Back from the Tri-State Camping Conference

Today is my first day back in NYC after a few days down in Atlantic City at the ACA Tri State (American Camping Association) conference. Tri-State is the biggest camping conference in the world and happens annually in March. Technically Tri State is meant for camp professionals in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, in reality, the 3000 professionals come from all over the country (and even the world) to take part in this conference. Yesterday I met one person who flew in from Israel for Tri-state.

Like many other professional groups, camping professionals get together at conferences throughout the year to share best practices, learn about new trends and discuss issues facing the industry. Obviously the economic situation was very much on people’s minds this past week. In general it seems that while enrollment in high-end private camps is off a little, the enrollment in the not-for profit camps is only down slightly. The major change is that the request for financial assistance in not-for-profit camps is way up. I spoke with a number of directors who are trying to find ways to raise additional scholarship dollars and cut costs in their program without sacrificing the quality of their program.

Up until this week, much of the work I have been doing with the FJC (Foundation for Jewish Camp) has been around some of the big picture planning for our camp. I have spent months sharpening our mission and crafting our core values. At the heart of our camp will be these values. Yet at the same time, running a camp is like running any other business. We have customers (campers and their families) we have employees (staff), we have a board of directors and we have bills to pay. Many of the sessions I attended this week that were run by the FJC dealt with these financial issues. We had a day on marketing, an afternoon on budgeting and cash flow statements, and an afternoon on web design. My goal over the next two months is to take some of the lofty ideas we have come up with for this camp, and begin to figure out the nuts and bolts about a) how we will market these so that teens want to attend Ramah Outdoors and b) how we will be able to sustain our organization so that we can pay our bills and provide an excellent outdoor adventure experience for the teens. I have to admit that I have never done a 18 month cash flow statement before, but with the help of my I-banking friends I am hoping that I will be able to chart a course for our initial success.

Of course, this week was not all about dollars and cents. Two other notable moments were the key-note address by Erin Gruwell the author of “The Freedom Writers Diary” and the inspiration for the film “The Freedom Writers.” Erin spoke about the power that a teacher can have on his/her students when s/he meets the student at the level where s/he is in the moment. She related the story of how she was able to work with a group of teens who had been written off by their other teachers and by school administrators and over the course of four years, help them realize their dreams of graduating from high school and begin a college education. When listening to her tell her story interspersed with clips from the movie, I began to tear as I realized the power that all of us as teachers and role models can have on teenagers. While clearly at Ramah Outdoors, we will not be dealing with the same level of poverty and violence that Erin dealt with in her classroom, our participants will be coming with their own baggage and will be as hungry for guidance and inspiration from the leaders at Ramah Outdoors.

On a much lighter side. . . The last session of the conference that I attended was an hour and a half of games. Imagine standing in a room with 200 camping professionals playing ice breakers and other fun games using nothing more than ones hands, an occasional die and a piece of paper. Over the course of an hour we played about eight games, many of which I will be able to use in future training sessions. The teacher, Jim Cain, correctly stated that every camp counselor needs a repertoire of five or six fun and interactive games that they can play with their campers when they have anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes of downtime. I certainly learned some new ones in that session, and also got the names of his books that contain hundreds more! After an intense week of budgets, cash flows and economic talk is was so nice to stand in a circle with other camp professionals yelling “whah” each time someone blinked at you!

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