603 Stories – December 2022 – Inclusive Camps

Jace

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the 603 Stories Podcast. I’m Jace, my pronouns are he him his, and I will be your host today.

Just a reminder that the 603 Stories podcast, is a mental health podcast made by young adults for young adults, and as a reminder, I am not a mental health professional. I’m. Simply a young adult who is passionate about uh starting these important conversations around mental wellness. So with that being said, let’s take a moment to meet our guest on this month’s episode, and let’s her introduce yourself and what we’ll be discussing today.

Whitney 

Hi, everybody! My name is Whitney Leyland. My pronouns are she her first, I grew up my whole life as a New Hampshire native Um. But I’m. Currently living in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I work for the Y and a Camp Lincoln full time as a program Director and Youth Development Coordinator. Uh: when you work for a summer camp, most of you know that you kind of do a little bit of everything there. So if you work for a camp you’d get that one um today. I’m super excited to chat about uh the idea of inclusive and accessible camps uh my hopes and dreams for that. And just really how I got into this work.

Jace 

Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing that. So to begin, I would like us to take a minute to kind of discuss what these camps and after school programs look like right now, so that when we end up talking about what you envision for summer camps and after school programs we have a little bit of a foundation to work off of.

Whitney 

Sure. Um. So just to give a little bit of context. The camp I work for is a bit unique. Um, We used to be a residential camp and are now a day camp. So we kind of have characteristics of both kinds.

Um. So we begin our camp days at 8:15. Bright and early drop off starts. All of our kids start arriving off of the bus.

Um, and if it’s day one of camp, everyone is so excited to be there, the counselors, the energy is unmatched. It’s honestly like It’s giving you chills just thinking about it because it’s so much fun. Um! And for all the kids who are returning, they are so pumped to see all their camp friends. Because a lot of these kids they don’t all go to school together. So this is their time that they get to be together, you know. Um, they’re already talking about what activities are gonna do for the day. Um.

And so day one is kind of just a really exciting like hangout session. Let’s all get to know each other, because we also have so many new campers. So on the flip side of that, as somebody who never went to summer camp on my first day of staff training. I was

honestly a little bit horrified. I was like What if I gotten myself into. I don’t know if I have this much energy. Um, but it’s one of those things that it’s kind of a little bit magical, because there’s this transition that happens. But as somebody who had to go through that transition,

it’s it’s not really for everyone. I’ll be honest, and that’s why i’m excited to have this conversation, because I think that camp does a lot of good for a lot of kids, and I know it can do a lot of good for a lot more kids if we just continue to change the way that we think about things and challenge some of the traditions that we have.

So, after all, these kids get dropped off on day one they’re going to their cabins. They’re meeting their staff, but some of our older kids they’re having to navigate on their own down to those cabins. Granted. We have greeters, everyone’s there to help them get there. But for a kid who’s never been to camp.

They’re just kind of looking around. There’s so much to take in. They’re also just wondering. What am I doing here? You know My family just dropped me off, and I have no idea where I am. Am I going to like it? Will I make new friends? There’s just so many thoughts going on. So for all of our returners, it’s a really exciting day, but for our new kiddos it’s probably their most anxious day of the whole year.

Jace

And so, is this a sleepover camp or a day camp?

Whitney

It’s a day camp, you know. It’s just a day camp. And so that’s the one really reassuring thing is we can tell them. You know we’re gonna be here. We’re gonna spend a few hours together, and then you’re gonna go home.

But also for these kids to be dropped off at 8:15, and to not be picked up until 4:15 some bus stops not going until 5:30, 5:45 that’s a pretty long day to be away from home, and some of our some of our young kiddos, they can start as young as three,so a three year old. Who’s ever been away from home, now coming to camp for the very first time, and meeting new kids for the very first time, and having to listen to someone who’s not their mom or dad, or uncle, whoever they live with at home, is so so different. And so There’s so many new things that are happening, and of course, knowing that as a summer camp we are prepared for that right So day one is all orientation, which is fine and dandy, we do our orientations. We go over group expectations. We do name games, and then day two we’re into full swing of things. We’re going to our activities, and summer camp has really just started all over again. And so day two is kind of a new day again, right? And so for our kids who really thrive in this structure and thrive, having a sense of agency over their activities. This is amazing, So…

Jace 

it seems like a lot of options and a lot of choices for um students which can be super powering and like a really amazing opportunity. But it could also be really overwhelming for some stressful, for some.

Whitney 

Absolutely just to give you an idea of what the structure of the day looks like. Um! We have our drop off. We have our first two activity periods. We have our lunch and kind of a free time rest period, because we should give everyone opportunity to digest their food before we get to get going into the lake and go swimming and boating, and then we have our second two periods of the day, and then it’s. Pick up time in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t seem like that long. But, when you are in a new environment. When you’re in a new place it could be really overwhelming, or it could be really exciting, right? So there’s

there’s this huge spectrum of kids that we serve, and there’s also this spectrum of kids that Sometimes they come to camp, and they don’t come back for day two we go. Well, that’s interesting. And then they don’t come back for day, three, and we say, Hmm. And so we’re like we should. We should set up a time to chat with them, Figure out, maybe. Why they’re not coming back. Um! And that’s really where my interest has been sparked, because I’ve had a couple of conversations with people saying,

You know we really tried to chat with our camper, but they’re just not willing to give it a go. It was just too overwhelming. You all did a really great job, um, you know, getting getting to know them and helping them to navigate camp and helping to make sure they felt comfortable.

But it’s just not for them,and I totally get that, because for some kids being in a structured  program and having a sense of agency over what they’re doing throughout the day, just isn’t where they try. And That’s okay.

But I wonder how can we get them to thrive and still experience the summer camp where our kids are happy and going home and all they want to do is talk about their day at camp at the dinner table because we get so many emails from family saying, I can’t thank you enough because my kiddo comes home exhausted and dirty, and they’re telling me after day three of camp. They already can’t wait to come back for next summer.

Jace 

That is so exciting 

Whitney

It is so exciting!

Jace

For the kids who don’t come back on day, two or day three. Have you ever been able to reach out to the parents and set up that meeting and have success, bringing them back in and re-engaging them after something like, I guess Chaos has settled after the first few days.

Whitney 

That’s a great question, and that actually kind of sparked a new program that we ran this past summer. Um, we ran a camp readiness program. So for uh, parents who have young children who are kind of preschool age. They’re probably familiar with readiness programs for school.

And so these programs go over basic expectations. They sometimes have social stories, or they just go over um some basic. The things that you would need to know, to be able to navigate your day and things that you would need to know would be,

Who are the people that you go to when you need help. That’s a really big thing that we take for granted, because sometimes, if we don’t directly tell a child that person right there, that’s someone you can go to when you need help, and you don’t know who else to turn to?

Just because you say these are all the staff That’s too many options. Again, we need to tell them this is the person that you can go to right. 

Jace

Especially and so it’s like a young kid, too, if you’re saying kids are coming in at three years old, and they have no experience going to anyone other than their parents. Then that’s huge. That’s incredible.

Whitney 

Huge. And it’s been really interesting. We talk about it. I mean, we’re gonna continue to talk about it for years to come. But the our kids are developing differently after Covid, and we can’t negate that. I know. I know It’s something that we’re so sick of hearing. I’m so sick of going to conference sessions about it. But we have to keep talking about it, because

I was having. You know I was giving Camp Tours. We always do a a tour of camp for our new families before camp begins, in an attempt to again help familiarize them to what they’re going to be walking into. And I was. I was giving Tours this past summer in the summer before that two families who had children ages five and six, and these families were saying, This is going to be my child’s very first time in a social group- at five or six.

Jace 

Wow!

Whitney 

That’s really different, and that is not what, not how I experienced my first social groups. You know I was. I was going to school, but to go to Summer camp, and have a very, very long extended day, and be away from home, and being given choices at such a young age, and being expected to remember your water bottle and your lunchbox and your swimming towel, while you transition across camp all the way down to the waterfront and staying in and staying with your group right? Because you have to see with your staff member there’s so many things for a little brain to remember, and it’s incredible to see what our what our five and six year olds are capable of, and it’s also just a big reminder that they are five and six,

and they have also gone through this collective trauma that this whole world has gone through. They are still learning what facial expressions mean, because they grew up with masks. And so, even just understanding, you know, if there a friend made a joke, you know that’s a really complex thing to understand, and just already struggling to, you know, have these basic interactions.

Having done twenty campers in one cabin, and having sixteen year old, seventeen year olds, eighteen year olds in charge of them. It it kind of creates this very complex dynamic. Um. And so I really enjoyed being able to see what happened after we ran this readiness program: Um, because we were able to offer camp for campers who um

pretty much. They signed up, and uh we screen everybody’s health forms and their information forms, and we had contact with some families who said, Um, we’d really like to chat with you because we’re not even sure if this is going to work out for our camper. We’re going to sign them up, but we’ll chat with you because we’re not sure if this is the right that, and to have them sign up for this readiness program and to have them be in a group. A very small group of you know.

We had one group of two campers, and our second group was seven campers, with three staff members, myself and uh two Sea Coast Mental Health staff members who are clinicians there, having us as staff able to help show them. These are people you’ll go to. This is what is expected. You are supposed to stay with your staff member. You are going to have to leave one activity and go to a next one because we don’t get to do one activity all day long.

These are not all easy concepts to understand, but to be able to offer them to a small group of children, and to then see them arriving and seeing them even thriving sometimes beyond their peers afterwards, was so rewarding to me. And it was just this really nice piece of hope to me that we can continue to change these amazing programs that we already offer, and we can serve even more kids who really need camp because everybody needs camp.

I see the friendships that these kids build, and they are so different. Your camp friends are different. I know for me, like the friends that I made working on camp. I have my best friend. She was in California now, but I still talk to her all the time. I have people that I I don’t talk to them all the time, but I know if I needed them in an emergency I could pick up a phone and call them, you know.

Jace 

Yeah, I never went to camp like as a kid, but I worked at a summer camp for probably six years or so, and the friendships that you build are just one of the kind they’re so unique from like school friends, or like sports friends, camp friends, or just

a different breed, and to help facilitate that those relationships with the kids is like an honor. You know. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s really cool to see how they help each other grow and learn throughout the summer, especially with transition time. Oh, my gosh! I remember transition time going from one activity to another. I can be so hard for some kids, and so hard. The fact that you were able to teach this small group of kids before summer camp truly like began how to navigate that transition time probably went just beyond those that small group, because these kids like learn from each other so often that teaching a small group one, like really important skill. It’s going to translate to other kids that they’re around all the time. So it’s incredible that you’re able to do that kind of work.

Whitney 

Oh,

and that’s why I I really want to be able to offer more non-traditional programs. Because I think I think the most beautiful thing that can be learned from Summer camp is to

be okay with others differences and to acknowledge the strength and other people’s differences because a lot of times kids are encountering other kids who are different than them, and sometimes for the very first time. And I remember um, I worked with a lot of different ages, but working with five and six year olds. They are brutally honest,

they say what’s on their mind, and i’d love them for it, and many times it would come up with um conversations about differences in their family’s, beliefs, or differences in um what their families would tell them, or what was right and wrong. Right in a five and six year Old’s mind. Everything is right or wrong. How it goes. Everything is black or white to them. Yes,

And what I loved most in my time at camp is when I can see that I have started to just spark the thought in someone’s mind and make them just to see a different perspective.

They don’t always. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to, you know. Change your mind or say, Yeah, you’re right, you know, but just to see the differences, or maybe to value somebody in your community more because oh, that’s

that’s really cool, that you like um larping. I’ve actually never heard of live option role play. Can you explain a little bit about that to me, you know, like I’ve learned so much from my kids and from my staff, and I think that there’s so much good

that comes from that, and I think that there is only so much more good that can come from being able to have kids at camp who really can’t be at camp traditionally.

And when I, when i’m thinking of kids who can’t be at camp. Traditionally. I’m thinking of um, You know I did an internship. I I worked on a a children adolescent, psychiatric, inpatient unit, and you know those are kids who are really working on some social skills. And um! But I just I look at I look back, and I think

uh only I could have given you guys a summer camp experience, you know, and of course it’s gonna look a little differently, because camp looks different for everybody, and that’s one of the biggest things that I’m: I’m trying to help kids understand is that everyone needs something different to be successful. And that’s okay.

Jace

So if you had your own camp you could shape it. However, you wanted to. How would you

go about programming? And um, I guess just like the foundational structures of your camp to make sure that it is inclusive for children with either mental illness or emotional or behavioral needs.

Whitney

I think offering readiness programs is a given just having, because the idea of those is to have just a half a day where you can go and and learn some of these very basics and kind of just get your feet wet is what we call it. Get you? Get your feet wet and just feel it out,

And I think this is gonna sound a little crazy. But um more choices. And with that said, What I mean by more choices is having the option for kids to come and just be at camp for half of the day, you know. Maybe maybe they’re only registered to come for the for the morning half of camp.

Maybe they’re only coming to camp for one one activity period. So that’s one hour of the day, and they’re coming with their support specialists, You know their outreach specialists. Maybe that’s what that looks like for that camper. But I want us to have more options

for how kids can come to camp, because I think that by only offering full day options five days a week, you do kind of limit it, and yes, of course, being part of the admin team year round. I know all the reasons that I could list off all the reasons that we have to do that for staffing and this and that. But I think um what i’m gonna really hammer home for anyone listening who is a director or really wants to question the thing that we do is we just need to keep questioning the things that we do. We just need to keep being open minded to change and just saying,

How can we change what we already do to serve campers who maybe wouldn’t thrive in this kind of environment. And I think that by even offering a social skills group that is taking place at camp so they can have a taste of the camp environment. 

They can see what it looks like to transition from one activity to another activity. But maybe they’re there with their provider. They’re there with their mental health provider who works with them on a weekly basis, and maybe that is their goal is maybe they’re working up to. We want to go to summer camp. We want to get there, and this is how we’re going to get there. Um!

Jace 

And again, like those administrative teams not being afraid to say, Okay, this isn’t working. So recognizing when something’s not working and not just sticking with it, because It’s what we’ve always done sticking with something that is actually showing progress, and

not being afraid to make those changes, and it can be tough with staffing and stuff like that. But um have these conversations with your staff members, you know, and get them on board with it. Because if the staff understands why we’re doing certain things. Then they’re probably going to be more, I don’t know, excited or engaged with the process

Whitney

Absolutely, and even on the flip side of it, I think what’s important for us to continue doing is,

I know we only have so much time of staff training, and every year everyone who works in summer camps. We feel like we’re trying to just jam pack more things in right There’s well we need to focus more on programming. We need to focus more on our DEI initiatives and how those are playing out. We need to focus more on mental health. But

truly, I think we do need to spend more time on mental health, or just spend more time, even training some of our management in it. For example, Um, One initiative that i’m really trying to push is uh training. Our mid management, we call them our unit leaders are part of our senior staff team, but uh, essentially their mid management training them in youth mental health first aid.

right, because every single one of our staff members they have to be trained in first Aid and CPR by the Red Cross, and I then question our senior staff. We are so lucky they are so wonderful, and I feel so fortunate to work with the group of people that I do,

and I also think that we should also spend the time giving them the formal mental health training, because we shouldn’t just assume that we all feel comfortable navigating these situations, and the truth of it is that in my role in the senior staff role we are managing

young staff who are high schoolers uh young college students, and they are also sometimes struggling with their mental wellness. I like to say mental wellness. That’s um one of my big changes in verbiage that i’m using, and I think that we sometimes forget that camp is a really hard job at the end of the day. It’s one of the most exciting fun rewarding silly jobs you’ll ever have, and it’s also probably one of the most challenging

and mentally exhausting jobs. And we are also dealing with a diverse staff population, and things come up, and I feel very strongly that our staff need to have the confidence to handle the conversations that come up, and if a staff member comes up to you in crisis, I I feel very strongly that you should at least know who to turn to to support you in that conversation. If you don’t feel comfortable having it, or what to say in that moment when the staff member initially comes up to you because

we need to make sure that they still feel like they are a valued member of our community, and that we’re going to support them with whatever they need, and I feel very lucky that I feel comfortable having these conversations. But I also know that some of my colleagues wouldn’t feel comfortable having those conversations,

Jace 

and I also know that not everyone can. Oh, go ahead.

Whitney 

I was gonna say not. Everyone has had the luxury of getting the formal education that I had. You know I have my bachelors in psychology with a concentration in clinical science. I did my internship on, you know, a a psychiatric inpatient unit. So I feel very lucky to have some of the formal education I have, and the eight plus years of training I have um of experience at camp, but, I don’t like to be assumptious, and I I just think that there’s so. If we’re going to require Cpr. And first aid for our physical bodies. We need to be providing the same care for our brains, because our brains affect our physical body so so much.

Jace 

That’s exactly what I was gonna say I was gonna say if we spend so much time making sure that we’re physically safe, then we should spend an equal amount of time making sure that we’re mentally safe as well, because, honestly, you can have just as big of an impact on our day to day lives, if not more sometimes because oftentimes um,

What’s going on in our mind can also impact our body. A lot of people get stomach aches when they are anxious, or um headaches. If you’re depressed, and obviously it goes way beyond that. And there’s many symptoms for many different things. But all i’m saying is,

We take such good care of our physical wellness, or we spend so much time talking about how to do that, especially in camp settings with like lifeguards and CPR Training. And all these things but short training on mental health First Aid could save a life just like CPR could just like, you know, having a lifeguard at the pool. So Um, I’m so glad that you’re having these conversations with the administrators that you work with but also with mid-level staff with um councilors with everyone in your program, because it can. Honestly,

it’s not just like the higher ups that need this training. It’s every single person all the way down to the kids, because if the kids understand what is happening in their world in their mind um, they’ll be better prepared to deal with something if it does come up,

Whitney 

and I just wanna highlight. I was so excited when um, you and Anne were able to come out to my camp to provide that training for our CITs, which are our young, our young adults, who are training to one day become counselors with us,

because for me, I know that education is such an important factor in prevention, and providing our youth with the knowledge and the tools and the power to be able to navigate A honestly really scary situation that could potentially come up amongst our peers, and in my experience in many years at camp it does sometimes unfortunately come up at camp.

It makes me feel better, knowing that they are better prepared to handle these  situations,and it makes me hopeful that it at least gets them thinking about who are the trusted adults that they’re going to turn to if they need to turn to them. Because I think that that’s a really thought-provoking question, and if you can’t think of somebody

that’s a good point for them to start thinking of someone. And if we also think of the youth, and we say, Hmm, I can’t really pinpoint anyone that I see in my observation that they seem connected to which, granted, we can all have different perceptions of of our relationships with one another. But sometimes we can tell. You know that that Camper really has a strong connection with that counselor. If we’re seeing the camper who just really doesn’t have a connection.

That’s a huge flag to us as we we need to make that connection. We need to be that person to go up to them and initiate conversation get to know them. There is, I learned so much by just sitting down and having a random conversation with my campers. I mean they teach me so many fun facts, and really remember them forever? No. But did I just learn something about that camper, and and make a stronger connection with them. I hope so.

I hope that they feel like I genuinely cared about them in that moment to spend the time and get to know the get to know them a little bit better, because for me I just want all of my campers to feel valued and cared for, and know that they have a place that they can call home at camp.

Jace 

And each moment that we spend with these kids, young adults, campers, students, is an opportunity for connection and a lot of times when we see kids acting out, a lot of people will say, Oh, they’re just attention. They’re looking for um that attention, and I like to reframe that I had a boss. At one point they used to say, don’t call it attention. See it seeking. Call it connection, seeking because

they’re not necessarily looking for attention. They’re looking for someone to make a connection with them. Someone to say, i’m here I see you, and like you’re valid. You’re important. And um, you’re valued, you know. And so, by taking the time to make those connections, you could potentially be saving a life as well in that training that we provided. We talked about the suicide warning signs, and we talked about coping skills, and we talked about protective factors and risk factors. But

I think one of the most powerful things that comes out of a training like that is the day spent working as a team, working with their peers and working with the adults that they’re spending their days with, because they’re not um being told what to do by the adults. In that instance, they’re being given an opportunity to be treated as an equal

at that moment, and have their voice heard, and uh be understood and share about their lives, and a day spent connecting with people on that level, and being taken seriously as a young adult can be incredibly empowering and life-changing for some, these youth,

Whitney 

Having that sense of belonging in a community, whether it be at camp or in your extracurriculars, or even a church group. That’s also a huge protective factor. Um! I did my senior thesis when I was graduating college on the risk of protective factors of adolescent suicidality. So i’m slightly familiar with um a lot of the content that we chatted about in our training with the cits, and

Jace

More than slightly. Give yourself some…

Whitney

I I guess so, you know, after uh pouring my heart and soul into it. Um! I I would guess so. But seriously, I mean that was the one thing that I kept finding over and over again in my

many hours of research, as anyone who’s written Thesis project knows um. And it was the one thing that I kept coming back to is that having that sense of belonging is a huge preventative factor, and that’s why for me. I really try hard in the position i’m in to get across to all the staff that I encounter, that

they have such an important job, and a far more important job than anyone in society will ever tell them. And a lot of people really downplay the fact that we could be that one person who makes that connection and really makes that can’t belong

who really thought up until that day that nobody sees me, nobody cares, and it’s hard to think that some of our our campers could be walking around thinking that No one wants to think that you just don’t your brains. Your brain doesn’t like the things like that. It’s just basic psychology, but

it’s the reality of it, and it is so important, and it’s a really large undertaking for a young teenager to take on, and that’s also why we need to give them all of the tools and all the resources that we possibly can to set them up for success because they have such an important job,

and while they have an important job. I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed by it. I want them to feel empowered by it. I want them to feel like this is a life changing job because it is when we have when we have campers who come back years and years later, or even I mean I’ve talked to a gentleman who came to camp back when it was a residential all boy’s camp, and they talk about these

fabulous days, you know. Back in the day. I remember sailing out when we had the sun fish, and you know they talk about all these wonderful things, and that’s amazing. I just want all of these staff to take their job and make the most of the opportunity and make connections and understand that these campers are going to remember them for so long. And they’re gonna talk about the smallest things, and it could just be that.

Wow, that counselor, They they always solve my rubik’s you for me when I got stuck, and they never got frustrated with me when I asked them to do it five hundred times right. It’s It’s just a little things that kids really hold on to um, and camp is awesome. I I don’t know how else to say it, but camp is awesome, and we have so much opportunity, and

we are really out of crossroads to keep changing, because that’s the one thing that my team keeps saying is, um! The one nice thing, and the one silver lying about, Covid is. It’s given us this giant big restart button, and we can really rethink the way that we’re doing everything.

So let’s keep thinking. Let’s Let’s keep thinking about what we can keep changing,

Jace 

And it’s so wonderful that you keep thinking about how keep reinventing camp, so that it’s even better and even more successful every single time that you do it because it it’s not just. Camp is never just about like income.

It’s not like a retail job. It’s not um like accounting where you go, and you punch in. You punch out like you never know what you’re going to expect when you get to work at a day of camp. 

It could be anything with kids, you know, like kids are just so funny and open and energetic, and every day is a new adventure with the kids, and you kind of have to be prepared for it all. So it’s like you were saying before there’s only so many hours in the day that we can train our staff before we jump right in right, and no amount of trainings ever going to cover every single situation that comes up,

But having the staff know that there are people that they can go to when things do come up.  Having the kids, the campers know that they’re trusted adults in their lives, that they can go to to talk about things.

That is what I find just so incredibly important. And the fact that you’re prioritizing that, and making sure that everyone is on the same page with that, and knows that whether that be like the highest up administrator to the first day Camper. Everyone knows that. Okay,

we’re going to make sure that you know who you can go to, so that you feel safe and secure. And in doing that you’re just giving them the okay to have an incredible summer, because otherwise they’re just in their head worrying about what? If I forgot my lunch. What if I forgot my towel? What do I do If I get a cut? or I scrape my knee? And instead,

you’ve just given them the opportunity to just focus on what’s in front of them for the day by showing them that they have a lot of support. They have a lot of options, and you’re there to help them through all of it.

Whitney 

I am so excited that we are having this chat. Have had this chat i’m excited at the place that camps are in, I think, from what i’m hearing when i’m going to conferences, and from what I know is happening at my camp.

We have made a lot of positive strides, you know. I know um. We are doing everything we can to rethink what we’re doing. For example, we are no longer writing our schedules with words. That is silly. A lot of our campers between the ages of three to eleven can’t really proficiently read. And also why not assume that they can read? Let’s put a visual schedule up there. Bang! We have just served the masses.

Everyone can see the little picture of a swimming person. If you have the ability to see using your sight, that is a great way you can see it. You don’t even need to be able to. You. Don’t even need to be able to speak English, to understand that. And that was another cross through that we came to. We had. We had some families that English wasn’t their first language, and we had to all kind of band together and say, Okay,

we have to really rethink the way that we’re doing these tours. How do we orient these campers, who, or really are not able to understand a majority of an English tour? How do we get them to sign up for activities? How do we give them a schedule and help them to understand it? Right? So we’ve really just started to rethink the way that we’re doing everything we implemented readiness programs. We have

days that new families can come and take a tour of camp before they come for the very first day. There’s so much that we’re doing now that we were not doing, you know, a long time ago, three years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, you know seriously, even even, you know, three five years ago, and there’s so much more we can continue to do, and that’s that’s what I keep pushing is. 

What more can we do? What did we do great last year? And what do we need to focus a little bit more of our energy on now, you know. Yes, we have that really great readiness program. And now I want, I want to run more offerings of it to expand the amount of people who can attend.

I want to run multiple sessions of it one before the summer one in the middle of the summer one. Maybe I don’t know some other time. Who knows but I just want to keep really pushing where we’re going with these things, and really continuing to challenge the traditional camps that a lot of people were used to

ten, twenty years ago. Because I think the world is rapidly changing, and the mental health world is rapidly changing, and at this point we can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that mental health and camps coincide there. There is nothing else. You can’t get around that. Mental health leaks over into camps, whether it be

when your staff are having a panic attack, because something just triggered them, or there is a camper who is now highly escalated. Right? 

Jace 

So I have been that staff member that has been stimulated and had a panic attack at camp before, and just knowing how to navigate that to can be so difficult like What if you’re the only staff member with that group that day. What if you know? So there’s just a lot that goes into it, and being able to support not only the youth, but the staff as well, is extremely important.

So we’re getting towards the end of uh the podcast right now. But I would love to hear um one last question from you. If There is one message you could get across to the youth in our State right now.

What would it be?

Whitney 

Educate yourself, Education. Reading articles. It is so important, because when you are aware of the way that your brain works, you are able to change and combat your thinking patterns and your thinking habits.

And so often. I hear from young people who, for example, i’ll use social media as as an example are saying, Oh, I just get so frustrated. I scroll down social media, and everyone has such a great like.

And through my research and my education and just lots of reading, I know that social media is just a highlight real. All it shows are the ups it doesn’t show the downs when you’re having a really lousy day.

Not often. Some people are a little bit more vulnerable and transparent. But I would say the vast majority of what young people are posting is a highlighted, real, and some young people get in a really terrible habit of comparing themselves, and they’re in the moment feelings to what they’re perceiving on social media. And

we’re also all just posting the way we want to be perceived on social media. That’s a whole other topic that I did another project on. I can talk about that forever, too. But I think when I speak to you I I just always am telling them. You know the brain is so cool, and that’s why I really love to read articles and educate myself about the way that my brain works, because I have so much more power to change it and take control of my brain when I understand the way that it works. 

So if I had one thing to say, it would be, Educate yourself. It doesn’t have to be a formal education. I’m very fortunate that I was able to do that. But even if that’s not in the cards, for you read, read, read whatever you can read, books go to a library, you know. Most most towns have a public library. You can get access to articles that way, and hopefully, they have a a computer that you’re able to use as well. But that’s the one thing I just get yourself read. You know you can’t. You can’t do enough good by every day

Jace 

Empowerment through education. Absolutely wonderful. Well, as we wrap up, I would just like to say that my one biggest takeaway from today’s conversation. It’s just the idea of offering these camp readiness programs. It sounds like it was hugely successful for your summer camp, and even though it reaches a smaller population Um! It’s a ripple effect it. One one drop can ripple across the entire camp. 

And so by teaching these skills to a small group of students, they’re gonna share with their friends. They’re going to be able to make more connections, and they’re going to be able to build a stronger community, and it’s no longer just the adults job, it becomes part of the kids mission as well. Um! And that’s just a really beautiful thing. And the fact that we are making sure that we’re taking care of some of our more vulnerable populations in doing this, is just really really powerful Um! 

And showing how far we’ve come, because for so long it’s been oh, so! And so got suspended again, or um they had to leave early again, because they were acting out, and it’s not necessarily about acting out. It’s about trying to get what you need and not receiving it. And by starting these readiness programs you have started offering um a lifeline to those who are trying to share what they need, and aren’t sure how to do it. So I just wanted to say, Thank you for that, and if you have any last thoughts to share with us before I wrap things up. Um! Now’s your time.

Whitney 

I just wanted to thank you for having me on and for having this conversation that is very near and dear to my heart. Um! I have such a passion for suicide prevention via my thesis and my education, and after my many years of camp Um, and my love for being at camp clearly, since I still and they are um! I am just so excited to be able to share um my thoughts and ideas and hopes and dreams for camp. 

One day I I really hope that I can listen back to this podcast years from now and say, Wow! If only I knew what camp would look like today, You know I can’t even imagine what camp is gonna look like in five, ten years from now, you know, have a new development coordinator with something that was new, and a lot of camps from now kind of getting on that train. 

And now the next rumble is, When will we start having mental health providers on site? We have a nurse. But What about a mental health provider? Right? So I feel like that may be the next thing down the pipeline. But I am just so excited to see what they’re gonna look like ten years from now, because I can’t imagine it. And I am just so excited because I think that we are only going to continue to do so much good, because we are already doing so much good. I see it, I hear it. I live it, and I just hope that with this conversation we can do more good.

Jace 

I love it, and I hope that ten years from now, as you are continuing this mission, and looking back on our conversation today that we are able to have another conversation like this again sometime, and share how far we’ve come. So thank you again, Whitney, for joining us today, and a huge shout out to all of our listeners, as well. Thank you for joining us and tune in next time for the next episode of six or three stories.

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