Adam's Summer Updates

Update Ode to Staff

If there is such a thing as a signature Nebagamon event, it was last night. We held our annual Chef’s Cap competition, an outdoor cooking competition. Basically, it is the culminating event for some of the skills that the boys have been working on all summer. Whether down at CNOC, out on the trail, or in their cabin cookouts, every boy here at camp has been working on their skills cooking over an open fire. This is a cabin event. While each cabin selects two people to be their chefs, the entire cabin is involved in setting up the site, chopping the wood, creating a sign for the chef, and cleaning up at the end. You would not believe the amount of pride the boys have in this event. They work really hard to create the best sites possible and come up with some unbelievably clever ideas. Whether it is how to make a makeshift table from their cookout box, creating a lovely rock design around their fire pits, or employing swim goggles to help keep the smoke out of their eyes, the kids come up with some amazing stuff. Without a doubt, one of my favorite moments of every summer is right after all 25 of those fires have been lit. To walk around the Lower Diamond area, see those fires, and watch the kids so engaged in their work is true art. To walk into the area and see these kids working so diligently and proficiently making a meal, with their fires blazing, is quite a sight. It is another one of those times when I look at what is happening and just marvel at it. Here we have a bunch of kids who are able to build a fire, prepare food, and then cook it…completely without any adult assistance. (Don’t worry, there is adult supervision!) I am quite certain that the majority of parents that send their kids here are surprised to hear just how able their son is to make his own bed…let alone cook an entire meal outdoors over an open fire. It is a night of great sights, great smells, great tastes (well….almost always great tastes), and an enormous sense of PRIDE for the participants. With this event, like so many here at Nebagamon, the joy is in participation. This is not something that is simply about winning. Certainly the cabins that will be announced as the winners will be ecstatic about it, but so will those other cabins that just had fun doing it.

With that out of the way I want to change the subject completely:

I realize that much of my focus in these updates is, as it should be, on the kids’ experience here at camp. I realize that for the most part, the readership of these updates is simply desperate to get some sense of what their child’s experience at camp is like given the typical quality of the letters home! But, as we come barreling towards the end of the summer at breakneck speed, I would be extraordinarily remiss if I did not dedicate at least one of these updates to the folks that make it all happen here…the staff.

Our staff, over 130 strong, range in age from 16-64 and come from backgrounds varying from high school students in Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin to a retired tax attorney from Atlanta. For some, this is their very first summer in the North Woods, and for others, it is almost their 30th. For some, coming to camp this summer involved making some tough choices, forsaking that seemingly crucial internship or some other “get ready for the real world” job. For others, the choice to come to camp this summer seemed like the ONLY thing to do. To them, summer is Camp Nebagamon and they couldn’t imagine a summer doing anything else.

The reality is, as I mentioned in a previous update, all of the magic that happens here is not magic at all. It is the result of the hard work that these folks put into camp. It is our incredible kitchen staff that work from 5:00AM to 9:00PM literally every single day to provide what EVERYONE agrees is great food. It is our amazing infirmary staff that work behind the scenes to ensure that we all stay healthy and fix us up when we slip. It is our office staff who provide huge amounts of assistance to us all summer long, from organizing travel, to making copies, to making sure the staff soda machine is stocked; we would be lost without their support. It is our mature administrative staff who work hard every day to plan the program that the rest of the staff so tirelessly executes on a daily basis. It is the specialist staff who are completely committed to teaching the boys about their passion, whether it be art, soccer, photography, sculling, cooking, climbing, target skills, camping skills, water skiing or nature, to name a few. It is our unbelievably proficient trippers who assume the awesome responsibility of taking the boys out into the wilderness to provide them with truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences in self-reliance and immersion in nature. It is the cabin staff, those incredible cabin staff that live with the boys virtually 24/7, that provide them with both the rousing energy and fun that keeps this place moving and the gentle counseling that helps the boys out in their most trying moments.

Truth be told, the magic here really does come from the day in and day out efforts of the staff. They are dedicated to the boys, dedicated to each other, and dedicated to the ideals that we work so hard to promote. There can be no underestimating the rigors of all of that work. Sure, some of it involves tossing a football around with a kid, hitting a tennis ball around with a boy, or having a captive audience to tell jokes to (my favorite part of the job!), but, all of us parents also know that there are other moments too. Those moments involve knowing when to give the boys some slack, and when to rein them in. Those moments involve being able to talk them out of that down and out funk that is sometimes the result of a negative interaction with a peer, or sometimes the result of the internal chemical reactions that thirteen year olds are forced to endure on a regular basis. These staff members need to be able to adjust and empathize on a dime…and they do it for every kid in their cabin (and sometimes for kids in other cabins), for every kid that shows up at their project, for every kid that shows up at the infirmary, and for every kid everywhere in camp…..and they do it every day…every single day. They absolutely amaze me every summer.

Still, let’s not feel too badly for the staff. While they doubtlessly work very hard, the rewards of this job are immeasurable. They get to do a job in which they know, with absolute certainty, that they are making a difference in the lives of others. They have the opportunity to serve as role models for children who absolutely idolize them. And, what they discover is that, despite the fact that the magic is the result of incredible amounts of work, the sum of the magic is so much greater than the parts that go into it. The rewards that they earn (apart from the MASSIVE salaries that I offer) through these efforts change them as well. They learn about themselves, push themselves, and discover things about their abilities that they never knew were there.

So, sorry if this update is not as newsy as you were hoping for, but credit has to be given where credit is due before it is too late…and as much as it hurts to admit it, it is almost too late.

Here is to the staff…magicians every one of them.

All is well in the North Woods…