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Unplugging to Connect at Summer Camp

As adults, when we think about summer vacation we remember riding our bikes to the local pool.  We recall the sound of the ice cream truck.  We think about the friends we made at summer camp.  As a child of the 80s or 90s, summer camp was an opportunity for us to meet new people, try new things, and test our independence in a safe and supportive environment.

The world has certainly changed since I was a child, but the basic goals of most summer camp professionals for their campers have not.  We want the kids in our care to make new friends, develop confidence and independence, try new activities, practice leadership, develop interpersonal understanding and empathy – AND WE WANT THEM TO HAVE FUN!

New friendships, new skills, new understandings – these experiences and moments can occur on the zip-line, in the pool, on horseback, at the craft shop, or on the archery range when counselors and staff are trained to encourage and support campers in this growth.  They can’t occur if our hands are full of tablets and phones and MP3 players.  Real personal growth and interpersonal connections require focus and attention.  That’s why I believe summer camp is the perfect place for kids to unplug and connect with one another.

At the South Mountain YMCA Camps, where I have worked for the past 8 years, our campers have the chance to try their hands at canoeing, kayaking, and sailing.  They are able to experience target sports from archery to shooting trap.  They can choose to play any one of a dozen sports and games.  Most importantly, our campers have the opportunity to meet new people from Pennsylvania, across the country, and from around the world.  They are able to talk, share stories, and truly connect in a place that values the worth of each individual.

Every good camp in the country has a story that illustrates how their staff and programs have positively changed lives.  The really good ones probably have research and statistics supporting those stories.  Let me share some South Mountain YMCA Camps statistics, specifically from our sleep-way program, Camp Conrad Weiser:

  • In 2017, 96% of our campers reported making a new friend.
  • More than 90% of our campers believed they were given the opportunity to help others or lead a group.
  • More than 95% of the young people at Camp Conrad Weiser felt they connected with someone who was different from themselves.
  • More than 95% of our campers reported they learned it is important to treat everyone fairly and that everyone has something to contribute.

Like all camp staff, we are proud of our facilities.  We are proud of our program.  We are proud of our staff.  But we are most proud of our campers – who they are, how they have grown, and who they will become.

We hope we have an opportunity to unplug and connect with your family this summer.  We can’t wait to welcome you to YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser.

We’ll see you at Camp!


For more information on Nathan’s programs, YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood, visit the South Mountain YMCA Camps’ website at WWW.SMYMCA.ORG.  

Recently, a new camp director asked me for some thoughts on marketing a shiny, new summer camp.  I started writing a paragraph and wound up with a novel.  So, I did what any self-respecting camp director and blogger would do – I broke it into 3 parts.  For you, dear reader, this means you can eat the elephant one bite at a time.  For me, it means I get three posts for the price of one!

Tomorrow we’ll begin the series with Part 1:  Marketing Summer Camp Without (a lot of) Money.  Before we launch, I wanted to share a few disclaimers.


  1. No amount of marketing can fix a broken program, run-down facility, or poor customer service.  Fix these things first.
  2. Use high touch as well as high tech.  Commit to getting out of camp and meeting people.  Whenever feasible, bring people to your site to interact with you and your staff.  Use high tech marketing to promote your appearances and camp events (e-blasts, FB Ads or Invites, online ads and listings).
  3. Know your camp’s strengths and what makes your program unique.  Being able to distinguish yourself from the pack is critical.
  4. Know your target market and the demographics of your current campers.  This will guide you as you decide how to spend your precious marketing dollars.
  5. Every camping guru will tell you that word of mouth is the holy grail of marketing.  Your task is to determine how to nurture and encourage this form of camper recruitment.  Again, knowing the demographics of your camper family populations is crucial.
  6. No one has ever decided to be a camping or recreation professional because they were great at marketing.  When you’re putting together your program’s marketing calendar, ask for a second opinion, and then get a third.  Make sure these opinions come from someone with some expertise in sales or marketing.
  7. I am not a marketing guru, graphic designer, web developer, or sales genius.  I am just a camp guy.  I’m not sayin’ – I’m just sayin’ . . . .

Don’t Gamble!  In my experience, marketing is both an art and a science.  More often than not, we lean on the art rather than the science.  As Jim Collins made clear in Great By Choice, great efforts in business were rarely a moment of pure insight or innovation.  Rather, successful enterprises used empirical research to guide them to that success.  Another good point by Mr. Collins involved the notion of firing bullets before cannonballs.  In marketing, this might mean you try a particular promotion in a limited launch to determine its efficacy before committing all your resources to it.  Move quickly.  Be innovative.  But more importantly, be smart.

Finally, I’d like to share my favorite quote of the week.  “Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else.”  This advice comes from Franklin D. Roosevelt and it has served me well in marketing.

We’ll see you at Camp!


For more information on Nathan’s programs, YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood, visit the South Mountain YMCA Camps’ website at

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

This might be the easiest resolution you could make in 2012:  Get out and visit a summer camp.

If you are a parent of a potential summer camper, there is no substitute for the information you can glean about a summer camp during a camp visit.  Sure, you can read the glossy brochure, watch the videos, and visit the website.  You will digest a lot of information.  You might even feel like you’ve done your homework.  You haven’t.

Go for a visit.  Walk the trails, sit in the chapel, put your hand in the water along the shoreline – and talk to the staff.

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This afternoon I had the good fortune to visit a friend and fellow camp professional, Dave Bell, and YMCA Camp Colman outside of Seattle, Washington.  It was a needed reminder about the importance of taking the time to connect with the people and places that will become important in our children’s lives.  Camp Colman is beautiful, but Dave and his staff make it magical.

When you are looking for that special place this summer for your new camper, look for good people first.  When you find that, the rest will fall in place.

We’ll see you at Camp!


For more information on Nathan’s camp programs, YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood, visit

For more information on Dave Bell’s summer camps, visit or

I read.  I read a lot.

Last week I read Great By Choice by Jim Collins.  If you read Good To Great and wondered if Collins was speaking to you, if his book applied to your work in the camping industry, I doubt you will have the same concern with his most recent effort.  Great By Choice is worth your time.

But this is not a book review.  Read the book and write your own review.

"Great By Choice" - Jim Collins

It did make me think, am I choosing greatness for my camps?  Am I preparing my organization to be the best camp and conference center in the country – regardless of economic, political or social turbulence?  The truth is, I can do more.  I am betting there is more you can do, too.  Using the lessons I gleaned from the book, I will offer you a few points to consider as you prepare for a lifetime of greatness.

First, look at yourself as a leader.

  1. Are you a disciplined in your approach?  Are you a fanatic about good customer service?  Are you ruthless when it comes to ensuring your programs are of the highest quality?  Are you a benevolent dictator when it comes to ensuring the positive experience of every camper, family, and visitor that crosses your threshold?  Do you invest the extra minute in developing your staff . . . even when you would rather take a minute for yourself in the shade.  Are you “filling your bucket” by attending conferences, reading books, and seeking wisdom outside your field?
  2. Are you paranoid?  I know, we work in camp – we are all paranoid.  We are chronic worriers.  We worry about our staff.  We worry about our campers.  We worry about whether or not we will hit our fundraising goals.  The real question is, does this paranoia make you productive or does it cripple you?  Use the paranoia to drive you.
  3. If you are left-handed, do you balance your creativity with empirical evidence?  If you are right-handed, are you balancing the empirical evidence with creativity?

Second, are you using the 20 Mile March mentality?

Collins talks about the 20 Mile March.  Often the best leaders in their field make changes 20 miles at a time.  They do not seek to cover 100 miles a day, nor do they take a day off.  They pick up their packs and polish off 20 miles each and every day.

Which do you fire first, bullets or cannonballs?

Bullets are a low-cost and low-risk means of testing a new strategy.  A cannonball is a high-risk, high-cost means of launching a new program, a new pricing approach, or entering a new market.  In your camp, do you fire bullets first, wait to see the result, and then launch the cannonball?

Are you leading above the Death Line?

  1. Are you planning for the worst and preparing reserves?  Do you have a contingency plan before you lose that big conference group?  Do you know exactly how you will respond to that fire or flood?
  2. Have you assessed the risk, but not let yourself be crippled by it?
  3. Are you able to “zoom out” and “zoom in” to make sure you can assess changing economic or social conditions that impact your program?

Are your operating procedures Specific, Methodical, and Consistent?

I like to ask my summer camps director, Sue Williams, if you were run down by a rabid deer tomorrow, could summer camp run without you?  Is the camp program durable, replicable and consistent?  There is an interesting point in this question.  We put a lot of emphasis on “out-of-the-box thinking” and innovation, but the empirical evidence shared by Collins indicates that successful leaders and organizations experience less than 15% change over 20-30 years.  Less successful organizations experienced 60% change in the same period.  Consistency seems to trump innovation.

Finally, are you prepared to be lucky?

The answer to this question is answered by how you responded to the previous 5 queries.  I can tell you, I believe I could be more prepared for luck to come my way.  I could be more disciplined and more diligent about planning for the worst case scenario.

I wish you be best in preparing for the luck that will come your way!

We’ll see you at Camp,


Can Summer Camps Battle Summer Learning Loss? 

Well, we better!

If you haven’t watched the video on summer learning loss produced by Horizons National and narrated by Brian Williams, please take the time to watch it.

This piece clearly illustrates how the achievement gap grows from summer to summer and year to year.  Our summer camps need to be ready to address it – intentionally.
I work for a YMCA Camp & Conference Center, the South Mountain YMCA (  As an organization, we believe it is our responsibility to make sure that every child can attend summer camp, regardless of their families ability to pay our fees.  In fact, it is this belief, this promise, that gets me out of bed every morning.  I want to make sure our summer camp programs are available to all kids.
I saw this video for the first time last spring and my jaw dropped.  It made me re-evaluate everything I was working so hard to build.  I had been focused on creating excellent programs imbued with values and skills development, building premier facilities with an eye on safety and comfort, hiring and training superb staff that encourage friendships and our campers’ self-esteem, and raising the funds to make it available to all kids.  I was not focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic.  I am looking at my personal mission a little differently today.

What Can Camps Do? 

  1. Intentional Involvement.  Make sure our programs are available to all kids – regardless of a family’s socio-economic background.
  2. Intentional Enrichment.  Camp Professionals know our programs provide enrichment activities.  We teach new skills, values, and promote the development of trust, communication, and teambuilding.  Are we providing opportunities to read or write through camp library programs, camp newsletters, story time, songwriting, etc.?  Are we providing “math moments” by scoring archery tournaments, when we set tables or put out chairs at meal times, or when we do bird counts in our nature programs?
  3. Intentional Motivation.  Are we letting our campers know how important we think it is for them to continue to learn, grow and develop?  We need to encourage achievement – and then celebrate it.  We need to celebrate academic achievement, athletic achievement, and service achievement.

Summer Camps make a tremendous, positive impact on a child’s life – but I believe we can do more.  Good Luck!

We’ll see you at Camp!


*For more information on Nathan’s programs at the South Mountain YMCA Camps, visit

In preparing for summer camp, parents ask a lot of questions – as they should.  What happens when a child get homesick?  What kind of activities will my child be able to participate in?  How will your staff help my child make friends?

All of these are good, valid concerns.  But my favorite question, hands down, is “How far away is too far away to send a child to summer camp?”

How Far is Too Far for Summer Camp?

If you are a reader who likes his or her answer up front, let me satisfy your curiousity immediately with a 2 part response:

  1. It depends on the child attending camp.
  2. It depends on the parent who is sending the child to camp.

Now its perfectly clear, right?  Perhaps not.  But it was helpful, right?  Again, perhaps not.

This summer, I ran a poll on LinkedIn  and asked adults this very question (  With a few votes shy of 200 responses, my results are less than definitive, but the comments were pure gold.  I simply asked, “If you were sending a 10 year-old to sleep-away camp, what is a comfortable distance?” 

When framing my responses, I used times (less than 1 hour away, 1-2 hours away, 2-4 hours away, anywhere in the country, and anywhere in the world), but I did not define how a camper might be travelling.  In my opinion, once campers are travelling more than 4 hours away (by car, boat, train, or plane), they are too far away for parents to rush to their aid in the same day.  When campers are 4 or more hours away, they are “beyond reach.”  Coincidentally, this is how I picked a college.  I wanted a school that my parents could not easily visit.  I chose Grinnell College in Iowa, a full 16 hour drive from my home in Pennsylvania. 

As you might expect, responses to this simple question were all over the map (pun intended).

  1. 21% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp less than 1 hour from home.
  2. 34% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp 1-2 hours away.
  3. 27% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp 2-4 hours from home.
  4. 9% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp anywhere in their home country.
  5. 9% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp anywhere in the world.

If you take the time to review the results in more detail, you would find a trend towards older parents feeling more comfortable with their children traveling further from home than younger parents.  You wouldn’t see significant differences between men and women.

My Advice to ParentsThe perfect camp will be where you and your child’s comfort levels intersect.  Some kids are ready at 7 to fly across the country.  Some parents will never be ready for their children to be an hour away from them.  As my father is fond of saying, “moderation in all things.”  Look for the compromise. 

Look for the point at which your comfort and your child's comfort intersect.

Please keep this in mind:  Your goal should be to challenge your child and push her a step beyond her comfort level.  If you keep her too close, she may not feel challenged and/or independent.  If you push her too far out of her comfort zone, she may not benefit from the experience.  The same thing goes for you as a parent.  If you’re a parent who believes you can’t live without your child sleeping in the next room, look for the camp that is an hour away or less.  Don’t immediately send your camper across the country.  Moderation.

My Advice to Camp Directors:  “What?” you may wonder, “What does this post have to do with the art of camp management?”  Well, it should impact how you look at your marketing work.  Most parents responding to this poll, 55%, are comfortable sending their child to a camp less than 2 hours away.  82% of all parents who responded to the survey are looking for a camp that is less than 4 hours away from their home.  So, if you are on a limited marketing budget, focus on promotional events and ads that are within 2 hours drive of your camp.  Half of all parents looking for sleep-away camp next summer will be comfortable with your location.

We’ll see you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp program (YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood), The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

I believe in the power of summer camp.  There, I said it.  My name is Nathan Brant and I am a summer camp believer. 

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I may, however, be part of a dwindling number of believers.  In this era of specialization, the value of a traditional summer camp experience with archery, canoeing, campfires, nature walks, horseback rides and rock climbing is more difficult to explain to perspective families, foundations, and educators.  Traditional Day & Resident Camps are like liberal arts colleges.  We teach behavior before skill – we teach how learn and interact successfully in groups.  More and more, society seems to turn away from the notion of liberal arts and the well-rounded individual.  We are witnessing an unprecedented growth in technical or magnate schools at all levels, and the same thing is happening with summer camps.

Now everyone has gotten in on the Camp Game.  Museums, churches, schools, YMCAs, YWCAs, Scouts, community foundations, state parks, and conservancy groups are all running camps.  We have soccer camp, art camp, dance camp, eco-camp, robotics camp, swim camp, lacrosse camp, and many more.  Each of these programs teaches a skill.  They teach kids to be a better soccer player, a better inventor, a better artist, or a better swimmer.  Meanwhile, traditional summer camp programs continue with their less glamorous work – teaching kids how to be better people.

In my summer camps, Bynden Wood YMCA Day Camp & YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser (, we strive to help our campers develop into successful adults.  Regardless of the camp activity, we teach our kids the lessons of leadership.  Whether on horseback, the archery ranges, or the climbing tower, we intentionally work to improve a young person’s communication skills, we focus on the development of interpersonal trust, and we provide opportunities for problem-solving.  When a young person leaves our program, we know he or she is better prepared to serve as a leader, or be a responsible member of a group being led.

Being a great soccer player may be important through high school or college.  Being a great leader is important for life

My name is Nathan Brant, and I am a summer camp believer.  Perhaps there is a support group for people like me . . . .

We’ll see you at Camp!


For more information on the relevance of summer camp, check out the American Camp Association’s article, “An American Tradition – Camp,” at

So you have made the decision to send your child to summer camp.  It was a great decision.  Your children will learn about the outdoors and themselves while meeting interesting people and making new friends.  Well done. 

Now you have questions, “Is my child ready for this?”  “Am I ready for this?”

Don’t Panic

It’s early now and you have time to worry about the “big questions.”  Remember why you felt a summer camp experience was important for your child.  As he matures, it’s important for him to take his first steps into the-big-bad-world.  There is no safer, better supervised environment for him to test the wings of his new-found independence than in summer camp.

Ask Questions

What your 4th grade English teacher said was true, “there are no stupid questions.”  If you, the parent, never went to summer camp, we expect you to have a lot of questions.  Even if you went to summer camp last century, believe us when we say a lot has changed.  Parents should call, email, or visit their summer camp until they have every questioned answered.  Don’t worry about us, we love to talk about camp.

Stay in Touch

Join your camp’s Facebook page.  Follow your camp on Twitter.  Visit the camp website every week.  Visit camp for a tour, an open house event, or attend a family camp program.  The more interaction you have with camp staff, the more comfortable you will be when your child goes away for a week or two this summer. 


You’ve seen the brochure.  You watched the videos.  You’ve visited the website.  You’ve talked to camp staff.  Visit the camp!  It will be worth the trip, and it will give you and your new camper another chance to ask questions and get comfortable. 

Be Brave for Your Child

After 20 years on summer camp staff  there is a dirty little secret about homesickness I think you ought to know:  Your fond farewells on the first day of camp can often cause – or alleviate – homesickness.  If your camper sees you are nervous and sad at the start of camp, she will feel that way, too.  She will often feel sad for you.  Be strong for your new camper.  Let her know how excited you are for her to have this new experience.  Let her know you will be alright while she is gone.  It could make all the difference.

Take Time for Yourself

Parents deserve a break.  Summer camp can give you that break.  You are unlikely to ever have a better trained person looking after the needs of your child than during a week of summer camp (other than you, of course).  Most camp staff are CPR and 1st Aid certified, they have been trained in dozens of fun games and activities, they sleep in the same room with the kids they care for, and watch what they eat at meals.  Take a break while your child is away and in good hands.  Watch a movie.  Visit a spa.  Recharge your batteries.

Celebrate the Accomplishment

Celebrate the accomplishment of completing the first week away at summer camp (for you and your child).  After camp, go to a favorite restaurant and share with your child how proud you are of him.  Chances are, he will have a lot to talk about. 

Know that your child is going to learn new things, build self-esteem, make new friends, and be cared for by excellent camp counselors who are there for you child.

We’ll See you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

*This article was started by Jeff Henry, the summer camp intern at YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser, and finished by Nathan. 

Download the FREE E-Book! 

If you’re a camping professional, or someone passionate about camping, I think you will enjoy this book.  More than 20 authors have contribued 37 articles on the relevance of camping in today’s world, the positive impact it has on children, the future of teambuilding, camping, outdoor education and much more.

To download the free PDF, visit the Summer Camp Theme Guy website at

Click Here to Download the Free E-Book


Authors include: 

  1. Nathan Brant Summer Camp Source FORGET THE EXPERTS:  PART 1
  2. Mike Davria  DON’T BE A DINOSAUR
  3. Jim Cain NEXT
  4. Adam Issadore Path To Rhythm Group Drumming  FAMILY
  5. Mike Ohl  CAMP IS LIKE . . .
  6. Sue Casine YMCA Camp Foskett  DIFFERENT AND FUN
  7. Pete Rondello, Sr. YMCA Camp Manito-Wish  TRANSFORMATION
  8. Jason Smith YMCA Camp Kitaki  TELL YOUR STORY
  11. Aaron Cantor Aaron Cantor 80 HOURS
  12. Matt Tuckey Matt Tuckey TECH ADDICT
  14. Randall Grayson YOUR VALUE PROPOSITION
  15. Randall Grayson WHO ARE YOU?
  16. Rick Garland Rick Garland THE CALL OF THE JUNIOR COUNSELOR
  17. David Seddon David Seddon IT’S A SMALL WORLD
  18. Dave Hennessey YMCA Camp Tuckahoe 257 FRIENDS
  20. Nathan Brant Nathan Scott Brant CELLS
  21. Mike Ohl OVERDELIVER
  22. Brent Birchler Brent Birchler CAMP VALUES
  23. Jill Tipograph TEEN VOLUNTEERISM
  25. Randall Grayson  STOP MARKETING!
  26. Matt Ralph Summer Camp Culture  SOMETIMES WE WANNA GO
  27. Dan Weir Dan Loves Camp  BULLYING
  28. Randall Grayson WHY RETURN RATES DON’T MATTER  
  29. Scott Arizala The Camp Counselor  KIDS WITH DIFFERENT NEEDS
  30. Smith & Chenoweth Camp Augusta  THE ART OF WORLD BUILDING
  31. Dan Weir Dan Weir TECHNOLOGY
  34. Jason Smith YMCA Camp Kitaki FOCAL POINT
  35. Travis Jon Allison Camp Hacker A NERDY KID
  36. Jill Tipograph CAMP PEOPLE
  37. Nathan Brant Summer Camp Theme Guy  FORGET THE EXPERTS:  PART 2

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

Summer Camp Source: Nathan Scott Brant