As a summer camp director, I have countless conversations with boys every day about making the most of this experience by being kind and considerate to others, learning how to develop self-reliance, and keeping things in proper perspective. Sometimes when boys leave my office, even when the advice is sound, there is no guarantee that the child will be able to implement the strategies that I suggest. What is most gratifying is having enough history with the campers to celebrate the successes as I watch these boys develop into fine young men.
Today, I had the opportunity to spend time with our thirty-six graduating seniors. These boys have completed ninth grade. Some of these campers have been here for nine years. I have had the pleasure of watching these boys flourish before my eyes. Over the years, they have had their fair share of success on the playing fields, but what is most notable to me is the respect they have for each other and the camp.
Having had the privilege of owning and directing Camp Takajo since 1989, I have had the unique opportunity to watch countless young boys become grown men. I have seen these relationships begin in the bunks on campus and continue in the dormitories of some of the finest learning institutions in the country, and even to the boardrooms of some Fortune 500 companies. These relationships are built on trust and love. And, while most families sign up for camp only thinking about the “7-week experience,” I have often viewed this as a lifetime experience.
While our graduating seniors are on top of the world after returning from their trip out west, I can notice that reality is setting in, and they know that their camping days are coming to an end. This is a special time in their lives as they transition from the carefree experience of summer camp into the pressures of high school. Each day of the reaming week of camp will take on a special meaning for these boys, and when the buses depart next Friday, we will celebrate what these fine, young men have accomplished on the shores of Long Lake.
If you could picture the perfect summer day in camp, today was that day– bright, sunny skies and temperatures that reached the mid-eighties. It was not too hot for playing sports, and the sun warmed the water, taking any remaining chill out of the lake.
It was a quiet day in camp; our Warrior Indian Campers (finished 4th grade) took off early this morning to a nearby water park. The boys had an amazing day at this iconic, summertime Mecca. Our Junior Greys (finished 6th grade) spent the day shooting the rapids in ten-man rafts down the Kennebec River. Our Sub Seniors (finished 8th grade) are loving every minute of their time in Canada. Our Okee’s (finished 9th grade) boarded a plane in Las Vegas this morning and made their way back to their summer home by nightfall. With all this excitement going on outside of camp, you can imagine how peaceful it appeared to be in camp. Nevertheless, the age groups that remained took advantage of our facilities all day long.
Today was the perfect opportunity for our campers to get a little extra attention in the sport of their choice. The warm sun shining on Long Lake made it very inviting for those boys who wanted to water ski, sail, or canoe. Other campers and counselors took advantage of a quiet Art Center and spent time creating their bunk plaques. At the end of the day, our Warrior Crows (finished 1st or 2nd grades) had their movie night sleepover in the MJG Playhouse. They enjoyed watching three movies and munching on pizza into the evening.
We have more big trips heading out tomorrow, but by Friday evening we will all be back in camp for the duration of the season.
It’s been another busy day at Camp Takajo. Our Warrior Indian Campers (finished 4th grade), who slept in the MJG Playhouse for their all-night movie extravaganza, stumbled into breakfast with bed head, looking like they stayed up all night as to not miss a minute of fun. Our Junior Grey Campers (finished 6th grade) left camp for a two-day whitewater rafting trip. They boys and their counselors will sleep under a starlit sky, awake in the morning to board their ten-man rafts, and venture down the rapids of the Kennebec River. These rapids are fun and exhilarating, and our boys will enjoy pulling over to the shore for a steak and chicken cookout midway through the journey.
Our Senior Intermediates (finished 7th grade) had the privilege of sleeping in this morning, and when they awoke, enjoyed a home-cooked breakfast with bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches prepared right on their quad. Those boys in camp enjoyed taking advantage of playing team sports, sailing and waterskiing on the lake, and finishing projects on Hobby Lane. Our campers can sense that the regular program will soon be coming to an end and that Olympics will soon break.
I find myself involved in every aspect of this camp. I must admit, as a dad, I can’t help but daydream about that feeling of having my children come home to me at the end of the camp season. I yearn for that unconditional hug and snuggle time. I love those moments around the dinner table when they recount the funny stories that occurred in the bunk. Even the thought of driving to the orthodontist makes me smile just at the mere thought of reconnecting and having that quality time with my kids. The end of the season allows for me to have the opportunity to create a new set of expectations in our home as well.
As the school year was winding down, I became a little bit more permissive when it came to bed times, curfews, and the use of technology. Knowing that my kids are coming from a structured environment, where they thrived with rules and routine, I feel like this is the perfect time to implement anything my wife and I deem appropriate. As parents, we recognize that if we don’t seize the moment and convey our expectations for the launch of the school year, then the “inmates may be running the asylum.”
The end of the summer is not only a celebration of an accomplishment for your son, but it is an opportunity to revisit policies and procedures in your home and create the kind of environment that best serves your family.
I woke up to a forecast indicating that we were going to have our first rainy day of the summer. Fortunately for us, the forecast was incorrect. While we did have gray skies and cooler temperatures, we made it through the entire day without a raindrop. The cooler temperatures were welcomed, and our boys enjoyed running on the fields without sweltering heat.
Our Sub Senior campers (14-year-olds) departed for their trip to Canada, and our Junior Greens (completed fifth grade) left for their overnight trip to Pleasant Mountain Ski Resort. Here, they will enjoy hiking and exhilarating rides on the zip lines. Our Warrior Indian campers (completed fourth grade) ended their day with a massive sleepover in the playhouse. This tight-knit group of boys, set up their sleeping bags on the floor, watched three movies throughout the evening, and enjoyed being surprised with pizza as a “midnight snack” (actually closer to 8:30 pm).
As we enter the second to last week of camp, the boys can sense that our Olympics (the camp’s color war) could break at any moment. In the meantime, we are organizing a series of All-Star games in each sport to give every camper a chance to participate in some fun competition.
As I made my rounds through the Warrior bunks this evening, I witnessed happy boys settled in their summer homes, playing with some of their best friends. It’s hard to believe that this will soon be coming to an end.
Lazy Man’s Morning could not have come at a better time. Our campers needed the extra rest. With very little rain and warm days this summer at camp, the boys are tired. By the time they return home to you at the end of the season, they will be ready for a couple of days of downtime. This morning, our boys stumbled into breakfast in pajamas and with “bed head” to enjoy their favorite treats from Dunkin’ Donuts, hot chocolate, and cereal. I met with the boys who are staying for the Father-Son Weekend so we could have a preliminary conversation about bunk assignments and talk about the fun activities that we have in store for the weekend.
Today, Camp Takajo brothers and cousins, who have family at Tripp Lake Camp and Camp Robindel, had a chance to reconnect with their loved ones for the last time of the camp season. Our camp nurses also made their rounds today and visited every child to perform their head-to-toe body checks to make sure we are doing everything possible to keep our boys healthy and in our program.
At the end of the day, we all came together in the MJG Playhouse for the Junior Big Show, Aladdin. With such a packed schedule, I always marvel that our boys find the time to participate in rehearsals and perform on stage at such a high level. Our fifth and sixth grade boys made us proud this evening.
It is our custom at the end of a camp event to sing the camp alma mater and remain standing for the playing of tattoo. As I stood in front of the group this evening singing the camp song, I could not help but reflect that five short weeks ago we were a bunch of individuals. However, we have all shared many experiences over the summer. We have laughed and cried together, won and lost together. These experiences build a community, lifelong friendships and memories that will last forever.
I feel like a broken record, but today was another magnificent day. Our temperatures remained in the mid-eighties– perfect weather for summer camp. Our Sub-Senior boys have returned from their trips and were eager to get back to the playing fields. They welcomed a challenge from the Intermediates in soccer. It turned out to be a very spirited match. We hosted a flag football tournament for our 13-year-old boys, while some other campers had the opportunity to play in another tennis tournament and a lacrosse tournament.
While we had a packed day of activities, by far my favorite moment of this day was a little encounter I had when a young Warrior camper came into my office, began to cry, and told me he was homesick. Clearly, you must think I am losing it. How in my right mind can I consider this a highlight? When I reminded the boy that there are less than two weeks of camp left and that he would be home before he knew it, he responded, “I am not homesick for home. I am homesick for camp.”
He continued to tell me that Camp Takajo was the “most magical place on earth,” and he didn’t want to leave.
He concluded by saying, “Camp Takajo has everything I love, except my parents.”
I wake up very early, and I put in long days at camp. But, I have always considered my vocation as my avocation, simply put– I love what I do, but nothing is more wonderful than having a little boy tell me how meaningful this experience is to him.
As the sun set over Long Lake, our boys took showers and relaxed while enjoying Saturday Night At The Movies. As another week comes to a close, we look forward to all the special events around the corner.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a week since visiting day. Our intermediate and sub-senior campers have returned from their trips all smiles, and they gave the trips rave reviews. Today, we welcomed rookie campers, who have expressed a sincere interest in coming to Camp Takajo next summer. The rookies will spend the weekend with us to sample some of the camp’s activities. These little boys are like “kids in a candy shop.” Their eyes are wide open with smiles beaming ear-to-ear.
I was recently talking to a parent who remarked that my blogs are always so upbeat. He questioned me about what upsets me during the summer. Clearly, many things could upset me during the summer, an unhappy child, a camper not treating another boy with kindness and compassion, or a counselor not living up to their full potential. But the thing that came to mind during this conversation is the negative impact created when campers keep cell phones hidden in camp.
Today, a thirteen-year-old boy walked into my office with tears in his eyes and turned in his phone. When I asked him why he had his phone, he had no explanation. While he was concerned that this infraction might impact our relationship, he was equally concerned that I might think less of his parents for allowing him to have his phone. Over the years, I have witnessed first-hand the great distraction a cell phone can cause during the camp season. I have witnessed very happy boys, who use their phones and learn that friends are hanging out at home, somehow making them feel like the grass is greener back home and that they are missing out. I have consoled boys who have learned of tragic news, alone in their bunk, and were blindsided and unable to cope. In speaking with this child’s father, I shared with him that I know I have the trust and confidence of this community and that parents may not see the negative impact that technology can have on their sons over the summer. However, I was asked the question and was only too willing to answer.
On a more positive note, the sun is shining, the forecast is for bright skies, and with just two weeks to go in the summer, we look forward to making the most of each day.
Every morning, when I make my way to my office, I see little pockets of counselors enjoying the peaceful, quiet time before the campers wake up. There is a group of counselors who meet on the porch of the dining room for morning coffee. Don Mathews, a veteran of forty-two years, and Hal Williams, who is here celebrating is 35th year at camp, are two of the elder statesmen that hold court during the early hours before reveille. I have noticed that this coffee group has grown over the summer, and somehow, I can’t help but feel that those who sit with Don and Hal feel humbled by their presence. These are two wise men that have much to share about life and Takajo. It dawned on me how special and meaningful the relationships are for our staff, and I am sure that these unique friendships and connections help many staff members during some pretty long days.
When I made my way to the office this morning, I noticed all seventeen members of my tennis staff dressed in uniform ready to head into the dining hall for an early breakfast. Today, we were hosting five camps in a tennis tournament for many of our boys who have a passion for the game, but who have not played in a tournament this season. We create these events during the summer because we recognize the importance of participation. The thrill each camper experiences as he puts on a Camp Takajo uniform and competes against boys from neighboring camps is readily apparent.
Our courts were full all day, and the counselors did a magnificent job of coaching and encouraging our boys until the very last point was played. One little boy on our team had so much fun that he asked me if he could call his parents this evening to see if they would sign him up for tennis lessons in the fall. Another little boy told me that this was “the best day of the summer,” and never told me if he won or lost.
Competition is healthy for kids if it is kept in its proper perspective. One of the reasons why we don’t have awards at Camp Takajo is because we consider it to be a negative aspect of competition. It defeats the purpose of what we are trying to accomplish. As we wind down on the summer, it would be meaningless for us to choose one boy who is the best athlete, or one boy who is the most improved. Many campers have developed skills in several different disciplines at camp. This development helped them to gain confidence, therefore it seems meaningless to diminish their growth and development by handing out awards.
As these players put their heads on their pillows at the end of a long, fun-filled day, I know that they have grown and flourished because of this experience.
Warm, humid air arrived in Maine, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone. Our Senior boys departed this morning at 5 am to go out west. They landed safely after waiting their entire camping careers for this trip of a lifetime. Our Junior campers stayed in their regular routine this morning and ventured down to the waterfront this afternoon for a game of water polo before preparing for evening socials with a neighboring girls’ camp. Our Warrior campers enjoyed playing sports with our field sprinklers running, which made the games not only fun, but also cool and refreshing.
While much of my day focuses on creating wonderful opportunities for our boys, I can’t help but focus on the individual moments that allow children to grow here at camp. It is unrealistic to think that over a seven-week period, children are not going to have a bad moment or a bad day. But, it’s during these times that we have the greatest opportunities to make a positive impact on a child. These teachable moments are more important than any victory we could ever have on a playing field or court.
Little boys, by nature, are impulsive. They will very often act before they think.
When surrounded by their peers, kids will become over-stimulated and often make choices based on how they will be perceived by those around them. Nevertheless, in my experience, when I have a chance to sit down with a boy and talk to him about his attention seeking behavior, he very often reflects and recognizes that he must be responsible for his actions to move forward.
Parents often ask me, “What are the consequences for a child who acts out in camp?”
While I believe in consequences, my first reaction is always to sit with a child and understand what he is feeling and what caused him to misbehave before I render a consequence. Very often a child acting out is expressing a sign of his own unhappiness, and it’s important to recognize that negative behavior is sometimes a form of expression from a child looking for help. While camp is a place to develop self-confidence, it is also a place that forces us to face and overcome our insecurities.
As I was walking to breakfast this morning, the Warrior campers and staff were heading into the camp’s dining room. It was only 8:15 in the morning, and our counselors were already hard at work. At least a dozen counselors were giving boys piggyback rides into the building. A few counselors walked side-by-side with the campers with their arms gently placed on the little guys’ shoulders for no reason other than the fact that our staff sincerely love your kids. These relationships are genuine, their care and concern are as honest and sincere as if the campers were their own little brothers.
During visiting day, I had a conversation with a parent who commented on how enthusiastic and compassionate our staff was. He asked about how we instruct the staff during the preseason orientation. I told him that I had recently given a talk at a conference about how to motivate staff when there is no Christmas bonus or chance of promotion. The first thing that we look for when hiring people to work with your boys is to find people of character who are morally and ethically sound and willing to put their needs behind the needs of a child. Unlike some internships that may look better on a resumé, a summer camp job forces one to think on his feet and to make important judgment calls all day long. In any given day, a counselor may make 50-100 decisions based on instinct and his or her assessment of a situation. Most jobs don’t give their employees that kind of latitude. I explained to the staff that employers today are looking for candidates who are willing to adapt to all kind of situations– people who have problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, and who are team players. I explained to the staff that the skills required to be a great camp counselor will serve them well in the “real” world.
When I describe our team, one of the unique components here at Camp Takajo is that we hire a female counselor as a bunk counselor (for all responsibilities aside from living in the cabin) in every bunk of boys who have finished first through fourth grades. While I refer to the uniqueness of hiring female staff in this all-male culture as our “special ingredient,” I don’t want to take anything away from the amazing male counselors I have on my staff. As my wife often says to me, after witnessing our male staff in action, “You are teaching these young men how to be great husbands and fathers.”
I have often said that no matter how beautiful our facility is, we are only as good as our staff. After a fantastic visiting day weekend, I am fortunate to be surrounded by such caring and devoted young men and women.