Supporting your staff – Part 4 – Secret Friend

santa catEvery season for the final week of camp we do a little activity called Secret Friend. It’s like Secret Santa – but in the summer!

It’s a great way to re-energize staff and celebrate the end of the summer while you’re at it. Here’s how it works (at my camp at least)


Choosing Names
On the last day of the second last session (week 7 for us) you ask the staff to pick names out of a hat (obviously if they get their own they choose another)

Shopping/ Prep
They then spend the break preparing for the week. That might include shopping, crafts, note writing, etc. (more on that later)

Leaving Goodies
The actual activity starts on the first day of the last session. (We start on day 1, the day campers arrive. Not day 0 – which is the day before campers arrive)

Ground Rules

  • This is an optional activity, people have to opt in. If they choose not to participate, there’s no pressure.
  • They can’t tell anyone who they have. That ruins the fun. This is the hardest part to control, camp staff are chatty little folks.
    But if you explain to them that half the fun is figuring out who everyone has, it will usually help.
    Bonus tip: Remind them that even if they don’t say the name of who they have, going shopping with their best camp friend at the Dollar Store will kind of give it away when that giant ceramic frog they bought at the Dollar Store shows up on someones bed.
  • They have to deliver the ‘gifts’ in secret. The campers can’t find out it’s going on. They have to be stealthy about it.
    Bonus tip: I usually tell them that if there is a gift left on my desk with a name on it, I will deliver it.
  • I don’t want to know who they have! I like to play too… I like getting little goodies throughout the week… I like giving them even more. But if everyone on staff tells me who they have then through process of elimination I figure out who has me and that’s no fun. (hence the gifts to be delivered being left on my desk with a name, rather than passed directly to me)
  • Along those lines, when they’re bringing their stuff back to camp after the break, they have to be well hidden. If they’re walking across the staff lounge with a giant foam sword sticking out of their back pack, or carrying a tray of cupcakes… their secret friend will figure out who has them pretty fast.
  • I strongly encourage staff to spend as little money as possible on their “gifts”. I suggest they go to the dollar store if they want to purchase things, but I also recommend that they do nice things for their secret friend. (more on that later) I say gifts throughout the week should be under $5.00 and the end of the week gift should be under $20.00

How it works:

  • Everyday for a week staff leave a little goodie, encouraging message, or some other nice thing for their secret friend.
  • At the end of the week, on the last day of the summer at our staff banquet we have all of the final gifts on a table (wrapped with the receivers name on it) each person takes a turn opening up their gift, they have 2 guesses who their secret friend was. Once they’re finished, the person who was their secret friend gets to go up and open their gift. It’s a nice little way to end the summer.


  • Over the last few years I’ve started encouraging the staff who are participating to write a little list of things they like, to help their secret friend along. Things like favourite colour, sport, sports team, music, astrological sign, food, etc. Whatever they choose to share. I like to make my list about 20 things, not that I expect my secret friend to use everything (or anything) on the list, I just like them to have options.
  • You don’t have to purchase something for it to be special or meaningful, I suggest writing little encouraging or funny notes, drawing pictures, doing a chore, making a snack, decorating a bunk, building a fort, making a playlist. There are tons of things you can do without spending a cent. I know that camp staff don’t make much, you don’t want to spend all your money on the last week of summer.
  • Be grateful for everything you receive. The point of this activity is to lift people up and to be fun, not to complain or hurt people’s feelings.
  • Have fun with it. This is always such a fun part of the summer and a wonderful way to end on a high note – doing sweet little things for each other. Don’t be afraid to be silly and creative with it. I’ve sent my secret friend (and have been sent) on scavenger hunts to find their gifts.

Bonus tips:

  • I always change my writing – cause they see it a lot
  • Some people wrap all of their gifts, but that makes it easier to narrow down, cause you know who on staff would take time to wrap.
  • I tend to go overboard sometimes, cause it’s just so FUN, so make a list and stick to it
  • Don’t get caught, and don’t snoop. It ruins the fun.

Here are some of my favourite secret friend gifts I’ve received, and some that I’ve given. (All my faves aren’t here, only because I don’t have photos of all of them)

SF notes

This was a secret friend gift from my first summer as a counsellor. We had a thing about mullets that year, so this was so perfect, and it was just a really thoughtful and sweet gift.


This Secret Friend was so awesome, everything she gave me came with a joke, or a poem, or a history. She put so much work and thought into all of her gifts. The “gift” was the package of whiteboard markers, but she made it so special.


This secret friend was amazing too. On my list I said that I loved Dr. Seuss, so I kept getting these little notes with Dr. Seuss quotes on them all week. They were EVERYWHERE, hidden in my desk, taped to my door, passed to me by random people. I loved it.


This pile represents some of the things I got last summer. On my list I put stickers, office supplies, fun things, and things to do with being a princess… I love how my secret friend covered them all!!


These are some goodies I gave my secret friend last summer. School supplies and I used the cookie cutter to make a moose shaped pancake (she thought it was a car… hahaha)

Book & mug

This is another goodie I gave my SF last summer, a mug and notebook with corny jokes because that’s what she liked. She also likes science – so the notebook was perfect. The dinosaur was for more pancake shapes.

Do you do secret friend at your camp? Do you do it for longer than a week? I’d love to hear what others are doing, tell me about it in the comment section below.

Categories: Staff Encouragement & Motivation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Supporting your staff – Part 4 – Secret Friend

  1. We have a secret tilly. We leave a little something each week (no more than $5) and the final week we do a $20 gift that is wrapped.


  2. That’s awesome dederux12, does the name secret tilly have any significance? And are you leaving something for the same person each week? I don’t know if my staff could keep their secret that long!! hahaha


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