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YMCA Storer Camps

Napoleon, Mich.

www.ymcastorercamps.org

First-Timers weekend summer camp (second graders): $158

One-week summer camp: $430-$450

Two-week summer camp: $780-$880

(Prices vary depending on the program the camper is enrolled in and when they register)

Related Article: On The Ball Year-Round

Do you believe in miracles? At YMCA Storer Camps, located on 1,200 acres of lakefront property in Napoleon, Mich., they certainly do.

Glen King, who's now vice president of camping services for the YMCA of Greater Toledo, was a volunteer on the camp's board in 1994 when the decision was made to raise more than $1 million to fund new and ambitious programming and facility projects. King and his group were charged with getting the message out and raising the funds needed.

"We were biting our fingernails. That plan had outrageous stuff in it. We dreamed we could have adventure centers, more lodges, indoor riding centers and community centers," says King. "Over the next five years, including our scholarship campaign, we raised $7.5 million."

King says the camp was reaffirmed by its focus on acting as a "tithing storehouse" for the surrounding communities. Once the message went out and people began to offer their time, talent and treasure (the three biblical Ts of tithing that King alludes to), the future began to unfold.

What the camp needed to make this happen was a focused mission, a genuine desire to offer a year-round sanctuary that gave back to the community and a cohesive message.

Message & Medium

Throughout its 85-year history Storer has always had a well-focused philosophical message based partly on its association as a YMCA camp and its own set of principles, condensed in phrases like "I'm Third," and "The Path".

This foundation of ideas crystallized around 1994 as the camp came up with a well thought-out plan that could be easily communicated to the thousands of people associated with the camp in one form or another.

"We didn't realize the power of good planning," comments King. "The real success in ensuring you still exist 50-100 years from now is doing an honest evaluation of where you are now and where you are going. Then, engage as many members of the community who believe in what you're doing and the outcome will be spectacular beyond your wildest imaginations."

Storer's plan has been massaged and helped along by the camp's staff, alumni, board, community members and consultants like Cleveland-based Schmidt, Copeland, Parker, Stevens, who brought the concept of charrettes, or visioning sessions, to the camp.

These visioning or brainstorming sessions dictate that existing assumptions are thrown out and free-flow creative thinking about possibilities takes their place. Once these ideas are shaped, they're captured in architectural renderings that are not necessarily what will be, but what could be. The renderings act more as a stimulus for dialog, communication and feedback, says King.

From there, the message is disseminated and people willing to contribute the aforementioned three Ts are sought out.

"They also have opportunity for engagement at camp to help us get ready for summer -- put the docks out, put the boats out or come out for work weekends throughout the year," says King. "Because they're so involved they have all kinds of opportunities to test us, challenge us, redirect us and be tethered together with us. We're transforming communities with this; it's cool."

With the first phase completed -- four new lodges and a dining hall -- the camp is embarking on what could be a five-phase program. The phases include a number of new state-of-the-art facilities, but the concept the camp is most excited about is an adventure center.

"We're just beginning the visioning of the indoor adventure center, and we're looking at things like indoor kayaking, climbing walls, high and low ropes courses, caves -- the kind of adventure challenges that we already provide seasonally, and more," says King. "In Michigan, sometimes we'll have five-degree temperatures and a foot of snow, and you can't use your outdoor adventure facilities."

The ideas for this facility, should they come to complete fruition, would be the envy of even the most sophisticated big-city aquarium, museum or recreation center.

"The most exciting discussions you can possibly have at a camp are going on right now. We're literally talking about underwater viewing ports, adventures around the world, putting sensors and cameras to observe wildlife throughout our ecosystems and seeing through the eyes of the Hubble telescope by having relationships with science and research centers," says King. "We're hoping to partner with businesses that are coming out with cutting-edge natural resources for energy -- solar, wind and fuel cells. Most businesses would be reticent being the Guinea Pig, but they can try it out here and incorporate it into our program. We're very interested in stewardship of natural resources -- it's one of our key programming components."

Programming Facilities

Though there's a lot of talk about facilities, Storer's executive director, Kathy Treiber, says that programming is the guiding force behind any facility plans.

"At one point we were building facilities and figuring out how the program was going to fit the facility," says Treiber. "Now we're looking at programs -- what does the program look like and then what facilities do we need to build to support the program?"

This realization came hand-in-hand with the equally important realization that the camp needed to focus its programming. At one time, the camp found itself in the common quandary of trying to be all things to all people.

"About three years ago we had a board/staff planning retreat and we started sharing our challenges. What came out of that was a refocus, and we decided to focus on our three core areas -- summer residence camps, outdoor environmental education and conference camping," says Treiber. "What we have found when we put our focus on those areas is that we improved all three areas and grew our enrollment. We decided who we were going to be and how best to serve our guests."

From those three core areas, key threads, or activity areas, would run from each of them. The key activity areas include aquatic/waterfront, adventure programming, horseback riding, target sports, art and outdoor environmental education.

The camp also found, based on its three core programming areas, that one-day programs did not work as well within the structure, even as a year-round camp.

"We believe the longer the stay, the better the experience," says Treiber. "If our guests asked for a one- or two-day stay, we wanted to serve the guest, but we were finding that wasn't the best experience."

All of these factors combined to help make the camp a full-fledged year-round facility. King says the camp may have seen 30,000 people come through from 1918 to 1963, but recent years have seen an annual influx of 30,000.

This exponential growth has forced the camp to update its systems, facilities and organization. Rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, the camp has quickly brought in the tools and procedures necessary to handle it.

For example, five years ago the camp may have had one computer and seasonal registrars. Now it has more than 20 networked computers and full-time registrars.

"We have over 100 buildings here and all kinds of equipment -- air conditioners, furnaces, roofs, glass, floor and wall coverings," says Treiber. "We're putting together replacement schedules for all of our equipment and facilities. We want to have a comprehensive inventory of everything we have here at camp and what a replacement schedule would look like for each item, so we would know how to budget each year. We would be replacing things before they actually broke, in a sense."

Having all this at their fingertips, categorized and budgeted is currently in the works. The inventory comes first, followed by input and implementation. The automation of these maintenance details will go a long way toward mitigating any surprises down the road.

Character Counts

To ensure the success of its present operations, and its future plans, Storer Camps maintains its core values, which could best be described in one word, character.

Storer Camps strongly believes that one of the best things it provides to the region it serves is an experience that teaches character in its many forms.

"It's the experience of living with other kids and staff and getting to do things they can't do anywhere but camp that people leave camp with and remember forever," says Treiber. "Those are life-changing experiences and we foster that through our mission."

Character begins with the leadership and filters down through the camp staff and to the campers. The ideal is maintained through careful staff hiring and constant reminders throughout the camp session.

"We hire for character and not necessarily skills. In our interview process we have developed questions around our mission character values," says Treiber. "We have the core questions that everyone asks, and then the questions that get to the mission focus to see how they might fit with our program. Is that how they can live their life, lead a group of children and work in a community?"

Different skill sets are certainly sought after, but at Storer Camps skills are meaningless without good character. And, the camp's constituency consistently demands it.

"We can train someone how to build a campfire, how to make a lantern or sail a boat, but we can't necessarily train people how to be caring, honest, respectful and responsible," says Treiber, reiterating the four YMCA character traits. "Hopefully we can enhance it while they're here, but it's not something we can put into a two-week training session."

The camp constantly reinforces the message in both speech and action. The mottoes -- like "I'm Third" (God first, others second, I'm third), "He who serves others, serves God," and, "To have a friend, be one" -- are presented, explained and followed up on in such venues as informal discussions in individual cabins. Meanwhile, the camp experience itself provides subtle yet effective character lessons.

"Camping immerses the participant in a community where they're learning in all modalities -- touching, seeing, hearing -- and they're participating and learning," says King. "Things as fundamental as learning how to get along together in a cabin, how to keep it clean, how to cook food on campouts, how to stay clean in a rugged environment, setting tables and having good manners -- every part of living. Many of the children are learning skills they've never learned before."

"We are doing our darndest to make healthy choices exciting, ever-present and something that, once you've been in our program, you should leave and tell other people that you found an exciting way to make good choices," adds King. "When children act and fall into behaviors that are consistent with our four character values they find themselves so excited and enriched that they notice the contrast when they get back to the environment they came from. They go back and many of the teachers and parents say, 'Our kids came back and they're more helpful and responsible… What did you do?'"

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