Towering Pines Blog

Behind the Scenes to Building Future Leaders

Campfires, cabin nights, evening workshops, vespers and Sunday special events are a key part of the fabric of the weekly programming we have at camp. At surface level, these activities could have the appearance of nothing more than the opportunity to wear crazy costumes and play a bunch of games or sit in a circle singing songs and sharing thoughts around a particular theme. Some might even say their purpose on the camp calendar is to keep campers entertained and busy after dinner several days a week and on Sunday when we take a break from the usual daily program of activity choices. 

I would argue that the importance of these events is far greater than what meets the eye at first glance. The six weeks of camp is based on intentionality and purpose, and these evening and Sunday events are no exception. Why? I’m glad you asked! 

The reasons you send your camper/s to us are numerous, one of them being the development of young people into leaders. The mentioned evening and Sunday programs are the perfect ecosystem for this to happen because campers are making decisions about their individual choices or a negotiated group decision as a cabin. Sunday special events are planned and executed by CITs. What?! Yes, these very programs are amazingly designed and carried out by your kid/s. The staff, of course, guide, facilitate and support the campers ranging from 7-16 to be able to do this. They recognize the importance of empowering campers from the youngest to the oldest to have a voice in designing and contributing to their summer experience. 

At each weekly campfire (Sunday nights), cabins perform a skit in front of the entire camp. In addition, they sprinkle leading a cheer, telling a joke or presenting a challenge into the mix.  The collaboration it takes to decide as a group what that will be is a great lesson in compromise and negotiation. Overcoming or managing the jitters of standing in front of a group (as a group) is a great segway into confidently responding to a question asked by a teacher in school, volunteering to read out loud, or getting on stage for choir, band, theater or other performances. 

There was a very special campfire called the “Chiefs Campfire” that was held this past Friday evening in the Indian Bowl.  Each cabin votes for a “chief” and a “medicine man” for their group.  These roles are unique, and it is definitely an honor to be chosen.  The “chief” is seen as a leader, someone who helps other campers deal with challenging situations and also, may step in to advise when someone isn’t acting in the best interest of the cabin. This isn’t always an easy thing to do; however, it is something that is part of every aspect of life, and so what a better place to practice this than at camp.  The “medicine man” is someone who is positive, caring, and often times serves as a connector fostering relationships with other campers.  They bring a peaceful presence to the cabin.

Each Sunday morning we venture to a peaceful spot in the forest called the Seeking Place. This is another chance to practice leadership skills as cabins take turns planning this time that is spent together as an entire camp around a chosen character trait or value (respect, empathy, integrity, honesty etc). Campers and counselors work together to choose their cabin theme and individually write messages helping to explain each one’s perspective on this value. Cabin 12, Apache, was the first cabin to lead vespers and chose respect as their theme (one of our 5 core values). The 2nd week of vespers was led by Cabin 11, Seneca, and they chose to focus and share their thoughts on empathy.  This process also aids campers in their journey to being able to speak in front of others. 

Sunday afternoons are run solely by the oldest campers each week, the CIT’s (counselors-in-training). This group plans multiple all-camp themed events throughout the summer that are longer in length, lasting from 1-3 hours. As part of the planning, considerations are given to a wide range of camper ages, choosing engaging and fun activities, the weather conditions (having a back-up plan is always a good idea!), utilizing different aspects of the camp property and facilities, and finding new twists to a camp “tradition”. . . just to name a few! The project management skills repeatedly practiced over the course of 6 weeks to plan these events on top of other CIT duties, paves the way for leadership participation in student government, clubs and organizations throughout middle/high school and beyond.

So far the CIT’s have pulled off an amazing Pirate Day and Frontier Day and are looking ahead to Quest Day this Sunday. Not only do the CITs plan the actual event, but they also do a promo which is like a mini-skit to get the campers excited for the upcoming event.  They’re actually learning a little bit of marketing knowledge along the way without even realizing it!  The campers LOVE hunting for buried treasure and finding out who will walk the plank on “Pirate Day!”  They also get beyond excited for an intense scavenger hunt for the CIT’s scattered all around camp on “Frontier Day.” Competition for the most points is a true motivator. You’ll hear shouts and hollers as cabins work together to buy clues to finding the “mother lode” of gold in Gold Rush.  Each and every detail is taken into account, and the CITs learn what works and maybe what they could improve upon as they plan their next event.  Again, leadership training is integrated into so much of their daily camp lives.

So, next time you see pictures of crazy costumes and fun games or campers around a campfire or similar setting, be sure to look behind the scenes for examples of collaboration, negotiation, project management, communication, and other life/career skills!

Kim Aycock/Angie Ziller

Leadership Team

Camp Woodland & Towering Pines