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Dear Chippewa Parent,

Now that the dust has settled following the end of another camp season, I wanted to take a moment to express my deepest gratitude for giving us the opportunity to care for your daughter. This has been such a unique summer, and like every year I wanted to share my takeaways. By now most of you know that I get a bit lost in my words, so I won’t take it personally if you read no further than this opening paragraph (nor will I ever know), but you may find some of ​my observations interesting. You may also find yourself zoning toward your dinner plans for the evening, or feeling trapped within the walls of my captivating words. Either way, this was how I felt about the summer, and I would like to share.​ Thank you, thank you and thanks. 

It’s Complicated…

The roaring 20s are certainly off to a thorny start. Sometimes I think about the challenges that we face as modern camp directors, and I try to measure them against the start of my career in camping nearly twenty years ago. I feel like Lisa and I came in during a transitional period. Not just because of the literal change in hands from Tom and Pam Adler to us, but because society was adjusting at such a rapid pace. The ever changing world was moving on without our industry, and we were left with a complicated selection of options. We always lived with this notion that no matter what flew at us, our core values would keep us afloat and bubble wrapped as an industry. Camp “ideals” were protected like fine china passed down from the founders themselves. We leaned in on dusty mission statements from the 30s and 40s in hopes that strict observance would keep the world from changing us before we could change the world. By no means am I about to dismiss the bedrock of our existence as obsolete. I am simply marveling at the incredible power of a generational shift, and the long term repercussions of a constantly changing culture. We will always fight to positively impact the world around us (one child at a time), but we are hardly a match for the tsunami of challenges fostered by our country’s ravenous appetite for negative primetime news, and the irresponsible conceptions of soulless social media developers. When does making change go from building the strongest ships to feverishly plugging their holes? I’ve asked this question before. We want to remain the ship builders, but wow do we have to work fast in order to maintain that role. We always have to be a few steps ahead. Planting as we harvest. I do think we were on the right track this summer, but we still found ourselves plugging a lot of those societal holes.

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From The Inside Out 

Lisa, Sari and I decided to reposition our approach from the very beginning. We modernized our operation and redefined what it would mean to be running a summer camp at the turn of the century. We didn’t destroy the paths that were already in place, we simply continued them forward using a little more concrete than dirt. We figured out how to maintain the integrity of what camp meant philosophically, while also meeting our campers where they were as they passed through our gates. Open mindedness continues to be the only intellectually honest way forward, because this generation has an innate way of pulling us straight out of our comfort zones and right into their own. Change starts from the inside with these girls and it slowly works its way outward. When it came to making a difference, I had much more success sitting around chatting informally with a handful of campers than I did standing up and giving a speech to 230 of them. We tried to teach our counselors to be intentional in their approach, because their connections produced the best outcomes. This summer I felt like campers needed those interactions more than ever. Not just with their counselors, but also with one another. Something they/we all took for granted was this act of being in the presence of others, while also in the absence of COVID driven panic. Even going out to dinner this Spring required a preliminary outline centered entirely around the pandemic. Is everyone healthy? Has anyone been around someone that is not healthy? Is everyone vaccinated? Does the restaurant check vaccine cards? Do I HAVE my vaccine card? Is there outdoor dining there? Is everyone cool with eating inside? Do we have to wear a mask to the table? Am I out of masks? Will I be judged? That last one was responsible for so much shaming and ridicule. Anyway, going out was oftentimes more exhausting than it was worth. Togetherness this summer felt magnified thanks to two plus years of COVID restrictions. Social distancing naturally resulted in distancing socially for many girls, and now it’s about going through the motions of relearning some of those critical communication skills. Last summer COVID brought on a behavioral manifestation that was pretty atrocious honestly. Simple manners and respect issues were the headliners. This summer was definitely more about returning to complete normalcy. Not normal in quotes. Not a new normal. Just totally normal. Hugs were the biggest contagion this summer. If we must have illness in camp, let it spread via an “irresponsible” hug or two. 

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From day one I don’t think that we really had a “mission” per se. At least not one that could be copied and pasted from an airport gift shop bestseller. We have objectives that are based on meeting the individual needs of each one of our campers. Some campers need confidence building. Some need leadership development. Some need to learn to be better team players. Some need more independence. Some just need to loosen up and have some fun. Our bullseye has always been kindness though. I guess you could call that our one word mission. We want our campers to learn new tangible skills like sailing and tennis. We want them to develop a strong sense of self and independence. We want them to build lifelong friendships. We want them to broaden their horizons and to adopt a deeper appreciation for the physical world around them. None of that matters, however, in the absence of kindness. That’s why it faces north on our compass. Kindness is true north. If only our leaders and policy makers put that foot forward as their gauge for making decisions. Imagine a politician running her campaign on the platform of kindness. It’s not that far out of the realm of possibility. I have seen remarkable leadership through organic acts of kindness right here at camp (in children I might add). It’s within these moments that we are able to truly quantify our impact.

On the morning of Kahuna Day I watched an 11-year-old camper drop her ball and step out of a game to comfort a crying younger girl who was sitting on the sidelines. She gave up her own participation just to encourage another child to jump in. I watched as she sat next to her and spoke to her calmly. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I could tell that she was attempting to build her up so that she wouldn’t miss out on one of the best games of the summer. Her heart was in all the right places, but she wasn’t making much headway. Discouraged, the 11-year-old glanced around for a moment seeking backup from someone higher up the food chain. To her relief our eyes met and she ushered the upset girl my way. I happily tagged in, but when the older camper went to rejoin the game, the whistle blew and it abruptly came to an end. She had sacrificed her final moments of play time in the interest of being somebody else’s someone, as we say at Chippewa. Later that morning I pulled the older girl aside and told her how proud I was of her. Not just as her camp director, but in this particular case… as her dad. I feel the magic of this place in so many ways. Right in the core of my heart.

We play this incredibly complicated game called Realm each summer. I would try to describe it, but the explanation is way too esoteric for this letter (You had to be there.) Anyway, during a consequential moment I witnessed a team leader do something extraordinary. A girl was participating in what was probably the most intense competitive moment of her life. Anyone there would know exactly what I am referring to, but the details are unimportant to the story. Imagine when a basketball player has to take it to the line for a game saving free throw. This was akin to that. 300 people watched on as this camper faced this moment, and she was understandably nervous as anyone would be. A CIT (and team Sachem) approached the camper and gave her a gentle pep talk. She then sat down beside her and walked her through the challenge. She was unobtrusive but totally engaged. She used humor and kindness to encourage the camper. She ultimately hit her target, which resulted in vigorous cheering by BOTH teams. It’s hard to watch the video from that moment and not get a few goosebumps. This is powerful stuff. The CIT discovered the intersection between kindness and leadership, and my entire camp community got to watch it unfold. By the way, that girl who hit the target is legendary now. Her story will be told for years and years to come.

Camps grow leaders, there is no question about that. This is inherent simply based upon the kinds of opportunities that are already baked into the experience. If leadership is inevitable, then we need to shape them using kindness as a driver. I would much prefer a bad leader with a heart of gold than a good leader lacking compassion. Both of those stories highlight a similar event. A younger leader puts her heart first and seeks direction. An older leader puts her heart first and gives direction. Both were successful, because both put their compassionate foot forward.

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Please know that your child was loved and cared for. Her counselors bent over backwards to make this a great summer for her. I watched as Lisa, Sari and Sophie made it their business to care for every single child in this community as though they were the only child in this community. Literally. The love and warmth that they offered your daughter this summer would make your eyes well up. It’s important to know that this is the kind of thing that sets Chippewa apart. The minute your child steps off that bus she is family for life. Not a distant cousin by the way… immediate. Perhaps our mission is to gain a new family member in each camper, and to make her the kindest person that she can be. From there her sky’s the limit.

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It’s All Good 

This summer was an anomaly. I have never felt so emotionally conflicted. I am so thankful to be doing the work that I do, and I am so hopeful for our campers, but I am also exhausted from feeling as though the future is constantly closing in on itself. Meaning what, Cliff? Meaning pandemics, meaning gun violence, meaning environmental disasters and meaning wars. The “big four.” We are creating our own problems. The world is so turbulent right now, and our camp bubble is constantly being strength tested. Don’t get me wrong, there is no time in history that I would rather be alive and raising my children (or running a camp). The issue at hand is glaring though. The social fabric of our children has been stretched beyond acceptable limits, and/so they need a reboot. Our hope is that Chippewa provided them with some of that this summer. As always I will submit that this camp was not perfect in 2022. It never can be and it never will be (at least not in a literal sense). Some things went right and some went less right. In either case our children gained from those experiences. I hope. 

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This summer we celebrate 75 years as a camp. We’re currently being visited by members from almost every generation in Chippewa’s history. Both former families are here to celebrate with us (Gold/Adler), and we have guests in attendance from all over the country. Some of these visitors will have experienced camp during incredibly turbulent and complicated periods in history, and I feel a real connection to them. They are a reminder that we can overcome anything if we have the desire and the emotional strength to keep ourselves on the rails, and to maintain balance. Tragedy is a lesson in resilience and resilience is a lesson in confidence. I am confident that our campers will be ok in spite of the world around them. I am also confident that our campers will make the world around them a better place. I am so grateful to you, and I am so grateful for this. Thank you, thank you and thanks.

All best,