My first career was as a teacher, coach, and camp director. Being a camp director is the most fun I’ve ever had at a job, but there were also numerous lessons. Keep the kids active and happy, and the parents will be happy. They’ll keep coming back, and they’ll tell their friends. One way we saw success is that while growing in enrollment each summer we also filled all spaces with earlier registrations each spring. At its very heart being a camp director is community management. I share some of those lessons with you now.
Identify talent. One of the aspects of this position I really liked was recruiting the counselors from area colleges. They were student leaders and college athletes. They were future teachers and social workers. These students brought with them certain talents and interests. I set accountability and expectations and then let them go. They were motivated to contribute their ideas, their energy, and their time; and I let them. They exceeded my expectations many times because I gave them ownership. How are you identifying leaders in your community? What opportunities are you giving them to contribute, to take ownership?
Free swims are the best. In the heat of the summer (and we’re talking about the summer in North Carolina), there’s nothing quite like that time in the afternoon when it’s your group’s turn to cool off in the pool. Different groups form, and various activities begin. Boys race for dive sticks, a game of Sharks and Minnows forms, and kids initiate a largest splash contest. The worst thing you can do is schedule and dictate involvement. Let it be organic. Let members decide their activities and their connections. You give them the environment.
It doesn’t hurt to have a game room. Although a small space with just a few arcade video games and a pinball machine, campers enjoyed their time here. The lights and sounds captivated them. The quest for a high score motivated them. It was fun, and there weren’t a lot of rules. There didn’t have to be; each game had its own rules for success: avoid the alien spaceship, the ghosts when they turn blue, and the silver ball going down the middle. With an online community, have a place where members can gather and play. Let them define what success looks like in this space. Make it fun. Make it entertaining. Make it out of the ordinary.
Candy, candy, candy. Okay, it’s not just candy, but it’s also stickers and prizes and certificates and awards. The point is recognition. Rewards motivate. Whether it was at the end of the day or the end of a week, campers took pride in these moments of accomplishment. They would excitedly tell their parents and siblings about what they had won or earned. Are your members feeling valued? Do you regularly demonstrate your appreciation for them? Are you giving them reasons to talk about your community to their peers?
Sometimes you just have to get on a van and go somewhere. We had clubs that would take the kids for a hike or out on a boat. There were nearby resources we could utilize that were not on our property. A change of scenery and a varied activity breathed life into the day-to-day routine of camp. How do you utilize other environments to strengthen the community? In what ways do you bring the online community together elsewhere? What new ways of looking at this could breathe life into the routine?
If you attended camp as a child, there’s a good chance that you have a favorite story or a treasured memory. I know I do, and I also know that as a camp director I helped create some of these moments for children as well. They last a lifetime. Why not bring some of the camp atmosphere into your online community and see its lasting impact?
What are your favorite memories from summer camp? What lessons do you see for building a strong community?
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