A Camp Director’s Off-Season Life…
A Camp Director’s Off-Season Life…
by Bob Strodel, Executive Director
Maybe you’ve heard the story where a man asks a young boy what he wants to be when he grows up and instead of the expected normal responses from a 5-year-old, he replies, “I want to drive a garbage truck so I only have to go to work one day a week!”
The question that you’re curious about asking a Camp Director, but maybe shouldn’t ask is…“What do you do in the off-season?” People know you have to do some work in between summers, but the fact they ask implies they really don’t know. Perhaps…just perhaps…you might just be sailing around Lake Winnipesaukee or playing ping-pong in Moose Hall from September to June.
Let me tell you about some of the stuff that happens around camp in the off-season…
First of all, I will admit that on a weekly basis we work less hours during the off-season. That’s not because we don’t come to work every day, but because the pace of working 15-hour days, 6 days a week, as we do in the summer, can’t be sustained the rest of the year; we are exhausted at the end of the summer! The off-season provides us a better work/life balance, a chance to spend time with our families, and stick to working 5 days a week.
I can speak for the camps I’ve been associated with over the years and from serving on national camping boards, Camp Directors work really hard in the off-season because it drives all the work toward next summer’s Incoming Day. That wonderful day when all the staff need to be hired and trained, every aspect of the camp’s physical plant needs to be ready, is the day when campers come through the gate or drive our 3-mile driveway. When our last Outgoing Day arrives in August, we start working towards next summer’s Incoming Day.
Our mission at CCCI is to foster vibrant Christian communities in which young people are spiritually transformed through Christ-centered relationships and we need to make sure we have those young people! We have been blessed with a high return rate, but camp will always be a “leaky bucket.” Campers age-out, families move, and teenagers develop new skills and interests that might not be fulfilled at camp. At Brookwoods, Deer Run, and MRO, we minister to approximately 1150 campers and each summer we need to recruit about 375 new campers to sleep in the beds of the campers that didn’t return. That’s 375 campers that we need to actively recruit, as well as communicate and register the 775 returning campers. As you can imagine, recruiting new families and campers is a huge job and of the highest priority. We DO that work because we’re committed to a full camp because “you can’t minister to empty beds.”
The key to our mission is the summer staff. Approximately 170 staff need to be hired each year to make camp possible. Can you think of any other business that needs to hire 90% of their staff each year? Fortunately, we are blessed with a high percentage of returning staff that make up the core of the staff. The majority are college-aged counselors and activity specialists and approximately 40% of them have attended one of our camps as a camper or as a participant in one of our leadership development programs.
Many folks don’t realize it, but we also run retreats and conferences in New Hampshire and Maine during the off-season, and George Bowling directs that effort. In a non-COVID year, we have the opportunity to host over 7,000 people. We host youth groups, college groups, school groups, and other church related groups. Retreats usually take place over weekends and then we’re able to clean and prep for the next group during the week. During a typical year, we serve close to 100,000 meals in the NH Dining Hall.
To support all of these activities, we have a dedicated team of full-time staff. Most people see Ben Tabone, Mary Beth Bowling and Seth Coates, our Camp Directors, on Incoming Day. Their roles are very visible to campers and parents alike. Beyond the visible Camp Directors who greet you, is a small team who make sure we are ready for Incoming Day. Dorothy Legro is our Camp Registrar, who ensures your camp registration is received with a friendly smile (or email) and your camper has a spot! Debbie Strodel in our Finance Office takes care of all of our financials, making sure donations are properly received, your tuition payments are credited to the appropriate account, that bookkeeping is maintained and audited each year, and that payroll operates smoothly. Tim Nielsen is our Director of Ministry Services and he works on the camp programming, implementing new ideas, as well as logistics on camp property. Melissa Yonan is our Alumni Director and she helps maintain “the camp relationship” with thousands of alumni and camp families through direct communication, camp events, our bi-annual newsletter The Weathervane, and social media. Our Development Director is Ann Higgins who shares the mission and impact of camp with those who want to support the work through their charitable giving. (Donations help support various long and short-term capital projects and our scholarship program, which provides financial assistance to campers who could not attend otherwise. This also helps us keep tuition within reach for more families while still offering an excellent overall camping experience.) Matt Ericson and Mike Brigham in our Facility Department work all year to keep up with Camp’s physical plant. Jon Cooper, New Hampshire Food Service Director, keeps us all going with his talents in the Brookwoods kitchen. And there are numerous others behind the scenes who make the camp experience possible each year.
It goes without saying, we are very, very excited to be open this summer. We are counting down the days to Incoming Day on June 27th, when we will welcome campers to Brookwoods, Deer Run, and MRO.
Should you ask a Camp Director what they do during the off-season? Sure, go ahead, because what they do (and do proudly!) is to lay the foundation for an amazing summer at camp.
See you on Incoming Day! (121 days to go!)
Bob Strodel has been the Executive Director at Christian Camps and Conferences, Inc. since 1995, and this summer will be his 47th at Brookwoods! His favorite camp activity is model rockets. You are welcome to drop Bob a note and share a favorite camp story: firstname.lastname@example.org