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 important....no, 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.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Behind The Scenes

I constantly harp on many of our evaluations but the vast majority are very complimentary.  One of the phrases that we see that catch my eye are ones that say. "you have the program dialed in", "well run machine", "smooth operation", "it may be your first week of the season, but it seems like you have been doing it for weeks now" and so on.  That is one of the goals we are aiming for and it is gratifying to see that many people look upon our operations as "seamless".  However, I don't think we would get these comments if folks REALLY knew what goes on in the dark recesses of the SMG.

Most adults never make it past the front counter of the Camp Office located at the SMG.  What they see is a (usually) cheerful staff member at the counter ready to answer a question, look for lost and found, hand out mail or guide the person to get what they are looking for.  There were several times this season that I found myself in the front office to get something only to have someone come in and ask a question.  I frantically look behind me, certain that one of our office people are there but to my dismay, they were elsewhere.  So hopefully I was cheerful enough to help them.  Unfortunately for me, as I am helping one person, another comes in and so on, next thing I know I have spent 20 minutes at the counter doing what I hire my office people to do.  Oh well, it is all program.  In the room behind the front office is the program office where the Program Director, Head Commissioner and CIT Director have their desks and where most of the day to day operations take place.  Scoutmasters have a glimpse of this during meetings as the door to that office is usually open.  Finally, in the way back of the office (walking down a short narrow hallway) you will come to our offices; a place where young staff members fear, Scoutmasters are uncertain and Scouts never want to be.  This is where Ken's and my desk are located and is the year round office for Camp Parsons.  It is here where seasonal hiring takes place (the final decisions), where strategy is planned, obstacles overcome, Staff member of the year votes are counted and anything and everything controversial is discussed.  Why would anyone want to venture back there?  It is in these two back offices where brilliance, improvisation, chaos and at times....anarchy reside.

As anyone who has been responsible for "something" or "someone" will tell you, nothing always goes as planned.  From something as simple as a troop arriving with far more or far less scouts than planned or has a scout with a particular disability that we did not know about, all of which prompts us to rearrange campsite assignments over a period of minutes and then deal with the anger of others when we do that.  To something as complicated as a staff member becoming injured or disabled who was key to a particular program or the food delivered was not necessarily what was ordered, or a septic system goes out, or the wells are not quite producing what they are supposed to be producing.  All of these and many more need to be dealt with now, not in a few weeks.  That is a luxury for the off season, not when scouts are in camp.  So while a Scoutmaster is enjoying the peaceful, lazy sunny afternoon on the porch of the SMG wondering what his co-workers back at home are doing now; a few yards away there is a flurry of activity of moving personnel or sending someone to the store, or modifying a program in order to get us through the next hour, day, week.  Although there is annoyance from us about dealing with an issue and an annoyance with staff members who now have to do something extra or change to a different position, no one really sees this "on stage".  At the end of the day when we have addressed whatever issue that popped up, we sit back and say "well, never again will we let that happen" only to realize that many times these instances are not in our control.  There are many reasons why Ken and I are way in the back when our staff gather together such as at ceremonies....it is partly because we don't have the happy faces our staff have, as we are mulling over what the next issue is going to be.  Then again, if it wasn't for the resilience of our staff, things would indeed fall apart.

So yes, we do have a well oiled machine born out of experience and time; we know what works and what probably will not.  Although that is not absolute, it is in general.  However, behind that well oiled machine are a group of people who are remarkably surprised that we can keep this thing going.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The 2016 Season Redux

Now that the dust has settled from the 2016 season (the Scout dust that is, not that kicked up currently by a bunch of co-eds) I had a chance to reflect on the recent summer season.  In a word, it was "simple".  That is not to be derogatory but instead to reflect that camp operated as it should have; minimal drama, great staff/directors and generally good to great reviews.  We had our usual challenges such as the water supply and of course interference from Mother Nature for certain events, such as strong winds canceling our canoe race one week.  Our kitchen septic system was challenged by an electrical failure, but all these things were managed by Ken who always seems to know what to do given any facility challenge.  The water challenges hopefully can be cured by the addition of a "well" producing source which we hopefully can do this winter season.

The troops we hosted this summer came from near and afar; all seemed to enjoy themselves, particularly those from Alabama, Texas and California (think it had to do with the weather).  We did not have to deal with any issues stemming from having 400 adolescents mingle about camp; usually there is some troop to troop interaction that requires our intervention and this was noticeably missing this year.  The number of "loud suggestions" were proportionally related to the number of adults attending camp but nothing was considered "outrageous" though some were frustrating.  We publish a leader's guide book, have a website, and we have a pre-camp meeting.  If that is not enough, we call the individual listed on the reservation and ask "we have information for you, are you the leader coming to camp and if not, do you want us to call them?"  Still...."pre-camp communication could be better" is something we hear from time to time.  I know that the online daily and advancement schedule may change or may have different versions depending if you look on our website or the council's but c'mon, saying you didn't know that you had to have a roster of attendees when you came to camp?  Where in life do you show up and not give a list of names of attendees?  Hotel?  Airline? College?  Really, that does not seem far from reasonable, particularly when we call and tell you.  "Wish you supplied a menu for cookout", OK, fine, but hot dogs for lunch and stew meat for dinner...do you really need advance prep for that?  It is supposed to be the scouts cooking, not the adults, I am pretty sure the boys will figure something out as cooking meat has been part of the human ethos for sometime.  Then of course the "Yin and Yang" of evaluations.  "Program too busy" vs "Need more merit badges"; "You waste too much food" vs "scouts went hungry"; "Need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich bar" to "peanuts should be banned from Boy Scout camp due to allergies"; and the usual, "Canal too cold", "too windy", "not enough wind"....usually these opposing comments are made during the same week.

I digress as usual when it comes to adult comments.

I had a great staff.  80% of them were 18 years of age or older, that is a lot when compared to other BSA camps.  We had a very talented group of young men that could sing, play instruments, ham it up for skits and plays and then turn around and provide a very professional program that well served that scouts that attended.  Although there are always sub-groups (cliques) in any large organization, I felt the staff was cohesive for the most part.  We were stretched somewhat given the lean number of staff members we had but the boys pitched in where they had to (with few exceptions).  I say the summer was "simple" partly because the staff made it easy for me and a big part of that had to do with Curtiss being our Program Director (third time in his eleventh year of staffing).  Whatever frustrations he had in moving the "chess board" of staff, he certainly kept it to himself and was constantly engaged with the staff.  It is one of the reasons why he is an excellent Program Director.  Finally, congratulations go out to Tracy Wright who was selected by his peers as "Staff Member of the Year".  Tracy joined our staff in 2010 and has served in various positions, most recently our Tower Director.  He graduated from college last year and is now going on to be the full time Camp Director of Camp Sheppard.  He is already trying to poach staff members for winter service.  He will do a great job but if he corrupts my staff.....well, that will be another blog post.

Now we turn our attention to the 99th season of continuous camping on Hood Canal.  Sign ups are already underway for that as well as our 100th.  A number of our current staff have talked to me about returning for the next season so I am glad to see that we are already looking good.  This season came and went quickly, I suppose the next one will as well.  Either that or it is true that as you get older things seem to go quicker.....that is unless you are stuck in a meeting (which is why we move ours at camp very quickly, there is more to do than that).  2016 is all but in the bag......but it was very good......and simple.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Looky Loos

We had a Scoutmaster opine about the false sense of ownership one has on things that are seemingly yours but really are not.  His example is that he has a house on the Puget Sound right on the water.  During crabbing season he sees a lot of crabbers dropping pots right off the beach in front of his house.  "Hey, that is my water" he would say subconsciously knowing of course that he has no right to that "piece of water" or the land it covers.  We here at camp share that same affliction.

Hood Canal and the Olympic Peninsula are a very popular destination, particularly in the summer months so it is no surprise that we get our share of tourists around camp.  It could be as simple as people walking along Bee Mill Rd that stop and gaze down onto the parade field in front of the SMG or an individual that parks his camper on the side of the road EVERY morning to walk his dog along the road parallel camp.  Out of interest one time I asked him what his routine was thinking that he might have some connection to camp.  "It is a county road" is the response you would get.  True.  Some times we have folks brazen enough to drive right into camp, get out of their vehicle and walk down to the beach and start taking oysters or walk on to the pier and start fishing.  Despite the fact that we have "No Trespassing" signs posted all over and a big "Camp Parsons, Boy Scouts of America" sign at the only drivable entrance into camp, I still cut these folks a little slack as they just might be THAT stupid to ignore the obvious; a bunch of boys in BSA uniforms (or some similarity to uniforms) running around with abandon, and believe that they do think it is a public facility.  This is one of the several reasons we have adult leaders wear identification bracelets around their wrists.  What is annoying though is that when you bring it to these intruders attention you get indignation in return.  "It is a public beach" is the usual retort.  No, it is not and even if it was, it is still illegal to remove oyster shells from the beach.  Usually it is the threat of law enforcement that gets them on their way.  The other mode of transportation is a little more tricky and annoying for us.  That is the canal itself.

There seems to be very few working piers in the northern part of the canal and even fewer public stops for restrooms and fuel.  It is not surprising that people mistake us for one of those stops.  Usually this manifests itself as boats which eerily motor by the pier with everyone on board staring at the boats, pier or beach.  What makes it even creepier is when we have active programs with young boys ongoing.  It is one thing to motor by at a distance to read the camp sign on the end of the pier, it is another thing to actually come in between the sailboat line and rowboat line, particularly when there are young scouts in kayaks, canoes or rowboats milling about.......wouldn't anyone with "common sense" think that they were out of place.  Still, they are not breaking the law.  A few even try to tie up at the pier.....that usually does not last long.  Then we have the kayaking tourists.  These are folks that come in close to shore, use our pier pilings as a slalom course and curse at the scouts fishing from the pier as their lines are interfering with their kayaking.  Even better is when they pull up to shore and ask about bathroom facilities.  During the "off" season we are fairly lenient with these folks (as to be good neighbors) but with scouts in camp, not so much.  This is in contrast to when our scouts are on High Adventure Kayaking through the canal who get threatened with shotguns should they step foot onto someone's private property.

Then we have the truly malicious people.  These are folks that will park off our beaches and play music at a high level with the specific intent of disrupting our program or driving by at various times on the road demonstrating their engine's lack of a muffler.  Luckily these incidents are far and few between but they certainly set up an environment for confrontation.  Luckily, an obvious call to law enforcement with the ready information of the boating registration tag or license number is fairly effective in banishing those individuals for some time.

It is hard to be here and not feel that this is "my stuff" or "my property" when you have a personal and emotional investment into a program and facility.  Many of my staff echo that same sentiment; "those kayakers went under our pier", "that boat drove right by the pier".....we usually have to remind them that a) this is not "ours" but the Chief Seattle Council property, b) we don't own the water or county road, c) we are Boy Scouts, be helpful.  I know that can be rough for me, but hey, at the end of the day I feel that we have the better deal than others and I am happy to show it off.