Camp Directors Reflect: Much to Appreciate About Their Roles

As Thanksgiving approaches, camp directors are hard at work. Camper recruitment, staff hiring, budget planning and, of course, communicating with families, fill directors’ days as they anticipate the 2018 season. Yet while their tasks these November days may involve more time indoors than in the summer months, directors are quick to acknowledge the many elements of their roles for which they are grateful.  From standing under starlit skies, to watching campers grow with each passing summer, to working with staff members as they reach adulthood, camp directors recount a lengthy list of the unique qualities of their positions that make them thankful.

Matt Pines, who directs Maine Teen Camp in Porter with his wife, Monique, says he is grateful to work outdoors “in the beautiful state of Maine.” And at the core of that gratitude is working with teenagers. Teens “really do need an opportunity to have a timeout” from “the rest of the world,” Pines says.

“We interact with teenagers and staff where they’re relaxed and their true selves,” he says. “We get these kids who are wonderful and fun and funny and engaging.” And rather than competing with their peers, like they might be at school, they are cooperating.

“There are not too many cooperative spaces left for kids, and camp is one of them,” Pines says.

Karen Malm, assistant director of Camp Agawam, a boys’ camp in Raymond, says that “first and foremost” she is grateful that campers have a “healthy and safe summer.” But other aspects of camp warrant appreciation as well.

“I’m thankful for the wonderful notes you get from campers and parents at the end of the summer.” In addition, campers in 2017 learned new skills and developed “new-found confidence” during their time at camp. And boys at Camp Agawam take new abilities or character elements home with them, Malm says.

“I’m thankful for the fact that so many come back year after year,” she says. “We see them grow up.”

The opportunity to work with staff also makes her grateful, she says – “working with a great group of young adults who want to be working with children.”

Sue McMullan, director of Alford Lake Camp, a girls’ camp in Hope, calls her role “an incredibly honorable position.”

“The idea of relationships is the most important thing in our profession,” McMullan says.  “We get to know campers and their ups and downs, and ins and outs, and we also get to connect with families.” There is an honorable quality to keeping confidences and having close and trusted connections to campers’ families, McMullan says.

“The bottom line is that we are all human first,” she says. “If we can identify and relate to families on that level, we’ve done our job.”

“What a gift.”

Like McMullan, Camp Wawenock Director Catriona Sangster says she is most appreciative of relationship-building. Developing partnerships with parents, families, and staff over the years is continually gratifying, she says.

Sangster, who co-directs Camp Wawenock with her husband Andy, says “every summer is different, no matter how many years you do the job.”

“There are always things you can learn,” she says. “It keeps me very excited and engaged in what I do.”

“We talk to kids about being lifelong learners,” Sangster says. “I’m a lifelong learner in my job.”

Sangster also says she is also grateful for the opportunity to live at the camp, in Raymond. “It’s a really unique experience. I’m thankful for the community we live in.” Living at camp has also enabled the couple to “raise our kids in a really unique way,” she says.

Camps across Maine offer kids a broad range of new experiences, from learning independence and resilience, to mastering a whole host of new skills. And camp directors make it happen. As these camp administrators say, there is much about the business to appreciate. From spending summer days in the outdoors, to nurturing emerging adults who serve as counselors, to watching youngsters learn to live away from home, the benefits of running a camp are as varied as the camps themselves. But central to all these gifts is the opportunity to build connections. Camp directors are committed to putting their organizations’ missions into action through developing relationships, and those relationships are among what they appreciate most. Camp directors love — and are grateful for — their work. They reap rewards, yes, and so do the more than 40,000 kids who attend Maine camps each summer.

Kristine Millard

About Kristine Millard

Kristine Snow Millard is a free-lance writer from Portland and a fan of all things summer, including camp. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Hampshire, a master’s degree (communications) and a law degree from Boston University, and, most recently, earned an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. She is currently helping to edit The Art of Outdoor Living, a guidebook used for Junior Maine Guide candidates, and is a regular contributor to the Maine Summer Camps newsletter. She has also contributed to the American Camp Association New England newsletter. Kris has written regularly for Maine Women and My Generation, both publications of Current Publishing. She has written features for the Maine Sunday Telegram, and is also a free-lance grant writer. A parent, she is also deeply committed to the subject of emotional wellness, and has seen how camp can foster whole and healthy kids. She is working on a memoir about living with clinical depression, and an essay she has written on that topic is forthcoming in an anthology to be published by Talking Writing, an on-line literary magazine.