“You’re away unplugged from technology, smartphones and there is no Wi-Fi, but I guarantee you will find a better connection at camp.”
If you look at the dictionary definition of camp (got this from Collins, not Webster’s) it is labeled as “a collection of huts and other buildings that is provided for a particular group of people, such as refugees, prisoners, or soldiers, as a place to live or stay.” Obviously, that definition doesn’t apply to us as camp professionals unless we want to invite some very difficult legal or ethical questions about our programming or who we’re serving, although there can be times during the camp season where we can feel like we are part of those groups.
For most of us, we often view camp traditionally as spending days, weeks or even months at a time out across rural America, rubbing shoulder to shoulder with fellow staff, counselors and campers enjoying the marvelous comforts of the great outdoors. Although this still holds true for many of us, the camping experience can also be found in a variety of non-traditional programs (STEM, theater, competitive team sports, outdoor ed., leadership, medically focused/special needs etc..) and settings such as schools, local parks, recreation or community centers, or other indoor locations so long as there is a mission, a plan and a purpose in enabling an educational yet enjoyable experience for your staff and campers alike. Having these three ingredients will make for a delicious and sweet camping experience where you can achieve success and eat your cake too… see how I used that a metaphor right there; always keeps it fun! ☺
Within the last 5-10 years, I have found it remarkable how many new or even existing camps are pursuing the non-traditional camp route in an attempt to further expand or reach their campers and families and continue their programs. These types of settings work best with specialized clientele where a camp director must work to meet the needs of this special population. The needs vary, from physical if you are serving groups with mobility needs such as a senior adult program. Or if you happen to have a partnership with a local organization or business, you may host your program off-site in a facility located within the local community that you are serving. For example, years ago I partnered with a county family and children’s services organization for my camp, where I served as director, that required me along with my program staff to travel off-site for extended periods of time during the fall/winter season to operate a leadership program for underserved campers and their families. Because of our arrangement we were unable to bring the group to our campsite. Instead we had the opportunity to host our program closer to the groups neighborhood center.
The experiences that my staff and I had in working with this group on a consistent basis enabled me to appreciate and have a much better understanding of working with diverse populations in incorporating them into the overall camping experience.
My advice from this experience is if you have an opportunity to work with specialized clientele that may not necessary travel to your campsite, do not get frustrated or give up simply because of planning or logistics obstacles; find an alternative solution to the best of your ability (if possible) in addressing those challenges because often the reward is much greater than the initial risks. Regardless of who your camp audience is everyone should or at the very least have an opportunity to experience one time in their life the wonder that is the camping experience and as camp professionals we have an inherent responsibility and obligation to do so.