Take Time Out For The Team

By Jessica Lippe

We know that it is important for camp staff members to bond with each other. Not only does it create long-lasting relationships, but staff members are able to work more efficiently when they have a sense of the people they are working with. After all, staff members don’t just work together, they also live together. This only emphasizes the need to create a family-like environment. Whenever new staff members come in--or if there seems to be tension or separation among the staff--try some of these staff-only activities:

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1.       Try a new sport together. Disc-golf courses seem to be all over North America, but many people have never even played the game. It’s a fairly simple game where all skill levels are welcome to participate. The cost is quite cheap, too! Each player only needs a disc-golf disc, which ranges from about $10 to $20 and can be found at nearly any sports store.

Is the camp near the coast? Skim-boarding on the beach and sand-boarding on the dunes can make for great group activities. Even those who cannot or do not want to participate will enjoy watching others try out these sports. (Yes, it’s funny to watch people fall, and, fortunately, it’s extremely unlikely that anyone will get hurt.) Skim boards and sand boards can be purchased or rented from surf shops, and wax is usually provided for free or sold for a few dollars.

2.       Stock up on board games. Nothing else can get the staff to bond quite like a game night for members only! Apples to Apples is a fun game that encourages players to try to figure out how other players think. For a unique game that will keep the staff interested, order Killer Bunnies. The title itself sounds odd enough, but the entire staff at the camp I worked with was hooked on this card game for months! In this game, players try to collect carrot cards and avoid being attacked by other people’s bunnies. The game always ends up with alliances forming and laughable memories being created. Of course, classics like The Game of Life and Sorry! also are sure to please.

3.       Celebrate Christmas! Decorate a room at camp with festive lights and red and green decorations, set out stockings for everyone, and assign each person a “Secret Santa.” It doesn’t matter if you decide to do this in December or in August; this can be a fun activity at any time of the year! On “Christmas morning,” get together an hour before work starts to sit around the Christmas tree (we used a 12-inch one found at a dollar store), sip hot cocoa, and open presents. The staff members can truly become like a family once they celebrate a holiday together … even if it is very untraditional!

4.       Do good deeds together. A good camp staff doesn’t work together only when the members are being paid--they’ll also be willing to volunteer together. Even if it’s just the simple act of donating lost-and-found clothing and extra camp food to a homeless shelter, a sense of community and togetherness is gained when a group goes out to help the less fortunate. Hold a free car wash and use donations to help pay for a child in need to attend camp. Run a book collection drive to benefit a local library. Go to the beach and have a trash pick-up. If you make opportunities like these available, you may find that many of the staff members actually want to go out of their way to assist others. You’ll benefit and enrich the surrounding area as well as the camp’s staff.

5.       Have staff-only swim time. On a day without any camps, or after the campers have gone to bed, open up the pool or waterfront exclusively for staff. Better yet, take the members to a nearby ocean or lake. In a less business-like environment, they will be encouraged to have a great time swimming, boating, or trying to throw reluctant members into the chilly water. This activity is especially ideal for teenage and twenty-something staff, but don’t be surprised if someone older gets involved as well!

6.       Host a scavenger hunt. Consider the size of the camp--it’s probably at least several acres. Now, consider all of the potentially unique hiding places--inside a canoe, at the top of the rock wall, behind a paintball barrier, etc. With all of these great options, you will definitely be able to host a terrific scavenger hunt! Last year, for a staff member’s birthday--who was also a softball player--some of the staff bought softballs, and we all wrote clues on them. We hid them throughout the camp, and our birthday girl was sent off to find the treasure. She paddle-boated across the lake, swung across the mud pit, and had to perform several other stunts before she went on the roof to find the grand prize. I heard of another camp that grouped staff together in teams of five, tied them all to the same rope, and they had to go from one clue to another using teamwork. No matter how mild or extravagant you make a scavenger hunt, it will be a great experience for all!

7.       Don’t forget campfire time. If you work at a traditional camp, you and the rest of the staff are probably used to having campfires in the evening. A campfire can be a special event, but you’ll have to make it more significant than those the campers attend. Take the fire-starting supplies to the beach, and have a campfire in the sand. If that isn’t an option, go to a nearby campground. Once the fire is burning, you have many options to get to know the staff better. Go around the circle and ask each person to share a life-changing moment that has happened to him or her at camp. If it’s a religious camp, give the option to share what the camper has read in devotions recently. Or, as you go around the circle, the person who is speaking has to give a compliment to the person on the right. This activity is much mellower than the ones listed above, which makes it more appropriate to celebrate end-of-season.

One final word of advice: These activities are intended for the staff members so they have an opportunity to bond with each other. You may find that some of these ideas are so popular among staff that they can be made available for campers as well. That’s great, but try to have at least a couple of activities that only the staff can participate in. After all, campers change from week to week, but the staff will be with each other for at least the whole season, if not the year. So, let the fun begin!

Jessica Lippe is a freelance writer from Southern Oregon. She can be reached at JesFrogLlama@hotmail.com.