One of the top questions camp directors get time and time again is: “What do you do the other 10 months of the year?” Some people think camp directors just show up in June for the start of camp when in fact, being a camp director is a full time job. We spoke with Adam Baker, owner and director of Camps Equinunk & Blue Ridge, brother-sister overnight camps in Equinunk, PA, and Gregg Licht, director of Elmwood Day Camp in White Plains, NY, to give us a window into all that goes into running a summer camp and ensuring your child has the most incredible summer of his or her life.
Adam Baker: In September, we are doing re-enrollment for next summer. By the end of the month, we are 80 percent enrolled, so we are reaching out to families for deposits. This is also the time of year we pull our leadership team together and reflect on last summer. We talk about programming, communication, staffing, and the decisions we made. This is a time to be self-critical and recognize what worked well and what didn’t so we can keep improving.
Gregg Licht: We have a school here as well as a camp so the day camp closes, we start cleaning up. Camp is messy so it takes a few weeks to get the property back to where it should be. We replant grass, do facility work, and paint. This year, we are building a brand new adventure playground which is a 7-8 month project. Whenever we are building something, we work with the town on permitting and attending town meetings to get everything approved. My co-director Hillari Boritz and I are busy with enrollment in September-October. We do camp tours on fall weekends and talk to new families which we love to do. We do a number of mailings in the fall as well as a nice way to stay connected to our campers. Everyone gets a group photo in a frame with a note. As campers re-enroll in the fall, they get a welcome back kit and new campers receive a hat.
AB: This is a time we are reaching out to our new families, sending our parent handbooks and sending out our newsletter. We spend a lot of time in September and October on capital projects ranging from new roofs to drainage projects to new lights on the basketball courts to putting in a new field. We break ground in September and work through November or December when the ground freezes. We also do a number of get-togethers for our families in October like ice cream and pizza parties in various towns. These are great ways to stay in touch with our current families and get to know our new ones.
GL: At the end of the summer, we do substantial surveys of both our staff and our families. We pour through the surveys to see the things that went well and what didn’t. After analyzing the results from the survey, we bring our leadership team together to present the feedback and make priority decisions for the following year. In September and October, we also give a lot of thought to every staff member. We decide if we are inviting staff back to camp in the same role, inviting them back for a different role or if we aren’t inviting them back. We talk to as much of our staff as possible in the fall about whether they want to come back and if so, how they are looking to grow.
AB: This is the time of year that we look at our finances and expenses and form a preliminary budget for next year. We also book and sign contracts for our special events for the following summer such as magicians and rock bands.
GL: We work on our Thanksgiving newsletter and send it out. We also are busy planning our January carnival. The time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is like our summer. It’s a slower time for us. Camp is far from our families minds. We work hard all year so we close the office for two weeks at the end of December so our staff can be with their family. We then hit the ground running in January.
AB: There is a lot of parent communication in December such as enrollment reminders, camp uniform forms, and holiday cards. We are also busy working on our camp reunion for January including reviewing logistics with the venue, securing giveaways, and making sure we have staff in place.
GL: January we start to work on the program for the summer. Hillari mainly works on this, which takes about 100 hours. We start it together and go through several rounds of initial work and planning. Each year we start from scratch based on the enrollment of the year and the feedback from the year before to build the smartest schedule. We go through multiple rounds and it takes several months before we finish. We also attend NYC camp fairs and continue to enroll families. We are full by March 1. January is our winter carnival for our families. We host it at a local school and have about 800 attendees each year.
AB: In January, our health forms go out to our families. We also send out camper profiles to our new families so we can find out all about our camper. This allows us to do the best possible job taking care of them. In January-March, our leadership team is on the road hiring the best staff at the international hiring fairs and domestic hiring fairs.
GL: January is a big staffing month for us with the bulk of our counselors being hired January-March. We do a lot of interviewing [of] high school and college students to potentially become part of our team. It is a competitive process we take very seriously. We also begin to think about specialists but usually hire those positions later. We begin to work on our food menu in January. We are moving to a hormone and antibiotic free menu so we are looking for new vendors to work with us. At this time, we also start to think about purchasing new equipment and meet with a lot of vendors. We get our camper and parent questionnaires as well as our medical software all set up so they are available by March 1st for our families. We also plan our staff training and orientation this month. We decide if we are hiring speakers, creating sessions on our own, what the theme is for the summer, and what the schedule will be. We prepare staff paperwork such as working papers and immunization forms. We perform background checks and all we need to do to make sure we have a safe staff.
GL: In March, we begin our bus transportation planning. We work on every single transportation group and don’t replicate routes year to year. We drive every route twice after planning it electronically. We spend 300 hours making sure each route is together. To keep us entertained while driving the routes, we sometimes play games like “How many red Toyota Camrys do you see?”
AB: March means the American Camp Association, NY & NJ’s Tri-State Camp Conference which is the largest professional development conference for camp professionals. We attend educational seminars, shop for new camp products and network with our fellow camp colleagues. We are also enrolling the last campers at this time and building season is back under way so we finish any construction projects.
GL: After the Tri-State Camp Conference, we always feel like camp is here and almost about to begin. After the conference, we plan our rainy day program and adjust the curriculum for each activity. We also plan the summer calendar, book all the trips and work on camp special events.
GL: Camper paperwork is due June 1 so we spend a lot of time calling families and following up with them to get the paperwork in. We are also very focused on the opening of camp. We make sure staff and families all have the information they need to open camp. We also are figuring out what group children should be in based on the information provided by families. We base groups on personalities and we work closely with families to talk about that.
AB: In June, we are busy getting the fields and bunks ready and making sure everything is perfect for opening day when our campers arrive!
GL: We send out the parent handbook, menu, and camp calendar. We finalize the transportation routes and meet with every single bus driver and bus counselor so they understand the significance of their job. We also have to pack the school up, get pools ready, prepare the signage and run our family orientation. Then it’s the best time of year—the first day of camp!