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Director’s Annual Commentary

Autumn 2002: The Staff is Everything


By lunchtime, the weather had turned raw and spitting, a rare day in the otherwise brilliant summery pattern to which we've become accustomed at Kingswood. "Tough scheduling," I thought to myself, content not to be on programming duty this time. To my delight, however, thereupon appeared Gus and Andrew " ordinarily waterfront staff " decked out in full academic robes in anticipation of this meal's "cheap bit" promotion for an afternoon indoor trivia game of some sort. "Come match wits with us," was the skit's basic come-on, forgettable honestly, save for Andrew's glorious punch line, "I know everything there is to know – and a wee bit more." With this prompt, kids flocked to the contest, naturally, and the afternoon was saved.

This story illustrates Kingswood principle number one: The staff is everything. On page one of the Staff Manual, I tell counselors, "Parents who send their sons to Kingswood expect you to engage, protect, cajole, remind, discipline, counsel, teach, comfort and befriend their precious children. I assure them that the camp indeed attracts young men who are responsible, caring, bright, well-spoken, and fun-loving in order to fulfill this awesome chore." I go on to offer this suggestion: "Make believe that your every action in the presence of boys is being video taped. If you are willing to allow parents to view the entire film, with nothing to hide, then clearly you have done your share to contribute to the wholesome summer experience which not only brings boys back to camp year after year but also profoundly affects Kingswood's grand reputation." This is not flim-flam commentary, I promise you. We're not perfect creatures. An example: Deep into second session I fell upon an ultimate Frisbee contest where counselors, as co-participants with the boys, had clearly gotten on one another's nerves in the heat of battle. A short while later, at dinner, the staff players were summoned to the porch by the camp administration, whereupon camp literally stopped until the incident was hashed out and apologies rendered to the boys. "Learn nothing from what you saw today," was the remark resonating most with this director. Bad camp to good camp, and without delay.

This staff-is-all mantra is quite the personal burden, actually. Annually, I spit sparks throughout the winter months as camper applications outrace staff commitments by worrisome ratios. The key is not to panic while playing one's cards close to the vest. The return staff network, naturally, is the prime tool, as evidenced by summer 2002's nearly 400 combined Kingswood years of staff experience. This factor alone accounts for the seamless operation of departments like the kitchen, infirmary, and maintenance. Countless times every summer, I get this "Where have you been Rip Van Winkle?" gaze when questioning some arcane component of the operation which grizzled veterans have been handling for ages. Gratifying.

In quest of additional staff for summer 2002, however, I turned to outside agencies more than in past summers. Camp America is an international placement operation which helps camps recruit staff from around the world. I use Camp America routinely to garner lifeguards, essential to our operation but terribly difficult to find stateside. I'll take no Camp America applicant without A+ recommendations and I've been at this game long enough to be able to distinguish faint praise from the real thing. Martyn Drower, Andrew McCreadie and Russell Day came to us through this route and did not disappoint. In mid-spring I decided to join for the first time an Internet camp staff referral group. I sweat bullets over this approach, even chiding the Kingswood network that only lousy camps use the computer to find counselors. As with our Camp America approach, we were very careful with this service and, voila, out of the hundreds of e-mail applicants, there appeared Mike Conte, Tom Savage and Mick Barak. Wow! How is luck truly defined?

To the bottom line on staff: Add to the mix the returning staff and some wonderful first year former campers (Nigel Glenday, Tyler Mazey, Seth Schreiber, Michael Klaus, Kyle Sobeck, Sam Ascher, John Bowers, Brian Center, Chris Fontaine, Hubert Dumont, Ethan Borshansky and Stefan Kogl) and one concludes the 2002 staff jelled like none before. I'm even told there is a staff reunion being held right after Christmas " in London. Wish I could go, too! If you could go back to last autumn's "Commentary From Kingswood's Director," (And, by the end of this letter you will have learned how to quickly summon these words via the web site,) you would see there is no question but that I designated Summer 2001 as a very special Kingswood moment. A short while ago I asked my sons Rob and Mike, "How did 2002 compare?" "We've always had good bonding within the staff, but this summer was exceptional," they argued with passion. The conclusion is fairly clear: Our best staff combined with ever-improving program models and our usual horde of terrific kids made this past summer the standard to match.

So, where do we go from here? First and foremost is to get that nucleus of great boys and counselors to commit to summer 2003. To parents: the fall enrollment application, replete with the usual promotion, is enclosed. I told the boys the truth about re-ups on the Saturday we organized the Mr. Puttz miniature golf outings, the prize for enrolling before November 30. "Strong numbers of early applications gives me the confidence to be more selective and go after really good new kids like (pointing) YOU and YOU and YOU," I hollered. So, if you already know your son wants to return, sign him up now and empower me. To staff: please do not wait until June to utter those magic words, "I'll be there."

Secondly, facility and program enhancements remain a work in progress. Off-season planning is fun for the Wipflers. We love non-pressured time to think ahead to what we really want for Kingswood. For 2003, we are going to prioritize some "people" things to the property, these trumping infrastructure components for the moment. Look for the infirmary to get a major face-lift, including improved access, an expanded examination room (and porch) plus a private quarters addition for the nurses to include their own bathroom. If Alice has her way, a near 100% certainty, you'll find our cottage screen porch glassed in to incorporate the camp office, thus leaving the home space inside for, well, a home. Happy directors make for a happy camp. Programming planning calls for the creation of a "Sparkler day blueprint," which ordains a spur-of-the-moment slate of nature-related activities when one of those perfect New England summer days comes along. This one is in the incubation stage and I'll inform you more thoroughly as ideas hatch.

Speaking of information, I've got a new plan for off-season communication. Effective immediately, parents and boys can get the latest Kingswood updates from the web page at www.kingswoodcamp.com. Click on the What's New button. Today, you'll find the beginnings of the treasure trove of photographs I took last summer. (A funny aside: I love the role of camp photographer, which admittedly I use relentlessly as a stress-reducing hobby of sorts, despite the importance parents attach to seeing those pics on the What's New page. Said a camper to me one day as I aimlessly clicked my way about the property, "Oh, Mr. Wipfler, you must have the greatest job in the world in getting to walk around all day long just taking pictures." Ah, through the eyes of babes!) I'll aim to get some fresh photos up every Monday (make that MOST Mondays as I don't want to be hassled if I miss one or two times,) as a week-starting blues buster! Cheap comments are welcomed and I'll try to squeeze some of these into the site as well. Within a couple weeks, I'll have the entire site reorganized. Summer 2002 will appear in chronological order with links to each session. Also, links to former autumn commentaries will be included as a convenient way for you to follow our ever-evolving train of thought. Plan to stay current. Look for Todd's photo collage in the mail around Christmas time. An occasional Kingswood Insider Newsletter will drop through the mail slot, too. But starting today, the web page is the place to go for your weekly dose of Kingswood.