On Embracing the Outdoors at Camp Otterdale
May 19, 2017 by Camp Pages

Camp Walden

Camp Q&A: Jeff Brown, camp owner and director at Camp Otterdale

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

I’ve been the owner/director for 22 years.

Q: What is your favourite part of your job?

I think working with young people and working in the outdoors.

Q: What kinds of qualities does a camp director/counsellor need to have?

Empathy. That’s primary. I think one of the most important things is being able to anticipate events that are going to come next. I’m always coaching my staff and older campers that are in the leadership stream to look at what’s the next potential thing that’s going to happen here. So, whether they’re supervising or whether it’s the flow of the program at camp, just to have an eye a little bit down the road so they can anticipate and be prepared for the next thing that’s happening.

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

One thing that they absolutely should do is not say ‘if you’re not having a good time, we’ll come and get you.’ And that happens once in a while where staff are working to help a camper overcome some homesickness or settle in and there’s often a transition period where they settle and if they’ve got that caveat that says ‘well, I know my mom is going to pick me up because she said she would if I’m not happy’, if they’ve got that in their back pocket, it’s so difficult for the staff and for me to let them focus on the ‘now’ and not think about ‘well, I’ve got my lifeline.’ So, a parent should never ever say ‘if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to pick you up.’ What a parent should say is that it will work out. It might be a struggle at the beginning, but it will work out. The other thing is if they’re just little people, they should be able to stay at their grandparents’ for the weekend. I think that’s a good test. Or staying at a friend’s house. That’s all good. Nobody knows their kids better than the parent, so if there’s any sense that it just wouldn’t work and you’re really, really forcing them, it might be the wrong time.

Q: What can camp staff do to prevent bullying and exclusion?

It does happen. I think it would be foolish to think that it doesn’t happen because it can be such a subtle thing. So, we accept the fact that it may happen and we talk about it openly, but we don’t accept it. We talk about the bystander issue and we know it does take bystanders to make bullies effective. If they don’t have support, whether it’s passive support or active support, then the bully has no ammunition. So, we’re very conscious about that and we talk about that. We also have clear lines of communication, so that if a camper feels that they are being mistreated in any way, emotionally, physically, they know they can go to any staff member. My partner directors, we make sure we’re available, too. So, that all helps.

Q: Over the years, have you noticed any changes in the way camps are run or in the way kids and their families approach camp?

So much is the same in some respects. I think parents want their kids to be more independent, they want them to get outdoors, they want them to try new things, so that hasn’t changed. What’s difficult is that it’s so easy to be involved with social media and with tech. toys, so to be able to drop your screen, to get away from those games, it’s harder. So, we’re fighting technology more and more. And there are amazing games out there. You’re competing with some pretty flashy stuff sometimes, but at the same time, it’s more important now I think than ever that we’ve got that opportunity for kids, especially to be outdoors and identify with the outdoors. Camps have changed, probably, to compete. You kind of have to have a flashy program sometimes. You’ll see camps that have some pretty unique programs that are trying to keep up with the times.

Q: Is there any camper or instance you remember that really exemplified the power or spirit of camp?

I immediately think to the staff that have been campers for a long time and then become staff because I know them so well. They could be close to 15 years as part of the camp. So, they’ve certainly developed from shy little kids that were barely afraid to say ‘boo’ to leaders in front of the camp that are singing songs and that are working with their peers as leaders.

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