The final criteria for evaluating and choosing a camp for the kids you love is simply transparency and outside accountability. Without these two qualities it’s nearly impossible to evaluate all the other areas we’ve discussed over the past four posts. So in many ways you must begin your assessment here.
Let’s first look at transparency.
Transparency is the ability to see into something. It’s vitally important that there’s transparency in any organization that serves kids. There should be no dark corners or secrets when it comes to the care of children.
You can quickly tell the transparency of a camp by asking for following questions:
- Are tours available, especially during camp operations? You should expect to be able to visit and see camp.
- Has the camp been able and willing to answer all the other questions you’ve asked? Did you receive them forthrightly or was it a struggle? If a camp can’t or won’t answer your questions you don’t want to send kids you love there.
- Does the camp provide parents glimpses into a child’s camp experience via video, photos, text messages or emails? They should unless the program, such as a wilderness program, can’t accommodate them.
- How easy is it to connect to camp staff especially when camp is in session? What’s the process for doing so? You should be able to reach someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when camp is in session.
Outside accountability is an often overlooked but vitally important quality every camp should voluntarily submit themselves to if they’re the kind of camp worthy of the kids you love. So you should look for the following types of certifications and audits in any camp you’re considering:
- Certification by the American Camping Association (ACA)? The ACA is the camping industry’s only general certification program. Their standards are high and the audits beneficial. You should think twice before sending your kids to a camp that has not been certified.
- Meet all state regulations and inspections. Note some states are better at this than others.
- Outside companies that design and certify high adventure activities such as zip lines, ropes courses, climbing walls, etc. There are experts in this field that help camps operate and provide safe activities.
- Best Christian Workplaces certification or others like it. These outside firms provide insight into the kind of leadership and organization a camp is and how it operates.
- Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA) or other outside financial groups that assures integrity in the camps financial practices.
When you evaluate your camp options against the criteria from this post and the previous four posts you’ll make the right decision for the kids you love.
If a camp’s leadership and its camping and programming philosophy are the foundation to a camp’s ability to deliver an outstanding experience than its staff, the people who work directly with your kids, are the most important ingredient.
Understanding a camp’s staffing policies and practices is absolutely necessary to assessing a camp’s ability to provide the kids you love a safe, uplifting and positive experience. The following are the questions you should ask and the answers you should look for from the camps you are considering. They center on three distinct areas: Selection, Training and Supervision, and Camper to Staff Ratios.
What is the criterion used to evaluate potential staff?
Look for the specific criteria used to evaluate potential staff, such as age requirements (over 18), education (minimum of a high school diploma), work experience, experience and interest working with kids, etc.
Where does staff come from?
Look for a broad and comprehensive recruiting plan which includes diversity of camp experience, social economic and geographic backgrounds.
How does a camp select their staff?
A camp should have a thorough interview process. They need to do background checks including criminal history and sex offender registries on all potential staff, preferably by an independent company. Finally, all applicant references need to be thoroughly checked.
Training and Supervision:
How much and what kind of training do staff receive?
There should be a minimum of 100 hours of training to prepare staff to properly care for and supervise the kids you love. This training should focus on proper supervision of kids, being able to identify and address bullying and other inappropriate behavior as well as what to do and where to go in emergencies, etc.
What is the ratio of staff to leadership and professional staff, how much supervision to they receive?
The ratio should be a ratio of no higher than 3 staff to every person in leadership. There should be a clear line of accountability from the executive director right down to the dishwasher.
What is the ratio of staff to campers? How much supervision will the camp provide the kids you love?
At minimum camps should meet both the state and the American Camp Association standards (10 campers to 1 counselor). Better camps will exceed these standards and will be 7 to 1 and for younger children 5 to 1.
Every one of these questions should be answered easily by the camps you’re researching. They are the most important questions because they related directly to the care that a camp will be able to provide the kids you love. Look for the answers listed above to help you select the right camp for you and your kids.
In my next post we’ll look at the questions you can ask to understand how a camp operates, its safety practices and policies and its supervision of its campers.
As I stated in my last post there are four critical areas you want to understand when evaluating a summer camp for the child your love.
The first area you want to know is the camp’s leadership and its camping/programming philosophy.
So let’s start with the questions you should ask about leadership followed by questions to ask about the camp’s programing philosophy.
Who is the Executive Director? How long has he or she work for the camp? How long have they been in this position? Have they worked at other camps or in other fields?
You want to find a seasoned camping professional who has 10 or more years of camping or related experience. Running a safe and effective camp requires experience.
Who’s on the board of directors?
You’re looking for a board of experienced, business, educational, and ministry leaders who can provide the appropriate oversight to the camp.
What kind of experience does the other senior leaders of the camp have, such leaders as program and facilities directors?
Once again you’re looking for both a minimum of 5 or more years of experiences in camping and in other related fields.
What is the camp’s mission? What does the camp promise to provide your kids?
It’s important to understand the camp’s promised impact on your kids to see if it matches your expectations and desires for a camp experience.
What is the programmatic theme? Is it focused on athletics, adventure, classic camp, spiritual focus? Is it high energy or laid back?
The camp should be able to articulate their programmatic philosophy so you can evaluate it against what’s best for your kid.
And remember the camp you’re researching should be able to clearly and easily articulate answers to all of these questions either on their website, brochures or by talking with camp staff. If this information isn’t readily available then the camp’s not the place you want to send the kids you love.
In my next post we’ll look at the critical area of staffing policies and practices.
Also check out “Why Kids Need Camp”
Selecting a summer camp experience for the kids you love, whether it’s your own kids, grand-kids or kids you want to invest in is an incredibly important process because camps are not all created equal. Camps differ in leadership and camping/programming philosophy, in their staffing policies, camp operations, and in level of transparency and outside accountability they have.
To select the right camp for the kids you love requires an understanding of all your camp options from each of these four perspectives. Over the next four posts we’ll look at each one of these perspectives with the goal of creating a framework that you can use to evaluate all your available camp options so you can make the right decision.
To begin this process it’s important to make this next statement. Though it’s a statement that really belongs to the last topic, transparency and outside accountability, I need to say it now – all the information you need to evaluate a camp should be readily available in clear and understandable language in the camp’s brochures, websites or through a phone call with a knowledgeable staff member from the camp. If you cannot get answers to your questions, you don’t want to send the kids you love to that camp.
In addition to looking at a camp’s marketing materials it’s equally important to talk to people who’ve experienced the camp. These people will supply you with some of the best information you’ll need to make a good decision. When talking with other “customers” ask them the same questions we’ll cover in the next four posts. Compare their answers to the marketing material of the camp and you’ll quickly learn as much as you need to know to select the right camp for the kids you love.
Do you know that the average middle schooler spends 2121 minutes a week in front of a television? That’s over 35 hours.
Or that the average young person during any given week will:
- Plays 833 minutes or about 14 hours of video games?
- Spends another 623 minutes (over 10 hours) on a computer?
- Or send over 700 texts
That’s a total of more than 59 hours a week inside sitting in front of a screen.
In contrast research tells us that the average young person will spend an average of:
- 30 minutes a week playing outside
- 3.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their parents
- And less than an hour in a church, youth group or youth ministry gathering
This means kids spend just over an hour a week in meaningful interaction with people and places that can positively shape and influence their lives.
59 hours compared to 1.25 hours.
Think for a moment about the long-term implications of this on our kids, on our future.
Kids need much more than screen time to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually:
- Kids need to interact with God’s creation by being outside
- They need to be nurtured within their family – God created the family for just this purpose.
- Finally kids need to be a part of a faith community such as a local church or other ministry
Yet these vital interactions are being squeezed out by technology. Not by war, famine or economic collapse but by a little screen.
Here’s another reality – all those negative trends about kids can be reversed by a week at a Christian camp (such as SpringHill) where the average camper spends:
- 60 hours outside per week doing incredibly fun, exciting and growing activities
- 300 minutes in a meaningful conversation with a staff person (that’s nearly two years’ worth of meaningful conversation with a parent)
- 10 to 12 hours a week in individual Bible study and small and large group settings learning about God and His plan for their lives.
Now more than ever our Kids Need Camp.
Now that you’re convinced Kids Need Camp, over my next few posts I’ll help you ask the right questions and know the right answers to look for when selecting a summer camp for the kids you love.
As I’ve said before, one of my favorite groups of people in the world are the adults who bring students to our Winter Teen and Juniors Retreats. I love them because they give up an entire weekend, many as volunteers, to spend 40 hours hanging out with students, doing crazy activities, and getting very little sleep.
Why do they do it? Because these adults know they’ll be a part of helping students hear, see and experience Jesus Christ in a life transforming way.
And this weekend I spent time with one of my favorite of these favorites, Scott Hazel. Scott is a teacher at Cedar Springs High School, just north of Grand Rapids. Every year he brings busloads of students from his public high school to one of our Winter Retreats.
Here’s the list of some unofficial, but amazing, SpringHill Winter Retreat records Scott has set.
- 28 straight years of bringing students to SpringHill Winter Retreats
- Over 30 Winter Retreats – In many of these 28 years Scott has attended 2 weekends, one with his high school students, and one with his church’s youth group.
- Over 1200 students - Scott brings 1 to 2 bus loads of students (between 40 to 95 students) every year.
I have no doubt these records, like Cal Ripkin Jr’s consecutive baseball games played record, will stand forever.
But more importantly than the records is the accumulative effect of what Scott has done over these 28 years. 1200+ students from a public high school have been given the opportunity to know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and have their lives changed forever.
Only in eternity will we see the depth of Scott’s impact.
So now you know why Scott is one of my favorites of my favorites.
If you’d like to know more about Scott click here, he’s published a book telling his story.
Ben Johson of Camp Berea in New Hampshire and Steve Pate of Tall Timber Ranch in the state of Washington, both SpringHill Staff Alumni
I’m on a plane flying back from the Christian Camp and Conference Association’s (3CA) national conference in San Diego, CA basking in the afterglow of the people I spent time with and the things I learned.
I’ve concluded that among the many great parts of this conference, which included spending time with peers who, over the years, have become close friends as well as listening to inspiring and challenging speakers, that the most encouraging part of the conference was talking with SpringHill staff alumni who are now serving other camps.
These alumni include people now working at camps in New England, the Pacific Northwest, in the heart of the California Redwoods, and even in Spain. Each of these camping professionals spent a part of their early professional years at SpringHill.
And, almost to a person, these professionals told me how much they learned and grew while at SpringHill. As a result they’ve been able to take what they’ve learned and positively impact the camps they’re currently serving.
Now you need to know there’s nothing much more rewarding for me than knowing that SpringHill has played a part in the personal and professional development of our past staff. Especially when it’s enabled them to make a bigger contribution to the organizations (especially camps) they’re currently serving.
And even more rewarding is knowing that this handful of past staff I talked with this week represents a fraternity of literally 1000′s of Springhill alumni who are now making positive contributions in companies, schools, churches, mission agencies, ministries, and families all over the world, and by doing so making an eternal difference in the lives of thousands upon ten thousands of people.
This past weekend we had a SpringHill board meeting held at our Indiana camp. Keith Rudge, our Indiana Operations Director, gave a devotion to kick off the meeting. In his devotion he shared this video he found packed away in his desk and thought it was a great illustration of God’s faithfulness, His timing and His direction in guiding our lives and our work. It was an excellent way to start to a productive meeting.
Matt and the two Resurrection Life camp administrators, Trisha and Rachel
I can’t tell you how many times over the past number of months leaders of guest retreats have stopped me to say how much they’ve appreciated working with Matt Hildebrand, one of our Michigan Overnight Hosts, and what a great job he’s done for them and their group.
If you’re not familiar with camping terminology, let me share with you what a camp and conference center Host does (and what Matt does so well).
A Host’s job, just as the name implies, is to take care of guests and groups assuring they achieve their goals for their time at camp. The host is the main point of contact before, during and after a group visits camp. They make sure every detail’s thought through and every department on camp is ready to provide their part of the experience. When the group arrives a host works with them right through the experience, providing for any needs that come up and making any mid-course adjustments so they have an outstanding experience.
For example, this past week Resurrection Life Churches had their annual youth camp with over 600 campers and leaders. When I bumped into Matt, he was on his way to meet with the Resurrection Life Camp administrators in the office space we provide them for the week. Matt’s immediate mission? He was bringing the two administrators card stock for their printers. A simple request, but a necessary one for this group, and one of 100′s like it Matt addressed for Resurrection Life while they were here.
To be a great host, like Matt, requires a desire to serve others and see them succeed, great attention to detail, superb planning and foresight, tremendous flexibility, great relationship skills (and maybe even the ability to walk on water).
So I’m thankful for Matt every time a leader stops me to say what a great experience they’ve had at SpringHill and how much they love Matt, reaffirming what we already know – Matt’s been the quiet force behind their success.