Jane Megginson, Camp Program Manager
2016 was a fantastic year for the Camping Program! We had the highest enrollment in the history of our camps with over 600 campers attending for the first time ever. Our camper weeks went from a former high of 1388 to 1452, which indicates not just more individual campers at camp, but more beds full each week. Our new Outreach and Inclusion Coordinator, Dyresha Harris, began working for BYM full time in this role with the help of a grant from the Shoemaker Fund and as a result our STRIDE program expanded from Philadelphia to include groups in DC and Baltimore. The number of campers attending camps from STRIDE increased from 11 campers in 2015 to 20 campers in 2016. We hired two new Co-Directors this year, Jesse Miller at Catoctin and Rosie Eck at Teen Adventure. These new Directors bring lots of energy, knowledge, a hunger to learn, and a strong desire to serve our camps. It is always a pleasure, and helps invigorate me, to work with new Directors as we get to know each other better and figure out the ways we work best together.
This year, BYM Camps distributed over $70,000 to 68 campers in camperships to attend one of our camps. Meanwhile, Monthly Meetings contributed over $44,000 toward fees for 74 campers to attend a BYM Camp. Between these funds, grants, and diversity contributions, over 23% of our campers receive some form of financial aid to attend our camps.
The Camping Program Committee has continued its strong efforts in recruitment, as evidenced by our unprecedented enrollment figures. In addition, the Committee and I worked hard and long to create the first Camping Program Staff Handbook, to help codify and make more explicit our expectations of our camp staff and BYM’s responsibilities for our staff. The members of the CPC are as strong as they have ever been, thus able to help me take on and complete this complex task that has been left undone for many years.
In the Fall and Winter of this past year, I undertook to overhaul the Camp website yet again. As much as it is not my favorite task, I have come to realize that it is something that needs to be done every three years or so as changes in technology demand it. In just the past eleven years that I have been the Camp Program Manager, the way people seek information and impart information has changed so dramatically. We have gone from a paper application and hand inputting data about our camp families to a completely online registration system that gate keeps spots at camp based on what is available in real time and helps us track payments accurately. I used to hand key in credit card payments and hope they would go through or there was no mistake in the transposing of numbers. Now we take credit card payments online, never seeing the card numbers of our clients, with by far the majority of customers paying online via credit. I send out almost nothing by mail any more, and everything through email. I am now coming to the realization that many people are not reading the complete emails so I try to get the most salient information into the subject line.
In addition to the changes to the website, our camp database has undergone a complete overhaul in the past couple of years – we have gone from a server based database to a cloud based database. This change has allowed the Directors of our camps to use the database both at camp and year round for the first time. This year, we added a staff module which helps manage the data for all of our staff, their applications, pay, and paperwork. Directors can see all of the applications of all of the staff applicants and track their progress through the hiring process online with the database. When I started working at camp many, many years ago there was one form we all filled out – the W-4 for the IRS. Now our new hires have up to 10 forms they need to fill out both for the Federal Government, the State, and several forms to meet the changing requirements of BYM itself – Driving Policy, Youth Safety Policy, Staff Handbook, Background Check, Health Forms, Liability Releases, Child Protective Services Check, I-9, and don’t forget the all-important W-4! The staff module helps track and store these many forms which is very important as we typically have around 125 staff per year and about a third to a half of those are new annually! The database also stores and helps me manage the collection of information required of the campers and their families. As the camp families, Directors, and I grow accustomed to the new database and how to use it, it becomes a more useful tool and easier to use.
This year, we had a registration day party with volunteers from the Camping Program Committee coming together with me at the new BYM Office conference room to help answer calls from camper families that needed help with registration. It was a great success and was made possible by the existence of a conference room and a new phone system in the office. Camper parents needing help were not sent to my voicemail as they may have been in the past if I was already on the line with another parent, but instead had a person answer and help them with their queries. It was a great success and helped families registering negotiate the new technology.
While new technology is a theme of the year and is ever more important to one person being able to manage all of the growing requirements in paperwork, registration, applications, and communications, it is a stark counterpoint to our attitude toward keeping our camper experience at camp free from the ever growing demands on our time of technology in our daily lives away from camp. At camp for our campers and staff, we remain committed to living in community together and seeking to build authentic, personal relationships with each other using simple group activities, meals, worship, bonding over challenges on trips, singing, games, and stories that we have always relied on at camp to bring us together in our goal of radical inclusivity. The changes in technology in all of our lives has greatly impacted our expectations around communications and knowing where people are and what they are doing at all times. Other camps send out daily emails and photos to parents so they know what their camper is doing at camp but we have resisted that change as we want to keep the experience that campers have at camp about the campers themselves; and we want our camp staff to focus on caring for the campers, and building community right at camp. There is a lot of pressure to do something simply because it is possible and because others do it. We have started sending out a “news from camp” bulletin once every session to increase our communications with parents about what is going on at camp. However, we are resisting increasing communications about what is happening at camp any more than that to keep the focus on the community at camp.
In my work I experience the dichotomy of needing robust technology for smooth and easy registration, payment, and data collection while at the same time holding a space for our campers and staff to experience camp as a place apart from the interruptions of and reliance on technology. We choose to keep camp simple and focused on the people who are right there in the moment; to keep in touch with our roots of living simply in nature with each other for company, support, entertainment, spiritual and physical sustenance.
Thanks for your help in making 2016 another great year in the BYM Camping Program!