April-Building the Blocks for Staff Training

Camp Laney in April is beautiful. The trees turn green, the smell of mowed grass carries a bit further with the warmer air, and the rocking chairs at the Lodge demand a tired butt to sit and read a book. The camp is empty, but as Rob Hammond recently quipped, “This place is just begging for campers!”

And thus, April demands hard work – not just tired butts, rocking chairs, and a good book… as much as we all may try. The summer approaches and I want to share an essential piece to the April agenda: preparation for Staff Training. In this difficult time, as we all naturally look ahead, whether that’s tomorrow, next week, or all the way to summer, I want to provide a glimpse into the bedrock of Camp Laney’s summer magic. This will be my third summer as Program Director at Laney, and with reflection on my recent years, it surprises me little that planning Staff Training has become a favorite part of my summer. (Foremost, I am a stickler for organization, and to my detriment… a “perfectionist”, which inclines me unhealthily to scrutinize details). It’s not just a time for staff to learn new skills for their activities, understand the nuts-and-bolts of our 2-week schedule, and transition to “summer camp living” from life at home or college. These are essential outcomes from Staff Training, but are just the tip of the iceberg.

In the coming April weeks, Camp Laney carefully crafts our 8-day Staff Training to balance the learning of new skills, techniques for managing camper behavior, collaborating with co- counselors, developing personal approaches to counseling and caregiving, and building camaraderie. The recipe is complex, but it is organic, too, as each element builds on another.

Over the summers, our training has become increasingly engaging. While a discussion of camper characteristics between different stages of cognitive, emotional, or physical development would have once been held indoors, like a 2-hour university lecture, we now approach such topics step-wise. We explore the camp, learn reciprocally, and guide discovery for these topics across our 8-day training.

The results are clear: the staff learn more from each other, deepen their friendships, and define their personal approaches to camp counseling in the image of their peers and memories of their favorite counselors. But most importantly, the staff sharpen their tools to solve problems unassisted. Here is a quick look at some of our training topics:

  • How to manage homesickness - Creating a positive culture for campers inside the cabin - Expectations for rules, discipline, and inclusivity - Understanding the difference between “authoritative” and “authoritarian” - Establishing accountability among your peers.

Camp Laney directors do not execute this training alone. We invite industry – leaders to teach our staff. Dr. Chris Thurber, Dr. Jerry Jennings, and Bob Ditter, each established in their own corner of the summer camp and counseling industry, have come through the Laney gates for a combined “too-many-years-to-count.” It is through their guidance Camp Laney has transformed 8-days of early summer into a week of tremendous personal development for our staff.

Camp is “for campers”, but it is also “for staff.” This is the deepest virtue in our Staff Training… and thus I am surprised very little that I love working as Program Director. Each counselor leaves our training not only more equipped for the summer, but also for their successful and happy lives ahead. These are the men we want role modeling for our campers.Communicating with a co-counselor? Finding diplomatic, patient, and empathetic solutions to problems? We all know these skills translate beyond our camp gates. Laney counselors not only understand these skills in themselves, but hopefully become kinder young men, husbands, and fathers.

Rob Hammond was right, “This place is just begging for campers!” And we will be ready.

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