I'm constantly wrestling with the best way to describe summer camp to people. Depending on who's asking, and in what context, my answer will change. But there is one exception. College students applying to serve on summer staff get the same analogy every time: "It's like running Saturday Night Live for 24 hours a day, and the only commercial break is when you're asleep... but the commercial break could always end earlier than you expect."
The first day of staff training is always exciting around NaCoMe. Not only are we greeting a group of young people that will learn and grow from our training, we're also about to "learn our soup" over the next couple of weeks.
I remember celebrating Easter as a kid, and as I grew up I remember starting to connect the dots on what Holy Week was. But until very recently, I was unaware that Easter itself was not actually part of Holy Week (it begins the season known as Eastertide which leads to Pentecost). Before I knew this, the fundamental importance of "those other days" of Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) was a product of Easter. All of these days are only worth celebrating because Easter followed them on Sunday.
I was visiting a church to talk about camp recently and a camper came right up to me, pulled out her phone, and showed me a string of messages from her summer camp family group's ongoing group chat. I was genuinely impressed. Not about the group chat, but about how important it was to her. She talked about the value that these particular people and this particular string of messages has. In a world of increasingly shallow connections, these kids have found depth. And they're keeping that depth going using technology in ways that past generations couldn't.
I know I say it a lot, but NaCoMe is a special place. And not because of the creek or the lake or the trees; it’s because of the people. As the new year has kicked off, we've been setting goals for ourselves, and I wanted to share a quick comparison that illustrates how special NaCoMe truly is:
"I can promise you, it's possible," was all my counselor would say. I was maybe 11 years old at summer camp and my group was working through a challenge on the Low Ropes course. This particular element involved getting the entire group of 14 campers across three wooden islands that could fit about 3-4 people each.
You know that thing in award shows like the Oscars or the Grammys where they play music as a not-so-subtle cue to whoever is accepting the award that it's time to leave the stage? I'm torn on it. I get it in the sense that, as a viewer, I don't care to listen to someone rattle off names of people I've never heard of. Let's just keep this whole thing moving so I can find out who wins Best Whatever. But on the other hand, I do appreciate that these people receiving the awards are aware that there is a multitude of other people that have put them in position to receive such an award.
There are a number of small requests we get each weekend when we’re hosting. From a light bulb that goes out to maybe a toilet that keeps running, there are normally just a few small things that we’re asked to take care of during retreat season. It’s all normal stuff, and we’re prepared to handle it. But a few weekends ago, I got a unique request. One retreat guest asked for a rake. I was confused at first and tried to quickly think of what he could need a rake for. Before I could even ask, the guest said he wanted to volunteer to rake some of the freshly fallen leaves from the labyrinth. I offered to help, but he refused; he wanted to rake the leaves himself as a service to NaCoMe.
If you've been to NaCoMe recently, you know that we've had a surge of renovations and additions to our program and facilities. And while we say it a lot, we can't stress enough how important volunteers have been to the whole process. There is no way we could have done it all ourselves. NaCoMe is beyond grateful for every individual that volunteers to help. Rachel Barnes was one of the volunteers that NaCoMe was fortunate to have volunteer her time working with us this past summer.
What an amazing summer we had at NaCoMe! At the start of our spring season, we set the bold goal of growing our summer camp program by 10%. We asked our community of summer campers, parents, and churches (that’s you!) to help us achieve that growth. The results blew us away: we grew by over 20%! We were humbled by the support you all provided in sharing with friends and coworkers about NaCoMe.
One of the most important things we do at NaCoMe is measure our results. Like any company or organization, we want to know if we’re meeting our goals. One of our primary tools in evaluating and measuring our summer camp program is the camper survey. Every camper completes one on the last day of camp. And here are some of the most notable results from this summer.
There’s a distinct sound a metal washer makes when it’s tossed onto plywood, and that sound was on a consistent loop all day last Saturday as a part of the Washer Pitching Tournament. It’s a central part of the annual Family Camp for First Presbyterian in Trenton, which celebrated 40 consecutive years at NaCoMe last weekend (congrats you guys!). Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of activities going on (for proof, you can watch their pastor Paul take on the Giant Swing on our Instagram and Facebook pages), but the Washer Pitching Tournament kept coming back to me.
I’ll be honest, there’s nothing quite like Staff Training. Don’t get me wrong: Summer Camp is amazing, but every spring, all the staff at NaCoMe put in a lot of hours seeking out and hiring the best summer staff we can find. Then, just before summer, we round them all up and spend a couple of weeks in training.
NaCoMe’s mission has three points of emphasis: build community, connect with God, and renew spirits. As we celebrate Easter, the theme of renewal has been abundantly present. Between seeing renewal in the natural world, where trees are putting out leaves and the grass is growing greener, or in NaCoMe’s facilities, where tremendous work has been done by our staff and service groups (see below for just a taste), I am reminded of the power of renewal
A few days ago, I was (regrettably) fortunately dragged into a Facebook discussion by a pastor that I knew from college. We’ve maintained a fairly minimal connection, but he knows I’m in the camp and retreat world. He had originally posted that ministry camps should lower their rates because it’s too expensive for families to send their kids. He messaged me and invited me to join the discussion that was occurring on the post because I would be approaching it from a different angle. I did, and it taught me a lot.
Recently, NaCoMe had the chance to be represented at a couple of Career Days for elementary schools in Clarksville. It was a great opportunity to get out and encourage kids to find jobs that they love and that benefit society. It was also a great opportunity to refocus us on why we do what we do.
There’s a reason it’s called ‘feedback’; it’s because we’re hungry for it. No other source of information is used more significantly to enhance and improve our summer camp programs than our camper and parent surveys. Speaking of which… are you a camp parent? Have you filled out the parent survey? Click HERE to complete it!
Spend a few hours around a group of NaCoMe campers, and you’ll hear an odd collection of phrases, noises, and seemingly otherworldly communications. It happens every year, and it’s what we know as “camper noises.” But these noises do more than interrupt the trickling water of the creek; they’re signs of communities being formed.
I got a call from a parent yesterday. She’s never sent her son to an overnight camp before, and heard about NaCoMe from a friend. I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with her answering her questions about activities and specifics of camp, but it was clear that she already had positive feelings about NaCoMe from the start. And that’s half the battle.
It is not easy for parents to make the decision to send their child away into the waiting arms of strangers who promise to take care of them — people who promise to show them the wonders of nature, fun, new skills, and friendships. As a parent of two children, even I struggle with the idea, and I have been around summer camps my entire life.
The following is a story from the March issue of the American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine. It communicates just one of the many benefits that summer camp experiences can have on youth today:
Sherry Turkle, PhD, is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT; and the founder and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She teaches about the psychology and sociology of how computers and cell phones change the way we learn, how we feel, and how they affect not just what we do but who we are. The author of a number of books, her most recent, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, was released in 2015 and investigates how a departure from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity — and why reclaiming face-to-face conversation can help us recover lost and valuable skills.
We are happy to announce that we are using a new registration software for summer camp this year. After evaluating our needs in the fall of last year, we decided a switch would allow us to serve you better. It should make the registration process easier for you as a parent, especially when you come back to register next year or if you are registering multiple campers. However, as with all new things, there are a few changes and features that we would like you to be aware of. Here are just a few of the highlights.
I hear great stories about camp experiences all the time. When I visit churches, talk with staff, or spend time with retreat groups, a great story is never far away. As I’ve progressed as a camp professional, adding stories to my collection, it’s become clear that great camp stories usually involve a few of the same elements: adversity, challenge, and community. Rarely is a good story told that doesn’t involve those, and the reason is simple. A great story is only told about a great camp experience, and a great camp experience, believe it or not, needs a healthy dose of adversity, challenge, and community. The fact that we tell stories years or decades after the camp experience is not just because they’re good stories, but because they are stories about how we became who we are.
There were only so many things my 6th grade backpack could hold.
Having already loaded down our individual packs with personal items, we quickly realized we had underestimated the remaining supplies needed for the group. Even with our packs nearly full, we still needed members of our group to carry jugs of water, cooking pots, a flat skillet, 5 tarps, a cooler for cold food, another container of food and cooking utensils, and a few pieces of dry firewood protected from the elements with saran wrap. Did I mention it was raining?