From Camper to Director: Discussing Leadership at Camp Kawartha
May 19, 2017 by Camp Pages

Camp Q&A: Adam Strasberg, camp director at Camp Kawartha.

Q: How long have you been the director of Camp Kawartha?

I’ve been there since 2005.

Q: What is your favourite part of the job?

My favourite part of the job is being at camp. I mean, I grew up at camp. This is my 39th year, from being a camper to staff to being a camp director. I’m still doing it because it’s still the same magic as when I first went when I was nine.

Q: What kinds of qualities does it take to be a camp director/counsellor?

Leading a camp is like any other business. You have to have a good leader, someone that has to be able to listen to people, someone that has to make sure people are safe. Whether you’re a school principal, whether you’re the owner of a company, there’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of subtleties that you don’t fully learn until you’re on the job. Making sure that everyone feels valued and validated is a pretty big responsibility.

Q: What is the best thing a parent or guardian can do to prepare their child for their first camp experience?

A lot of communication. Make sure your child is prepared with other experiences where they’re given a sense of responsibility whether that’s opening their own lunches and tying their shoes and brushing their teeth. And if a child doesn’t feel comfortable or if they have hesitations, then maybe it’s not the time for them to start. Don’t rush them in. There’s no “appropriate” age. A lot of discretion should be left to the child.

Q: How can camp prevent bullying and/or exclusion?

A lot of staff training. Like any business, you’ve got to be preventative of things. You have to have policies in place. It’s important to hire the right staff, but you’re also hiring people that are 17 and 18 years old and they’re going to make mistakes and they’re going to have to learn. If they have a difficult situation, I have older, senior staff members who are on alert to be those resources to help them through those problems. And if we have to increase the ratios in a certain area to help with a homesick camper or a bullied camper then we work it. Sometimes you avoid that stuff with preventative actions and sometimes you can’t. You try to manage a situation, but sometimes that can be difficult. So, you want to have all the preventative measures in place and when something is happening, have the right protocols in place as well. You’re going to catch a lot of things. Some things are going to get through and hopefully the things that get through, you’re managing properly. And in no way is there a time when you’re being negligent, where you’re ignoring a situation.

Q: In your years at camp, have you noticed any changes in the way children and their families approach camp?

[We’re] dealing with issues now we might not have dealt with before. Anxiety is a huge thing. We had a child who had a panic attack on a canoe trip last year and even some of our most experienced staff dealt with it very well, but they were shaken up by that and it was important for us to bring someone in after and talk about anxiety, things we wouldn’t have expected in the past. There’s the special needs aspect as well, kids who are coming who have a learning disability or ADHD or they’re on the autism spectrum so we have staff who help and assist with that and we train our staff to recognize things and not takes things for granted just because a camper’s not able to advocate for themselves. Of course, the cellphone is pervading our schools. We’re fighting the good fight at out camp. In essence, we’re a cell free camp, but at the same time, technology helps run camps and the things you can do on media now where you can take pictures or video and stream them online right away and parents can see it, there’s a degree of that. That’s good, but there has to be a balance with that.

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