“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Throughout my travels across the country working, volunteering and visiting camps, one of the first things I typically do is look for the camps’ mission statement or values. Let’s face it, every camp we have ever attended as either campers, parents, staff or even guests has a mission statement, philosophy or set of core values and beliefs proudly displayed. These statements are on signs, walls or banners someplace visible for all to see and they show what the camp has been throughout its journey.
Your organization may have a standard mission, but there are several ways to engage your staff with the purpose of that mission. Here is an activity that helps to build upon your camp mission.
During my time as a camp director, before each season for staff orientation training, I would begin by leading an exercise called “Camp Mission Statement” with my entire administrative, program, counselor and facilities staff. This activity is similar to the non-camp version called Team Mission Statement and was created as an opportunity for me to help cultivate teamwork, communication, and to help build a sense of community among new and returning staff. It would also establish the culture we would instill during the season. The first step of the activity is to create a Camp Mission Statement. When creating your camp mission statement, consider the following questions:
Who am I serving?
How am I adding value?
What methods or approaches am I adopting?
Next, choose a moderator (not the camp director) to split up your staff into groups of 6-8 participants, then allow each group participant to write down on index cards 2-3 sentences on the following “My vision of a camp that works well is…’’ Staff members then read all their answers aloud in each group. From each group, choose your top 2 sentences and write them on a large white board. Then, from the best sentences, collectively create a team mission statement using the remaining best sentences. During this time, allow staff to discuss which sentences best recognize their vision of a successful camp. Afterwards, review the mission statement and then answer the following questions as a larger group:
Does your camp mission statement align with the current camp’s mission statement?
Are you passionate in seeing the camp mission statement?
Is the camp mission statement something you can be proud of?
Is the camp mission statement straight to the point?
Is it understood by anyone who reads it?
Once you have answered these questions, post your camp mission statement in the most frequented areas around the camp (main lodge, dining hall, cabins, activity areas etc…) so that it is visible to not only your staff but for all the campers, parents, families and visitors to see.
As a camp professional, I cannot tell you how important it is to emphasize a positive camp culture of trust, equity and inclusion among both staff and campers. Every year, once we have developed our camp mission for the season, I make sure that every staff member completely understands the mission and could repeat camp’s mission on cue. This also made for fun camp bonding moments as staff could challenge each other’s mission knowledge at any time.
To me, this is why camp exists. The camp mission is camp’s purpose, goals and the inspiration for achieving all the work we do. For many non-camp businesses or companies, their mission is nothing more than something that is used on websites or handouts lacking any real meaning or value. If your camp does not have a greater motivation that’s bigger than simply turning a profit you will be making decisions based solely on benefiting the financial aspects of your operation and not the community that you serve. This short-term thinking will ultimately have long-term negative consequences. However, if there is a genuine mission put forth and all staff must adopt that mission, abide by the mission and make decisions based on that mission, it will provide buy-in and a sense of ownership from all staff and help solve many other problems down the road.