Ferncliff, a Truly Innovative Camp.

Jack and I woke up on the last day of the National Conference in New Orleans, finished presenting one last session on big evening programs at camp with James Davis. Then got in the car and started driving the 7 and a half hours to Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center in Arkansas. We had to be in the dinning hall ready to present for Ferncliff’s annual dinner at 6:00pm. It was a hell of a ride. We tried to be as efficient as possible when stopping to use the little boys and girls room, fill up on gas. and managed to gobbled up a half a Subway sandwich along the way. With no room to spare, we did it. We arrived at camp at 6:57pm. We were welcomed in by David Gill, the Executive director of Ferncliff, and his son Joel, the camp director. The room was buzzing with excitement. We had a chance to sit with a woman who was a camper at Ferncliff 70 years ago. It was amazing to get to talk with her and hear her camp memories. Our Keynote that night feels like a blur. I do remember going just over time, but also having the satisfying feeling of adrenaline as Jack and I passed the mic back and forth as we shared stories of visiting over 100 camps with the audience. 

After stepping off the stage, we got to see a slide show that Joel presented about some of the incredible things that Fernclif has accomplished in the past year. Then David came up to say a beautiful thank you to an amazing member of the Fernclif family. Stephen, the maintenance director for the past 10 years, is leaving camp and moving further south for family reasons. His legacy at Ferncliff, stories, and compassion moved the room from tears to laughter and back again. It was truly awe inspiring to watch the love and passion so engrained in this camp community. 

In the morning Jack and I had a chance to present more with board members at their quarterly meeting. We talked in-depth about some of the camping trends we are noticing in the industry as we travel to camps and speak at conferences. It was energizing to answer questions and brainstorm solutions with the board as they so readily engaged with ideas like where does technology belong at camp or how to give campers more autonomy. 

In the afternoon we visited with some of the Ferncliff staff and had some conversations with them as they prepare for their jobs this coming summer. We talked about leadership, and the difficult balance that leadership staff faces as they try to define the line between “boss and buddy”. We also talked with them about where Free Play fits into Ferncliff and the importance of camper driven pllay at camp. 


With out a doubt our favorite time at camp was walking around with David as he gave us an updated version of the tour we took with him 2 years ago when we saw Ferncliff for the first time. They have added so many new and innovative ways to meet their mission.  In the past 2 years Ferncliff has completed construction of the largest straw bail walled building in the United States. Walking inside is a lesson in architecture, environmental technology, humanitarianism, and human tenacity. The building is designed to house groups of people who come to learn about harnessing the power of the sun, to then build solar powered water filters on mission trips around the world. The building is so well insulated that the difference in temperature is about 15 degrees from the outside. The building is heated by wood fire stove that heats up water that flows through hundreds of pipes in the floor. There is a black convection chimney that helps to pull heat out of the building in the summer. The individual guest rooms all have unique floors, build out of various recycled materials. One floor is built with whole beer bottles emptied and stuck in sand upside down. It is breathtaking. The other  floors are built out of recycled stones from the old camp pool site, paper mache, and finally old conveyor belts. Each room is simple but thoughtfully decorated with photographs from an artist on one of the mission trips and each was over flowing with stories about the people that had a hand in building it. 

I could go on and on about the outreach initiatives and the environmental solutions that Ferncliff continues to create, but the last astounding addition, completely new since the last time we saw Fernciff is the YAV program. YAV stands for Young Adult Volunteers. This year Ferncliff has 3 YAV’s who are staying in the old refurbished maintenance barn. The YAV’s live on camp for one year and are in charge of some of the many project that Fernciff has under taken, from the farm program to the maintenance and advancement of the Eco Center. 

The last night of camp Jack and I had a chance to spend with David and Vicki Gill. We were invited over to their house for a spectacular dinner of shrimp mushroom and chicken rice bowls with mango salsa and corn black bean salad. We sat and talked about old memories from camp and also the direction of the camp industry in the future. Jack and I had been waiting the whole three days we were there to ask David and Vicki for advice and guidance and we move forward with our different projects and plans. They as always freely gave their insight and love. We are so grateful for their friendship.


A Camp, a Trip, and an Online Community

I just responded to a message on Facebook from Miriam Shwartz, at JCC Ranch Camp. Miriam, and her husband Gilad, took such good care of us on our first pass though the country visiting camps. We have incredibly fond memories of hiking around with the goats, chickens, horses and dogs while we visited the other myriad of animals that live there. Miriam was just checking in with us and while writing my message back to her I realized how grateful I am to be doing what Im doing and how proud I am of the projects that Jack and I are working on this year. 


Probably our biggest project is Go Camp Pro. We are creating a membership site where Travis and Beth Allison from Camp Hacker, along with James Davis from Summer Camp Revolution and us are going to gather and share the best teachings we can find on how to run summer camp. We aim to create the most useful space for summer camp directors and professionals to learn and become even better than what they do so that more kids can come to better camps. Jack and I are excited to have finally found what we think is the best way to share what the camp community gave us on our journey across the country. We just came back from interviewing Cory Harrison from YMCA Camp Benson about “Getting Started in Fundraising”. For us, I think we are pumped to go and find and interview the people we admire and hear there opinions and philosophies and share them with the rest of the camp world. As a team we are also creating online courses on things like Marketing and the Business of Camp.  It is exciting to be harnessing the power and brilliance that happens when camp directors get together after hours at a conference and make that available through forums and an online community all year round. 

Camping Coast to Coast For Teens

Jack and I are also partnering with Scotty Jackson, at YMCA Camp Seymour, to run what we are calling a Leadership Development Excursion. We are going to take 10-15 teenagers who are in leadership programs or young counselors at camps, on a 17 day trip along the west coast to visit, volunteer at and learn from 10ish different camps. By talking with different directors, seeing different camp cultures and looking at different camp settings and facilities, how can you not fall deeper in love with the institution of camp and what camp provides for so many kids across the country. We love summer camp, and we loved summer camp when we were 16, 17 and 18 but if we were not encouraged and didn’t have the chance to see summer camp as bigger and more powerful than simply Camp Stella Maris, the camp we grew up at and love to this day,  we would never be the advocates and frankly the people that we are today. So our hope is to inspire and fan the fire for others who find home at summer camp. If you want to be involved in the Leadership Development Excursion or know great teens that you think would benefit from an experience like this please send us an email we are always excited to talk about this trip. You can also donate to help send teens on this adventure here.

Stomping Ground

Finally last but certainly not least... The Stomping Ground, is a one week summer camp we are starting with Scott Arizala, Sylvia van Meerten, and James Davis. We are running the program out of Johnsonburg, a summer camp located in New Jersey. It is so exciting to create a program from scratch. Everything from wake up times to how we market we are taking a fresh look at. The program is going to be all about giving campers as much autonomy as we can within a safe and loving community. The most magical things that we have witnessed at camp is when a camper feels empowered and loved enough to take charge of their day and choose what makes them happy. If campers come away from a camp experience knowing that we trust them to make themselves happy and that we can be there to help them find the avenues, nutrients and resources to help them make their dreams come true, we believe there is nothing better than that.  

Every year Jack and I get more and more excited about the new things we are learning, the skills, and the connections we are making. At times tackling some of these projects can feel like banging our heads agains the wall, or floundering in a mess of unknowns, yet it is fun to look at what we have learned as a result of our drive to do it on our own and to do it from scratch. 

So much love!


Laura's First Video

We locked ourselves in the basement for a few days and came away with some fun videos. Laura has been working on doing more graphic facilitation and drawing. Check it out below. 

Feel Bad Education

There is a terror that kids will feel good about things.

That they will simply be pleased with themselves so therefore not work hard.

That comes from that Puritan ethic that represents it self still in the social conservatism that dominates our thinking about education and parenting.

But in fact most schools are not at all prepared to make kids feel good, quite the contrary.

There is such an emphasis on rigor and raising the bar and higher standards that we end up with a lot of kids who are alternately bored and anxious

Because the education really isn't about helping them to feel proficient thinkers who love learning

Instead they have to memorize facts and practice skills in order to do well on tests and that ends up being quite un-engaging

and it has a number of destructive consequences...

The more traditional and back to basics and test oriented the schooling is 

The more kids lose interest in learning and in the particular topics they are learning, 

The more superficial their thinking, 

and the more the gap grows between the haves and the have nots. 

5 Ways To Let Your Staff Help Summer Camp For Free

Being a summer camp director is being a jack of all trades, marketing, programming, budgeting, sales, customer relations, social media, counselor… The list goes on and on but what matters is we never get to all the projects we wish we could. One often forgotten resource this time of year is the summer staff. Many of us grew up as seasonal staff looking forward all year to coming to camp and constantly thinking about the summer. These staff members have incredible skills and incredible passion waiting to be tapped into and help camp. Here are 5 ideas to let your staff help camp for free this fall.


summer camp photo share

If your camp is anything like mine you have a handful of counselors or leadership staff that took a million photos this summer. Get those photos and use them for social media, marketing etc. Take this one step further and ask campers for their photos as well. Frost Valley YMCA does an amazing job of getting camper photos for their photo of the day campaign


Summer camp meme

Visual content is king on social media, but its hard to tell complete stories with single photos. One way to work around this problem is to use a a meme. Memes are a great tool to share a simple message in engaging ways. Run a contest for the best meme that tells the story of camp. You post 1 a day on the camp’s Facebook page. The winner is the meme with the most likes at the end of the month, they get a free t-shirt from the camp store (That you didn’t want anyway). 


Too Cool at Summer Camp

Simply ask your staff to to comment, like, share, and retweet your posts. The more engagement you receive the higher your pagerank and the more people will have a chance to interact with your content. Everything people do online is about how we want to look to the world and most staff don’t want to feel like they aren’t cool by always being online, but by simply asking you give them a pass to just click like or share content.  

3a) Ask them to ask their parents to do the same

Staff parents are some of the biggest fans of camp and they often can tell our story the best, not only that they are friends with our target customers! Ask your staff to encourage their parents to interact with camp on social media as well.

Travis Allison at CampHacker.tv recommends using swipe files  “You provide them with some pre-written tweets, instagram photos w. Text etc. They can modify to sound more like themselves but is less effort and so they’ll do more pushing your content for you.”


Story Time at Summer Camp

Stories are the best marketing tool and our staff have the best stories of the summer, but getting them is hard. Most staff members don’t want to feel like they are selling out their stories for marketing (marketing sounds like the man), but they get blogging and social media. Call a few specific staff and ask them to write a blog post for you. Not only will this be great engagement on your site new content like blog posts help your SEO (Search Engine Optimization)


Polling Summer Staff

We all want to know what the best and worst parts of summer were. What we think will bring kids back or some of the major pain points in the schedule. But taking the time to call and have in-depth conversations with each member of our staff team would take a lot of time. Lets outsource it. Post in your staff Facebook group that you are looking for a few volunteers to contact every member of staff and debrief the summer. These volunteers will love calling their friends from the summer and reliving the best and worst moments. Give them a few questions and a quick training of what you want over google hangouts. After a few weeks meet back up over google hangoutsto discuss the findings.

What do your summer camp staff love to do to help out your camp in the fall/winter/spring?  Leave us your answer in the comments or tweet us @campcoast2coast


The Mom Blog

Mom is our number one customer and when her child is at camp she has up 16 hours a day where she would typically be thinking about or taking care of her child, our camper. Steve Baskin at Camp Champions talks about how he blogs everyday when campers are at camp, giving moms the language to articulate the value of camp. That when campers are at camp their parents will read everything a camp can create. 

What if mom became the blogger? She has time to fill and instant credibility with other moms. She blogged about the experience of registering for camp, dropping her child off, and what it is like each day looking for pictures on the website or just coping with not having her child with her. Mom bloggers great for marketing, but more importantly great to hear about that experience first hand.