Friday, March 11, 2005

camp stapelton

When I was sixteen I became a camp counselor. I got the gig as a "counselor in training" at camp stapelton, a charity camp for inner city Detroit children, for $75 bucks a week. Mind you, this was 13 years ago; even then it was not much.

The beauty of this job is that my parents never could afford to send me to camp growing up, so even though I was a responsible party, I got to experience camp, going away for a summer. I got to taste independence at a very young age.

Camp was female only, located on Lake Erie (one of the great lakes for those of you geographically challenged) about an hour and a half north of Detroit. Being that this camp was run by St Vincent De Paul and it paid so poorly, it was severely understaffed. Each cabin was supposed to have two adult counselors and one in training. We had only one adult counselor per cabin, therefore my role was to not let the kids know my real age or the fact that I was not quite legal. Especially since I was in charge of the 14 year olds. I and Sonia had the rule of twenty-two fourteen year olds for two weeks at a time, four groups total for the whole season.

I learned a lot that summer. I learned how to change a tire. I learned how to sing camp songs and build a campfire. I learned how to weave baskets and key chains.

Most importantly, I learned how to lead. Going into that summer, I was painfully shy and quiet. Being put in the position of authority for girls who were practically my peers taught me a few things about how groups work.

It taught me that if you want something to happen, stand up and start. Speak up. At camp it was as simple as starting the next campfire song or being the first at bat. I found that most of the time everyone wanted to say or do the same thing, but no one wanted to risk being the one to say something.

It taught me that people want to do well, be good; you just have to give them the chance. Many of these girls came from very rough backgrounds, and had been taught harshness as a defense mechanism. If you expect the best from people they are almost relieved to give it.

It taught me that most people want to be lead, and want attention from the leader. The smallest word from an authority figure means so much.

Of course these were children, and as we get older less guidance is needed for your peers. But inside of every adult is a fourteen year old, waiting for a kind word or for someone else to speak their mind.

With that idea in mind, I suggest, as an experiment today, to treat your workplace like summer camp. Say how cool your department is, and how the "rival" department is lame. Tell horror stories. Sing songs. Make smores. Remember you are all in it together. And don’t be afraid to be the one to lead.

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