Doing the Next Thing Next Can Be Boring!

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Thirty years ago, on the eve of the opening of Camp, Andre Theisen, the Boys Camp director and I were frantically trying to finish a project that seemed to us to be the most important thing to do - hanging a 4’ x 8’ New York Times crossword puzzle in the staff cabin. The week before, like this year’s staff training, had been spent in regimented schedules – safety trainings, lectures and discussions on adolescent development, prepping program areas, and cleaning cabins – so, we needed something “fun” to do. I think of this each year as we near the arrival of the campers, shake my head, chuckle, and wonder, again, if maybe we were doing just what we were supposed to do at that moment.

Andre and I were once implored by an outside trainer to always do the next thing next. We follow much of that philosophy in the time we are given for training our staff. In two short weeks, and just one for our full staff, we train a dozen lifeguards, the same number of ropes course leaders, certify everyone in CPR, and share a lot of information on Camp Mishawaka and techniques for working with young people. It’s as intense a week as any of our whole summer. Imparting and building culture takes time and intent, and by the end of this year’s staff training week, our group was as close as any I have seen.

We heed this same care and structure to build a successful session for our campers. In the next few days, the 2024 season will fully come together. Routines and patterns will be established, and kids will start to find their place at Camp. Like anything worth doing, it takes a bit of time, but the progress will come. The first day of Camp, not unlike the first day of school, is a lot – a lot of information, a lot of new people, and a lot to take in. By breaking this down – doing the next thing next – a time-proven process kicks in, and kids discover an experience like nothing else in their lives.

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However, in my 30+ years, I’ve also learned that the wonder of this experience is built in the most unpredictable places and times. Everyday is filled with opportunities. Activities, certainly, but also small interactions, jokes, and even challenges that can create memorable, formative moments. Beyond the regiment and routine, there is also the potential for surprises. Moments that are not planned, or even imagined, will arise. There will be moments that allow a kid to not just move forward on a line of progression, but move outward and deeper in growth. I once stumbled on a group of girls, campers and staff having a “Tea Party” in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful day. I went searching for Mary Jane to relay my dismay. Parents send their kids to Camp to learn, I said, to do things, to accomplish things. She invited me to sit and watch the group with her, and what I saw was pure delight. The kids were having the time of their life in the most absurd of activities, one they would likely never engage in at home. They were still learning, accomplishing, and finding joy – albeit in a way I didn’t originally anticipate. I withdrew my objection.

We never finished that crossword puzzle (it was a Sunday puzzle – hard!) and while all the staff poked at it a bit, it never became the group diversion we had hoped for. I don’t remember many of the details of that season thirty-years on, but I will never forget our attempt to give staff a fun activity to play during their downtime. I’ve never been able to quite put my finger on why some of the biggest moments at Camp come at the most surprising of times. Maybe they come not in spite of the spontaneity and absurdity of the moment, but because of them. I am just glad that this continues and the time and space exist for us all to have these moments.

We look forward to a lot of them this summer.

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