Monday, October 24, 2016

A Different Path For A Camp

There was an article sent to me which reported the recent business decision to sell off a BSA property in Pennsylvania to a private group that will operate it as a BSA camp amongst other things.  It was interesting in that involves the council which is run by our former Scout Executive and it is a further example of how Scouting needs to consolidate in order to maintain quality programs and facilities.  The council in question had just gone through a merger of several councils which, at the end of the day, left them with about.8 BSA camps; most of which were not being used in a manner that would support the ongoing expense to maintain.  As a result a decision was made to sell off a number of those properties and focus on the ones capable of supporting the mission and still be, at the least, cost neutral.  I had a previous post last year that supports this line of thinking.  As the Scouting program "right" sizes; you cannot run or support a camp on memories alone.   The reason why councils merge into bigger ones is that the cost of doing business cannot be supported by duplicating resources which are not supported.  The council based in Tacoma is dealing with that now even though they have not merged with another council (yet).

In this particular situation however, one of the properties are being bought by a not-for-profit corporation that is made up of Scouters and former staff member that intend to run the facility to host Boy Scouts.  There is more to this than I know, but apparently this "Corporation" was running the facility previously and was ordered to hand over the property to the BSA in the 90's but continued in a "ghost mode" until they were able to purchase it once the Scouts put it on the market.  They have (or in the process of) purchasing the land.  In the article they made references of continuing to allow scouts to have summer camp there as well as other activities through the year which other groups could participate in as well.  What bothered me a little though was how possessive some of these "Corporation" folks were of this property.  Much like many volunteers refer to a program or property as "mine", these folks seem to feel it has always been theirs.  I have mixed feelings about this however I think it is neat that a group of passionate individuals would want to do this.  It does beg the question of where to go from here though.

The local Council is selling the property and as such, it is no longer a BSA property; it belongs to a private group regardless if that group is made up of a bunch of registered scouters.  Are they hoping to run the camp as a summer camp?  To do so then the camp needs to be accredited and to have that happen first is that the Scout Executive would have to sign off on the application process; why would you do that if do not have control over a "sanctioned" event?  When other BSA camps use non-BSA property or equipment, there is a slew of contracts and expectations that the vendor needs to meet in order to be used.  For a camp which presumably will have minimal income the expense for that seems a little challenging.  I mean in order to operate the facility for outside use you will need the usual local, state and/or federal permits; you will need to have no fault insurance which may be pricey depending on what you are allowing on your property.  Do you plan to have "hard" facilities (buildings) or is this just a "camping" place where programs are put on?  At the end of the day would the cost of the operation be a little more daunting?  I mean you could develop a great program, facility, etc. but the cash needed to do so, maintain and staff would have to be covered by some income, presumably camp fees.  Would those fees be so high that when compared to the other BSA camps in that council it would be more feasible to attend those camps?  I don't know the answers to those questions, maybe they do.

I know one thing, it is not cheap to run a BSA camp.

There are many times I would love the council to say, "hey, we are going to give you a free hand in the budget process as well as control of income and expenses" but that will never happen nor should it in an organization that has many facets with camp being just one of them.  I would like to have more control on the budget (hint, hint, particularly salaries) but we muddle through with what we have.  I am not sure if having a stand alone camp would make our lives easier.

I wish this "Corporation" well and appreciate their passion as noted above.  Unfortunately I think we will see them either going into foreclosure or just selling the property again in the near future.  We will have to see.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Who You Meet

I was chatting with an elderly gentleman the other day while at work when he took notice of my Camp Parsons Staff lanyard that had my employee ID on (the real one, not the camp one).  "Camp Parsons" he said with an exclamation "I used to take my troop there."  Turns out he was the Scoutmaster of Troop 177 in North Seattle in the early 60's and took the troop to summer camp every year.  We started chatting about various people whom I knew from that era, many of which he remembered.  I think we spent more time talking about camp that we did for the reason he was talking with me initially about.  Needless to say, fifty years later it stood out well in his mind; and he was an adult.

It is interesting who you meet during your daily life that has spent time at Camp.  It could be someone walking by our tailgate and take notice of our CP flag and come over and chat.  It could be another time someone recognizes a t-shirt or sweatshirt with the camp logo on it and strikes up a conversation.  Or it could be an adult who stops and talks to me on the trail and reminisce about his time at camp (when it was my 4th summer).

Not once have I had someone say any bad thing about their experience at camp; 10 years ago or 50 years ago.  I suppose if they did, they would not talk to me or have otherwise forgotten their experience as they moved on in life.  However with those that talk with me you could see the fondness in their eyes as well as their speech.  If anyone was not sure about the impact this program have, spending a short time hearing folks talk about their experience would be that to rest.

The chat I had with that elderly gentleman certainly made my day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Something Nice In The Media?

I was looking at the Seattle Times recently and was pleasantly surprised (and frankly a little shocked) to see an article involving the BSA that didn't center around the subject of molestation or bigotry which seems to make up the only view of this program in the eyes of the media.  The piece was about a troop that serves special needs scouts with a program designed to encompass the program's elements of individual achievement as well as being part of a troop.  The best part of this program and why I believe it is so good is that it does not restrict age as does mainline Scouting.  They have scouts in this troop from 11 to age 50.  The troop was founded by individuals who were looking for program like the scouts that would serve their special needs grandchildren.  What surprises me most is that this troop is one of a few in the country that exists.  With all of what Scouting stands for I thought this program would be more embraced and showcased nationwide; perhaps in the future, it will.

I know that I will upset some people when I say this but unfortunately Scouting is a program that seems to be centered on the middle class (not by plan but by happenstance) and as such lost a lot of desirability to various ethnic and socioeconomic groups.  I find this a shame as one of the goals of Scouting at its birth was to be blind to socioeconomic status (and by extension, ethnic differences as well).  I still believe this is at the heart of the program but we do not see that in application at least at a glance, again more so by happenstance than design.  The good news is that over the years we have been seeing more and more diversity of scouts who attend camp.  I think this is great for Scouting and society but more so for the kids as they are the ones who benefit most from the skills which are learned from this program.  The overall program has been trying hard for years to reach out to "at risk" kids and has had some success, however I really was not that aware that a special needs troop existed prior to this article.  I am usually "in tune" with what goes on in the council mainly through my work at camp, but this seems to me to be flying under the proverbial radar.  They even go to summer camp at Camp Pigott.  That is great!

The word "normal" is tossed around so much that people forget that when it comes to kids in scouting it can be looked upon as the "median" of capabilities.  By this I mean that the program is set up for scout aged individuals to be able to undertake various challenges/tasks/participation with some being better, some being worse but all having the ability to meat the requirements.  However there are those individuals due to either physical or mental handicaps that are unable to achieve those goals specifically due to those handicaps.  That is not to say they cannot achieve equally challenging goals but those need to be tailored for the individual.  Do not misread that statement; we are not talking about making things "easier", what I am saying is that one of the goals of Scouting is to put surmountable obstacles in front of the individual scout that will help develop skills that will last him for a lifetime.  It is my belief that special needs scouts need to have a focused program that fits their specific challenge and then melding that in with the patrol method.  It is not easy and I salute this troop for providing this opportunity and make it meaningful and hope that they serve as an example to other councils to encourage the same in their councils.

It was a very nice article that focused on the good of the Scouting program and praised the leaders and volunteers that make it work.  I think the scouts in that troop, young and old are having the time of their lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Into Fall

You know that the summer season has officially ended when the pier floats come in and the pier ramp is secured in the "up" position.  That happened a few weeks ago during the first work part of the off season.  You also know that you are heading into the fall season when you start getting e-mails regarding lost and found or misplaced blue cards, now that Court of Honors at the beginning of the school season are being planned.  As I have mentioned countless times before, camp takes on a strange "stillness" during these twilight days between summer and winter.  The trails and fields are clear of debris as they have been either kicked away by scouts who shuffle rather than walk or have been picked for kindling or fire wood through the weeks.  With the first good wind storm of the off season, the roads, trails, buildings will once again be covered by twigs, branches/boughs and leaves.

As this new season begins we plan for our projects for the winter months in preparation for the 99th season of camping.  The pier remains high on my list but I cannot generate enough interest in others to keep this hope alive for a 100th project but instead relegate to an emergency action once the pier collapses and we lose a valuable program resource for a couple of seasons.  Unfortunately, there is no one here today that was part of the staff (other than myself) during the seasons we had to work without a pier; expensive as we went through replacing canoes and rowboats due to damage being dragged on the beach and a real hit on program activities; I mean why would a camp known for its waterfront ever want to invest into its waterfront?  After all, as I have been told, "you just got a new dining hall".  We didn't "get" anything, we worked hard to obtain a facility that was required for health, safety as well as program needs.  I doubt the board at Alaska Airlines tells their CEO, "you just got a new airplane" when looking at expanding or even just maintaining their services.  Sure, we are a not-for-profit but we still need to reinvest into our business to maintain that business.  I doubt most business would shy away from letting one of their main assets crash and burn then shut down and spend the money to rebuild it.  However, I digress.  There are other issues we need to deal with to include assuring a dependable water supply.  We have functioning wells but when tasked with over 600 people on the property, the water replenishment struggles to keep up.  Oh, we deal with it but it requires restrictions on water usage (outside of hygiene and hydration) that doesn't really need to happen.  What we do need is a excellent performing well along with others that will recover quickly when demanded.  This may or may not require supportive help with a larger holding system but it is something we need to deal with this winter.  The other major project will have to be with regards to the campsite bathroom facilities which one scoutmaster termed as "deplorable".  Apparently he has never had to use a pit toilet or a portapotty at one of the UW home games....those can be deplorable.

Building new lavatory facilities in the campsites are not cheap nor practical (in some cases) regulatory wise.  Renovation is far more plausible, particularly with changing the interior sidings to a marine grade paneling (instead of wood) and enclosing any and every inch where someone might see a portion of someone else's skin.  Yes, yes....youth protection is the word tossed at us routinely and we take that very seriously but some people interpret rules/guidelines differently.  Our goal to is to allow any individual the privacy to do what they need to do whether it is changing clothes, showering or taking care of any other business.  I think we can do this but it will be cramped quarters for the individual.

Before you know it, we will be heading into the spring and looking forward to the 2017 season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

It's Just The Staff

A person forwarded me a snippet of a conversation or post from social media in which Camp Parsons was mentioned.  The subject was not specifically about our camp but in reference as they were discussing another camp outside of our council.  To paraphrase one of the statements amongst many it went something like this, "....well at Camp Parsons, their facilities are just so-so at best but their staff is electric and professional!"  The basic gist of the discussion revolved around facilities, program, money and what is the main focus when it comes to providing a summer camp program.  It highlighted the ongoing argument of "no mission no margin but no margin no mission".  It is an argument that most mission oriented not-for-profits battle with.  In order to provide a safe environment that is functional and able to assist the mission one must have a revenue source that not only secures the ability to operate but has at least an 8-10% margin (maybe even more) to reinvest into the facility along with plans for capital projects.  If you do not plan for this, you will fade away at the hands of time as maintenance will be replaced by new purchase (an expensive way to go) as well as inflation.  Some folks believe all you need is a great staff and not necessarily the facility in order to provide an outstanding program.  I intend to agree.....but only to a point.

Boy Scout camps are not necessarily expensive to run but they are expensive to maintain.  Triple that when you live on a salt water environment.  The cost of maintenance let alone purchase of aquatic equipment is quite high and if it was not done, then it would be almost impossible to operate an aquatics program on our beach.  The environment also affects equipment from our tower to our vehicles.  Throw in a water system that is large enough that the state deems it a "public utility" as far as its operation and an extensive septic system that would rival a very small town and one can see the challenges that face the maintenance of a facility like Camp Parsons.  Add on the ever expanding demands/requirement/need of personal, private facilities and an ever expanding "special food needs" clientele pushes things that are beyond just having a great staff.  So yes, securing a solid method of income for the operation of the facility is not only a good idea but it is necessary and not to plan for it would be irresponsible.  How a revenue can be generated certainly can be discussed weighing the purpose of the BSA against what some would say "selling the sole" of Scouting to make a buck.  Those discussions are necessary and important, but at the end of the day a decision needs to be made; putting it off solves nothing other than set up the inevitable.....closing camp.

Having an outstanding staff does trump most things but it is not the only thing.  An outstanding staff can certainly overcome any deficiency in facilities but it cannot be separated from it.  You can't operate a rowing program without rowboats (and this is considered "facility" not just equipment) and a safe place to have the program.  To support this you need water and bathroom facilities that are not just simple functions but meet BSA, county, state and federal codes.  I can go on and on about the specific needs about having facilities be an, necessary need in the operation of a BSA program but it is a moot point.  More importantly, these facilities are necessary for other uses outside of summer camp if one is expecting to have that facility operate for the foreseeable future.  Look at the BSA camps that are closing across the United States.  Not because of love, not because of memories but because of a lack of income to even maintain what they have.  I love Camp Parsons, but that does not pay the electrical bill, the gas bill, the propane bill or the staff salaries.  And yes, staff salaries are no longer considered a "donation of volunteer time" on behalf of the staff.  We need to pay these "electric" staff members a fair market value for the time and work not just because it is the right thing to do but because they more than earn that salary.  Maybe I should change it say, no margin, no staff.

What ever the pull is, staff AND facilities are important.  I am surprised by questions I get from troops from the east coast and the south; "Do we have to bring our own tents?", "Do we bring our own food to cook?", "Do our adults have to be BSA lifeguard qualified for our troop to swim at camp?" (meaning that they have to supply their own lifeguards at camp).  There are camps throughout the US that are just a plop of land with a small lake and maybe a COPE course where troops come and do their own thing and the staff are there to make sure they don't kill themselves doing it.  Some may yearn for that (I would, if I was convinced that all adult leaders are trained Scouters), but that is not reality......and that is why those camps are dying.  They are not attracting even their own troops let alone outside councils to attend.

I could take our staff and run a program that scouts would like pretty much anywhere, even in a parking lot in downtown Seattle.  However, it would be short lived and why would anyone want to be anyplace else than where the mountains meet the sea?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What If.....

Have you ever thought to yourself "how would my life been different had a chosen this path over the other?"  There are many things pre-ordained for us such as the neighborhood we grow up in, the family members we have, the pre-school, grade school and even high school we attend.  Some of the activities we do from sports to Boy Scouts are pre-ordained depending on our parents or perhaps our friends.  Many of these things involve decisions either out of our control or just part of growing up with the family we have.  However at some point, we do start making decisions; it might be the job we take, the college we go to, an event we decide to attend and many more.  One of those decisions is working at camp; seldom have I seen any staff member there because they "had to".  That is not say we haven't had some that were there because of the influence of their parents  but many in this category are in the minority.  This thought came to mind this past weekend when I spent time with several former staff members who were on the staff a decade ago who were celebrating an event with one of their own.

As I looked at the group I wondered that if it were not for camp, where would they be?  The first thing that came to mind was that none of them would together today if it were not for camp as none of them had anything else to begin with in common; camp was the impetus for the basis and continuation of their friendship.  The second thing that came to mind was how much camp played an influence or an enabler for them to have the lives they have now; whether it was due to relationships, job opportunities, skills/confidence, extended nepotism (in a form different from family/blood relation) or some other factor directly related to their working at camp.  Now this is not say any one of these individuals would not be successful had they never heard of let alone be at camp.  However, their lives would have been different.  Over the numerous decades I have worked at camp I have see couples meet for the first time due to camp and go on to marriage, careers launched because of employers hiring them specifically due to their work ethic demonstrated at camp, colleges, careers chosen and on and on as a result of some influence encountered as a result of their working at camp.  Many life decisions made or determined due to the simple fact that they worked at camp.  Again, this is not to say that their lives would have been worse without camp, but it would have been very different.  We will never know as we did not chose that path.

I have seen this personally; over the years I have been a groomsman in countless of weddings, celebrant in two weddings and best man in fifteen weddings.  Over half of the times I was best man it was for a staff member and not necessarily a peer or contemporary but some who are much younger than I am.  It was not because they had no one else to chose (for those of you who have little faith in me or the groom) but it was because of the relationship and ultimate friendship built at camp through shared experiences.  The many other camp staff wedding parties I have seen are predominantly filled by fellow staff members.  This is over childhood friends, college friends and even over family members.  Heck of an influence.  NONE of this would have occurred had it not been for camp.  This is not unique as one sees this same phenomenon in other fraternal organizations or professional or military organizations as well.  However, this is "camp", nine weeks of a year as opposed to 9 months (school) or yearly (profession) or life long (family).

Ultimately, is this important?  No, it was just an observation I had over the weekend that got my mind going in thought as I tried to go to sleep that evening.  If we spent our lives second guessing about the "other" path we could have chosen, we would spend it standing in one place always second guessing "what could have been" instead of going after what is in front of us.  The question of "what if" will always be there but if you are happy with the life you have (and the definition of "happy" is one that may elude us) then I guess it really doesn't matter, particularly when you will never know what the alternative would have been.  For me, the "what if" would have been far less tuxedo rentals.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Over Protection

I saw in a recent publication of Scouting Magazine an article involving youth protection and digital media.  Did you know that not allowing "one on one" interaction with youth also involves texting or other forms of social media to include e-mail?  I guess I kind of did as it would follow that any form of communication whether it be personal or over digital media should be discouraged or just not allowed.  For the same reason we don't allow personal one to one interaction with youth does apply to this media both for the safety of the scout AND the adult.  I am not against this particular interpretation of youth protection but it does beg the question of whether we will ever become too over protective.  Now that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron at face value; when can you be too overprotective when it comes to children's safety but there is a fine line between having a safe environment and being cocooned.  Some might disagree and I would understand.

The vast majority of our staff are considered adults as they are 18 years of age or older, but there is a segment which is between 15 and 18 that work with us.  We do the obvious things such as separate the housing assignments on age, bathroom facilities on age and have parental releases for youth leaving camp property as well as doing our best to enforce the driving policy.  I say "do our best" on the driving policy which states that if an underage staff member is in a car there must be an 18 year old and a 21 year old in the car as well if they are going someplace outside of the group, but the only way to truly enforce that would be to have a guard at the gate each day to check vehicles.  I would imagine that should anything happen (as normal accidents do) and this policy was not adhered to then we would be putting up a guard at the gate to assure ourselves and OTHERS that we have done everything reasonable to enforce that policy (though what we do now seems reasonable to me).  However, given the working environment I wonder if we do not break the "letter" of the law.  The good news is that we inherently abide by the rule of youth protection as it is so ingrained into our daily work at camp.  Although I interact "one on one" with our youth staff, never is it done in isolation.  It is usually done during staff meetings, line up for meals, in the active program areas and pretty much anyplace where there is public activity.  The times we have had these individuals in our office there are always two others present during that meeting time (both adults).  Never do we enter staff housing (even the "adult" housing) during the season unless there was a specific reason to do and if we did, it was with a group.  What I have found though recently is that a growing number of staff members have been communicating to me via e-mail and text.

The text issue has not been a problem as the only persons that I give my number to are our directors, all of whom are 18 or older.  This is done so we can quickly deal with questions, plans, etc. both prior to the season and during the season if necessary.  E-mail is different.  I receive a number of requests from our High School staff members for academic or job references as well as questions about camp, etc.  I never think twice about that as it is usually responding to a question which asked and then answered and not a lot of other interaction like "hey.....howya doin......"  That is part of the reason why I don't participate in social media due to that gobble gook.  I usually just answer the question and move on and since I do not do references any more this communication may just go away.  Perhaps in the future when I answer these e-mails I should copy Ken or someone else just to abide by the policy.  Am I being over protective for myself?  I will have to think about that.  There is the spirit of the law and the letter of the law and anyone can use either side as a hammer whenever they like.  If it ultimately protects are youth, maybe it is OK.

It is going to be interesting to see how things evolve as time goes by.