending 9 months out of the year planning and organizing day in and day out so that their kid could have a truly amazing and unique adventure, and they were saying I had overthought the whole thing.

It took me a few weeks to stew on it before I could really examine that line of thinking. The conclusion that I came to was: focus on fundamentals, don’t get bogged down in too many details. As a Camp Director it’s your responsibility to know all the details, but what I’m saying is don’t over-plan (except for covid stuff…definitely over-plan for covid).

Each year it seems there’s a rush to teach the latest and greatest techniques and Jedi mind tricks to staff in order to get the most out of summer camp. Don’t get me wrong, I love new games, songs and activities, but I believe that if you focus on 3 fundamentals you’ll have an awesome summer camp, no matter what fads or details you add that year.

Safety. Fun. Meaning.

While our knowledge of youth development continues to evolve, the summer camp experience remains largely the same. We take kids outdoors and on adventures for a little while to teach them life skills in hopes of developing character. Over the years we’ve done some good work to include “all kids” in this experience, but we still have a lot of progress to make.

I believe that if our programs are rooted in fundamentals of safety, fun and meaningfulness we can then move on to fine tune programming to address inequities. These inequities will continue to evolve and come to light just as our knowledge of their solutions continue to evolve. And it’s these inequities that I think we are trying to solve when we add new elements to our camp. “What’s missing that will make camp better?” is a simple way of looking at it.

Most of what we do now after about 120 years of summer camp is fine tune and solve inequities. These solutions come in the form of behavior management techniques, inclusion, diversity and program additions to meet everyone’s interests. When we identify inequities and their solutions I think we can use our 3 summer camp fundamentals.

For example, transgender camper inclusion at summer camp: We need to think about how these kids can be safe physically and emotionally at camp, if there is anything unique to making their experience fun, and if we need to adjust the delivery of the program to make it meaningful for them. The interesting thing is that you would say the exact same things about a non-transgender camper’s experience. While the specific solutions vary, the process remains very similar.

Here’s a closer look at these 3 fundamentals.

Safety means physical safety and emotional safety. I hope this is self-explanatory. Rule #1 at camp is keep the kids alive. Rule #1.1 is don’t damage the kids physically or emotionally.

Fun means fun for everyone. If what you’re doing isn’t fun or more specifically will negatively impact somebody else’s fun at camp then it’s time to rethink it. However here’s my fun caveat: not every moment at camp will be fun for every child all of the time, and that’s okay. If a child is not having fun in this moment, as long they have options in the near future to have fun and as long as in this moment they are indifferent rather than hating the experience, then they’re okay. I think there’s a big difference between indifference and hate. Indifference gives us an opportunity to develop character through patience and conversation, hate doesn’t belong at camp.

Meaningful can mean a lot of things and can be the hardest to nail down. How do you make walking from the pool to the shower house meaningful? Well you sing songs, talk with kids, play little games and use this time to connect with campers and staff. Meaningful moments happen on two levels at camp: on a personal level as well as on a community level. When we have a meaningful experience we are experiencing things firsthand, having new adventures, making friends, and learning about ourselves.

SAFE. FUN. MEANINGUFL.

I know that with the addition of covid mitigation practices we have a lot details to put into place this year, more than usual. Once you have a grasp on these details I think you’ll be amazed at how focusing on our 3 fundamentals while campers and staff are on-site will keep your program simple, safe and amazing. Good luck, I’m pulling for you.

*These views are my own based on my own experiences and knowledge as a veteran summer camp professional. They do not represent any other person or entity’s point of view that I am associated with.

Momentum

Creating a business takes hard hard hard work. Like really hard.

Some days you work 10 hours without getting a single positive result, other than seeing your list of to-do’s dwindle slightly. Some days that list doesn’t even dwindle.

Most days are full of marketing efforts, curriculum building and all kinds of busy-work. I’d say that about 10% of my time spent working for myself is spent doing what my business does (training summer staff). Maybe less. The other 90+% is me putting in the work to get me to that other 10%.

And my business isn’t even that complicated. The thing that makes this all difficult is that I’m a one man operation. I am the finance department, legal team, advertising agency, curriculum developer, CEO and janitor.

So how or better yet, why do I keep going down this road?

Momentum.

There’s something so incredibly satisfying about seeing your hard work pay off and get some momentum going. Positive results just make us want to get more positive results, especially when you’re your own boss. Each dollar means so much more. The highs are higher but also the lows are much lower. You have no one else to blame but yourself and often you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

This idea of momentum is similar to earning a college degree. You pay for it in more ways than one (money, time, effort) and the knowledge gained builds upon itself to get some momentum going. This momentum can lead to landing a great job in a cool place with good friends or family.

So this week I’m doing all that I can to celebrate little wins, like checking off the to-do’s and starting promising new projects. Also some clients are starting to show real interest which is huge cause of celebration. But it’s not just enough to celebrate the good things…we must also not get too down when the results seem limited or non-existent. We just need to analyze our efforts, recalibrate and push forward with a faith that good times are coming.

I firmly believe that if you put in enough hours you will inevitably build momentum. I don’t always work smarter (I try to), but I do always work harder. And that hard work will inevitably pay off.

The Grind

It’s a hobby until you start making money. Then it’s a business.

Lately this profession of mine has felt more and more like a hobby, not a business. I’ve been putting in about 40 hours a week on top of my full-time stay at home parent responsibilities. Basically working 2 jobs, if you choose to look at it like that. I work during naps, meals and every evening. Usually this work entails sending emails to potential clients, recording and editing podcasts, developing curriculum for staff trainings and getting infrastructure in place for my business.

But here’s the kicker, and I’m hesitant to share this, I have made $0 this year and have 0 clients locked in for future business. And that is absolutely demoralizing.

Sure, I’ve got some solid leads. At this point I have about 8 promising spring time jobs. However, no one has signed on the dotted line and I’m feeling anxious that I will lose their business. Last year because of covid, I lost every single job I had lined up. And while summer camp is looking more and more likely, money is still for hiring consultants/trainers like me. I’m afraid I’ll get to that crucial moment of sealing a deal and get the old “thanks for all the information, we’ll call you if we need you.”

As a small business owner, this journey through the unknown can be exhilarating but also extremely nerve-racking. If this were my family’s only source of income I couldn’t do it. Thankfully it’s not.

I can appreciate “the grind” to the top. I’m from middle class, middle America, I know what you get is only what you’ve earned around here. Maybe I need to be more militaristic in my approach and go all in on this stuff. “It’s either them or me. I have no option but success!” But honestly and thankfully, I don’t have to. My wife has a steady income and I’m already meeting my worldly obligations by being a full-time stay at home parent.

I want to succeed and I’m trying the best I know how, but at the moment I’m just coming up short. Perhaps I’m putting too much pressure on myself for this part-time income or perhaps I’m still going through the motions of building a business and the actual money making will happen this spring and summer. I hope so. For the moment though, I feel discouraged. I’m working hard, doing my best and seeing very little results.

The Inside Scoop #1

Here’s the first of hopefully many fun blog posts. “The Inside Scoop” series is basically my thoughts on life as a small business owner working out of my guest bedroom. It probably won’t be research based, too scientific or objective….pretty much all personal opinions as a form of brief procrastination.

Which brings me to my first topic of discussion, office chairs. If you’re working from home like me, invest in a good chair (or find a free one…money’s tight after all, you’re a small business owner…) This wonderful chair should have thick, firm padding and back support. I sit at least 4 hours everyday, usually more, staring at my computer screen hunched over reading and typing. While a good chair won’t fix the terrible posture this career path has now given me, it will alleviate some of the pain. Some.

While we’re on the subject of posture, the single most important thing I’ve done for neck and shoulder support so far is to build a laptop stand that has me looking out instead of down at my screen. Ever think about how much you look down these days?! It’s a lot…down at the kids, down at your phone, down at your food, down at that strong whiskey you pour frequently to make your neck feel better from always looking down. So do yourself a favor and look out, not down while you’re working. I think the ideal set up is a desk that can rise to a standing position, has the keyboard at belly level and the screen at eye level if not up slightly higher than that. (But again funds can be tight so you might have to get creative)

Streeeeetch frequently and deliberately.

I could go on for a while about office setup and how I believe biomechanics affects our productivity (after all motivation comes from motion), but I won’t because this blog has done exactly what I wanted it to…serve as a fun, brief break from emails and strategizing. I’ll continue to tell myself that this writing is somewhat worthwhile and not just procrastination of another arduous task on my list for the day.

Thanks for tuning in.— That Summer Camp Guy

The Power of Community

I’ve never seen politics bring people together, only divide them. However, I’ve seen the power of friendship and decency for my neighbors forge better relationships time and time again.

I think the internet and especially social media has driven people further from their community. It’s so easy to attack, belittle and shame through social media that it has taught us there is no shame in disrespect. There is in fact shame in disrespect. We hide behind the internet now and rarely see our neighbors in person and thus as our allies in the world.

I live in Iowa, where the saying is “Iowa nice” when describing its citizens. Even here and in my own life I’ve seen the power of community crumbling though. I look down the street and see so many political signs and flags that it makes me really despise my own neighbors before getting to know them. So I too am guilty of this culture.

At camp though we are forced to interact, to respect our neighbors and recognize that to look after each other is in both of our interests. At camp we have a chance to build a community and thus we learn to care for one another. We learn respect, compassion and how to resolve our differences maturely. The best camps seek these moments out with intention and even the not-so-great camps still are doing this by the very nature of what it means to be a summer camp.

So my assignment to you and myself is to treat the real world a bit more like summer camp. Get to know your neighbors personally, build a mutual respect no matter your political opinions and be at peace with one another. A meaningful life doesn’t exist online or through our public political propaganda, it exists when we get to know our neighbors and build community together.

Welcome to the New Site

Hooray! A brand new website was born today. As business begins to pick up again after a crazy 2020, it was clear that a new website was needed. For this new adventure I’m excited to also announce a new concept, “That Summer Camp Guy”. It comes from a common phrase in my life…”Who’s Drew Demery? …..Oh you mean That Summer Camp Guy! Yeah he’s pretty cool.”

I hope that this new site is helpful for other camping and youth development professionals as they navigate the wide world of training opportunities and program development needs.

My promise to you is that as I continue to go down this professional path I will always be candid with my information, affordable with my prices and never waver with my standards of offering the highest quality training experiences available.

So please explore, inquire and dream BIG!

Thank you—-“That Summer Camp Guy” (Drew)

The Family.