The Path We Take … Curt’s Story

I’m really excited to share today’s post with you all. In my third installment in The Path We Take series we focus on Curt “Moose” Jackson, the creative and dynamic force behind the Summer Camp Programming website among other projects.

While I’ve yet to meet Curt in person, I’ve long admired his brilliant and creative programming ideas – and the fact that he has been able to bring camping professionals from around the world together to share ideas in his roundtable compilations.

(click here for information on how to participate in future email roundtables)

Now that I’ve had a chance to learn a little bit more about Curt through this process, I can also say that I admire his candor (he got real folks – and it was awesome!) and his drive to continue to explore, learn, create, and improve the level of programming we offer in the camping industry. 

I hope you enjoy learning about Curt’s journey as much as I did, and if you have any questions, comments, or just want to tell Curt how awesome he is, tell us about it in the comment section below. 

 

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Tell us about yourself.

 

Yikes, this is a broad question. It all started when I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye.

Just kidding.

I grew up an only child to a loving single parent in Southern California. My mom was a nurse who worked long hours and I was a latch-key kid. She passed away from cancer when I was 15. Unfortunately, nobody in my family wanted to take on the burden of raising a teenager. So after getting tossed around a bit between aunts and uncles my grandparents took me in. Six months later my grandfather passed away. Those two years were rough and had a big impact on my life, positive and negative.

I’ve always wanted to be an actor or a rock star, but I know that if I really did either of those careers I wouldn’t enjoy them. Besides, camp gives me the chance to do both with camp skits and camp songs. As a young kid I wanted to be a professional baseball player or a magician. Come to find out, I wasn’t very good at either of them, but I still like to pull out some magic tricks when campers are around.

I like road trips, the ocean, Moose Tracks ice cream, campfires and the smell of freshly cut grass.

I don’t like inconsiderate people, Brussel sprouts, humidity, and movie theaters that don’t have stadium seating.

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This is one of Curt’s super cool trading cards he offers on his site. You can order them here.

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Summer Book Review

You guys…
I think that BR Myers is stalking me…

Haha, just kidding (I think?) but I did read her adorable book a few months ago called Girl on the Run. Which I happened to pick up by chance, because it was near Tyler Oakley’s Binge book in Chapters (which I also picked up), and I liked the look of the cover.

Once I turned it over and read the synopsis, I knew I had to have it. It was a book about running AND camp!!! Two of my favourite things!!

So I brought it home and started reading it, it was so much fun (and also a little unsettling, but I’ll get into that in a moment).

It’s a YA novel about a 17 year old girl who has given up running after her father’s death, she heads to summer camp to try to get her life back on track (peh. heh. heh. unintentional pun, but I like it and now I’m proud of it!)

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When I started reading it I was reminded of the Sweet Valley High books I used to read when I was young, it was a fun read and I finished it by the end of the evening.

There were a couple of references in the book that made me say ‘YES, this author totally gets me, we should be friends”.

And then there were a few story points that made me think “man, this camp is SKETCHY!”

Let’s get into it, shall we?

*Warning – Spoilers Ahead*

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Sending out an S.O.S

So here’s a (well-known?) fact about me.

I hate asking for help.

I hate it. Seriously.

Especially in my career. I don’t think it makes me look weak or anything like that, I know it doesn’t. I’m just stubborn I guess.

I was “brought up” in a camp culture where we powered through things, and made due, and solved problems with creative solutions… and laughed the whole time at the ridiculousness of the situation.

I still do all of those things, in fact, I pride myself on being able to do all of those things. I consider myself one heck of a creative problem solver, and it typically takes A LOT to really freak me out, and I spend most of my days laughing at the utterly ridiculous things that happen at camp.

But…

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Work/ Work balance

Everyone has heard of work/ life balance… it can be challenging to achieve at times and most people struggle with it. But camp directors have an additional struggle… and that’s work/ work balance. A camp director WANTS to be out with the campers, it’s good for the staff to learn by their example, it’s good for the campers to see them around and get to interact with them, it’s good for the camp because they have their eye on things, and most importantly, it’s fun!!
But, there’s also office work to be done. Phone calls to return, emails to send, reports to write, meetings to be had. All of the things that go into running a business.

One of the things I wish I had done differently over the years is to create a better work/ work balance. It’s something I continue to struggle with today and if I’m being honest, the last few summers the scales have definitely been tipping toward the office work side of things… which is such a bummer.

work: work balance

Based on this photo, I’m not sure why I’m so eager to show up to programs!

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It’s the most stressful time of the year

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This is how I feel at the moment.

To be honest, this is how I feel every year at this time. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to do in advance, it never fails that April and May are just… bonkers!

It feels like I have hundreds of things on my To Do list, and dozens of them are super, ultra, major, high importance. And time just keeps on moving forward – camp is sort of like the theatre, regardless of whether you’re ready or not, the show must go on. The campers are going to show up with their suitcases and high expectations and we have to be able to deliver. 

And life keeps happening (so to speak… ) sometimes things happen where I have to take a step back and make time for family and loved ones, but the work stuff doesn’t go away. It just sits, and waits, and grows. 

Even though some of my favourite things take place during this time of year like getting to know new staff hires, getting ready for staff development week, hyping up camp for campers and returning staff – it’s also by far the most stressful time of year too.

And unfortunately this little blog, that I really enjoy writing, always ends up taking a back seat to the super, ultra, major, high importance things on my list, and to my family obligations. So I’m sorry for that, I have about 5 or 6 posts that just aren’t quite ready to share yet, but are in the works (and have been for a while… hahaha… sorry)

 

Unfortunately this is not one of those times where I might have a bit of advice about something I’ve learned from these situations in the past. This is just me… venting? complaining? making excuses? stating facts? All of the above, I guess.

All I know is that this is my hardest time of year every year, and if you’re feeling it too – I sympathize. 

And if you have any tips or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comment section below, or just vent, that works too.

 

 

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At Camp, We Dance!

Does your camp constantly break out into spontaneous dance parties?

 

Yep, mine too.

How amazing is that?

There have been many times I’ve gotten a kick out of it; there was one summer when we had to explain to the staff that no, we can’t program in “spontaneous dance parties” because that’s just not how spontaneity works; it’s been a running joke ever since.

When we do have actual, legitimate spontaneous dance parties they are a phenomenal energy builder, a 5 – 15 minute dance party between programs or when everyone is feeling low energy (like on a rainy day) is a huge moral booster!

 

There was also the summer (many moons ago, at my old camp) that the ACD and I gave the staff 15 minutes of down time while we went to set up the evening activity – which was going to be a team building session.

When we returned to fetch them we could hear the music long before we got to the building, then we could see jumping and dancing through the windows before we entered.

We walked into pure pandemonium, there was a high energy dance party going down, they were dancing on tables, on chairs, and bopping all around the floor.

We both burst out laughing (then we politely asked them to carefully step down from the tables and chairs if they were going to continue dancing… then we used that as an excellent example during a risk management session later that week… but I digress)

We put our team building session on hold, because they were bonding on their own, in a way they came up with, and in a way that works.

And it’s not just my camp – camp communities everywhere experience this amazing ritual.

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Catching Up

Hi friends,

Sorry I’ve been away for so long – it has been a bit of a whirlwind these past few months!
Here’s a quick re-cap of my life incase ya’ll are interested.

  • We’re well into camp pre-season and registration is BOOMING! Three of our biggest sessions filled up by the end of February and the remaining 5 sessions are getting fairly close too. We have a bunch of new campers, which kind of worries me for all of the returning campers who haven’t gotten in their applications yet – we may have to add another session if this keeps up. So as you can imagine, the camp office has been busy!

 

 

busy days at the office

  • My husband and I bought a house!! (A teeny, tiny, cute little house)
    It’s all very adult of us, which I must admit super freaks me out, every time I need to chat with a lawyer, whether it’s to buy a house or get some advice on a camp matter, I’m slapped in the face with the thought “OH YEAH! I’m a full fledged adult!” which is an easy thing to forget while I bomb around in a tiara and rain boots (yep, that’s happened … more than once – see the photo below for an example of my typical adult status).

 

P & D Dance

Here’s a shot of the Assistant Camp Director and I adulting so hard! We were dressed up fancy for the interpretive dance of the first day of camp we “choreographed” for talent show The stars were obviously because of how magical the dance was!!😉

 

  • The house we bought just happens to be 4.5 hours away from where I work…. sooo… that’s a thing.
    We bought a house in our hometown (and pretty much paid for it with lint & buttons from our pockets – we got a great deal!!).

Anyway, back to the point – as we were buying the house, I was submitting a proposal to my work for a trial “work from home” arrangement. It was a very, very, scary time. I seriously love my job, and if they had said “no way, Jose!” I would have been incredibly sad. I mean, I would have understood but that would mean that my options would have been to start a new camp in my new home, or to find a new career – neither sounded particularly appealing right now. (Mind you, having my own camp would be AHH- MAZING but that’s something that takes planning, and money, and not something that should be done on a whim – plus I still feel like I have more to give to my current camp).

So after submitting my proposal and having a few meetings I was surprised and delighted to be told “sure, let’s give it a shot!” so I’m working from the head office in the city for 2 weeks a month and working from home a few hours away for 2 weeks a month, until a move to camp for the summer.
Fingers crossed that it all goes well!!!

I’ll talk more on the proposal process in another blog post.

house

Photo credit: MarkMoz12 via Foter.com / CC BY                                                                                     *Not our actual house. Although it IS about the same size… peh. heh. heh.

 

 

  • We were the victims of fraud.
    THAT was a bummer!!
    I won’t get into all of the details, but amidst all of the house buying and proposal writing, someone transferred a chunk of money out of our savings account. It turns out that the poor guy who did it thought that he was transferring money out of his girlfriend’s cousin’s account to help her get into Canada. NOPE!

It seems that his “girlfriend” was a scam artist who was able to access one of our computers with malware and convinced this poor soul to do an email money transfer (since they were outside of Canada they needed someone within the Country to physically do it). I actually felt really sad for the guy, he had his heart broken and found out that he was complicit in a crime all in the span of about 10 minutes.

Fortunately, it’s all been sorted out and the money has been returned to us. AND we learned a valuable lesson about computer security (I thought we were pretty safe already, but clearly not careful enough).

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Photo credit: CyberHades via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

 

So, these are some of my excuses reasons for being out of touch lately, I’ve had a lot of personal and professional stuff happening and something, somewhere had to give – that ended up being my little blog.😦
But I’ve missed sharing and chatting with my camp pals, so now that things are starting to settle a little (which is a HILARIOUS thing to say at the beginning of camp season, and is a pretty good indicator of how hectic things have felt lately!)  I’m going to start posting regularly again.

I have LOTS of half finished posts and new ideas that I’m excited to share with you guys, and for the sake of consistency (and my sanity) I’m going to post once a week on Mondays for a while.

So that’s it, I’m glad to be back ‘in the swing of things’ and I’d LOVE to hear about the things that are taking up your time lately. How’s staff hiring going? Are you all set for staff development week? How are your registration numbers going? Tell me all about it in the comment section below!

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Priorities – Part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about priorities at camp and in life (you can see that here) and I thought that I would expand on that a little bit.

I’ve noticed over the years that the staff don’t always know what the Camp Director’s daily priorities are (I mean, beyond the obvious health, safety, and well being of the campers and staff) or how their their leaders prioritize things.

I know that when I was a first year counsellor I had no sweet clue what my director’s priorities were… or even what they really did all day…

And I’ve had that question asked to me by staff over the years “so… like… what do you DO all day?” – if I’m asked that question it is definitely a wake up call that I am not communicating effectively.
(ALTHOUGH I wrote the draft of this post before I listened to the Camp Code Podcast # 15 – Building Your Summer Camp Leadership Team, and Ruby Compton said something that really struck me. She said that the job of a camp director is to run things so smoothly that people DO ask, “what do you do all day?”, and compared it to her former role as a sound tech for live theatre … listen to the podcast, she explains it so much better than me. BUT it really got me thinking and has definitely changed my perspective on that question! I’m going to have to spend some time with it and let it swirl around in my head a little bit, but I’m very intrigued by this new perspective. )

So my ACD and I sat down and came up with a short exercise to do with our head counsellors (who make up our leadership team, they would be considered “mid- level managers” in a typical organization structure) to help them understand how we prioritize, and then move the conversation into delegating and why it’s important.

It’s just a brief 20 minute exercise, we give them a typical ‘to-do’ list from a day at camp and get them to prioritize it, when they’re just about done and have their wonderful organized list, we throw them a curveball. They then have to re- prioritize and delegate some of the work.

To Do List Activity

This is a copy of one of the faux to-do lists that someone already started prioritizing.

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Priorities – At Camp and in Life

Oh, hello camp friends!

It’s now 2016, and you know what that means – we’re THISMUCH closer to camp 2016! Woot!

So I’ve been away for a few weeks, and by away I mean both literally and figuratively. I had a mini family emergency (which we originally thought was a major family emergency but got dialled down to a code yellow – yay for small victories, which are actually pretty major victories in the scheme of things) and headed “home” (where I grew up- about 5 hours away) for a short period of time.

After that I had about a week to play catch up on a lot of things before the holidays, and then I decided to just spend as much time as possible unplugged and with my family over the holidays. It was nice.

So this whole ordeal got me thinking about priorities.

Setting Priorities and Communicating Them

I am so fortunate to work with some really amazing humans who are supportive and understanding; when I told my bosses that I felt like I needed to go home for an unspecified amount of time but would work remotely when I was able to and would take vacation days if I found I wasn’t able to work much, they were like “Okay cool, we trust you. Check in when you get a chance and let us know how everything is going and what your timeline is shaping up to be.”

Awesome. Right?

I’m also really fortunate that I was at a point in the season when I could pick up and take off and it didn’t disrupt my work very much (although it wreaked havoc on all of my other commitments, hence the catching up). It would have been a whole lot harder to take so much time if camp was in session.

But I would have done the exact same thing, because family takes priority.

Balancing “Real Life” and Camp Priorities

I’ve always tried to do the same for my staff – I ask them up front if they have any commitments during the summer that will conflict with the camp schedule, then we try to work around it.

Obviously the more notice I have, the better – but there are some things that just sort of crop up and I try really hard to accommodate …well… life, when I can.

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The Path We Take… Mel’s Story

For part two of my path series, I asked my good friend Melanie Dash to talk about her journey to becoming a camp professional.

Mel just so happens to be one of my favourite people on the planet!
We met at a camp fair a few years ago and I decided right away that she was an adorable human and we should become friends immediately (that’s how everyone becomes friends as an adult, right?)

Over the past few years Mel has continually inspired and astounded me with her creativity, organization, passion for camping and most of all, her drive for success.

Hopefully her story will help inspire and motivate some of you too!

The path we take Mel's story

Photo credit: Doug Scortegagna / Foter.com / CC BY

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