Say Cheese!

By Pam Kutsick

Pictures help tell a story, validate memories, and provide witness to our lives. Having pictures of kids as they grow and explore the world is a priceless practice for parents. For kids, sharing pictures of their adventures just adds to the fun. One of the great adventures many kids will have over the summer is resident camp. As much as parents want kids to experience camp, they still harbor the usual parental concerns.

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With media-sharing technology, camp directors provide an opportunity for parents to download pictures taken of their kids. In this way parents feel connected and many of their concerns are eased.

But with all the new dangers technology presents, is this practice safe? Who has time for all that picture-snapping anyway? Does daily picture-posting take time away from activities? As camps embrace technology, they have found many ways to incorporate it without taking time away from campers.

Smiles In The Inbox
Many camps have combined media sharing with administrative functions that allow for online registration, online payments, and sharing camp pictures with parents. Camps that don’t have those capabilities can download a media-sharing program (usually for free), such as EnjoyMyMedia. It is easy to use and download, and in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Nick Gosselin of EnjoyMyMedia explains how camps can keep in touch with parents using the service. Camps download photos onto a computer, drag them to a transmit folder, and--in the words of EnjoyMyMedia--send a “brain-dead-easy” media sharing system. The beauty of this system is the pictures do not have to download into the receiver’s computer, which can sometimes bog down a system. Instead, the pictures feed into an RSS or other outlet, which distributes a link to your Web site to syndicate the content, or in this case, pictures. For videos, EnjoyMyMedia utilizes Flash, another program that does not cause delays on parents’ computers.

Gosselin points out photo sharing is not limited to weekly camp pictures. For instance, sending a few breathtaking photos of your camp covered with snow in January or a short video in the spring of the camp being prepped for the season is a great marketing tool. In addition, tools from EnjoyMyMedia can be accessed anywhere by a receiver, so if one parent is out of town, he or she can be part of the child’s camp experience with a few clicks of a mouse. Another great aspect is the camp chooses who gets the pictures, which is also COPPA-compliant. And for parents who are not interested in receiving pictures or videos, staff members do not have to key in those e-mail addresses. Separate channels also can be created, which narrows down the numbers of pictures parents have to sift through before finding their camper. A demo of the service is available at www.EnjoyMyMedia.com.

Camps Embracing Technology
In Akron, Ohio, Camp Y Noah posts pictures for parents to view. Marc Wilson, Associate Executive Director, explains having the opportunity to see the pictures “eases parents’ concerns.” At registration, a form is signed allowing images of the kids to be used for promotional purposes. After the pictures are downloaded, two staff members review and choose the pictures that will be posted; however, the page displaying the pictures gives the parents the right to request a picture be pulled off the site. Wilson says the technology is easy to use, and the process has not been a time drain for staff. He adds parents today expect some type of media with pictures be made available to them while their children attend camp. Currently, Camp Y Noah utilizes this feature through CampRegister’s eCamp. This also allows for online registration, bill paying, balance due reminders and additional tools designed to make registration more efficient and less costly. Making this available is a time-saver for staff members, and the picture-posting capabilities are a bonus for anxious parents.

Other camps are incorporating picture-taking into their program. For instance, Aileen Blyth of The Girl Scout Seal of Ohio Council, used picture-posting as a way for young journalists at resident camp to practice their craft. The camp allows the older girls to take pictures throughout the day and download them. Then two staff members review, choose, and post the pictures. Using the eCamp system, parents have the option of purchasing access to the pictures; they are given a code to access and view the pictures anytime. For campers who forget their cameras, this is an opportunity to purchase a few pictures of their camp days for a nominal fee.

With this technology, even remote camps--such as the Outward Bound Wilderness program--can provide pictures by simply snapping a few memorable moments with a cell phone. When they reach a service area, the photos can be e-mailed to its office and posted online.

A Word Of Caution
Since no product comes with an absolute guarantee, it is important to note a drawback—the sites typically offer only one username and password to parents, campers and camp staff. Andrew Ackerman, Chief Operating Officer for Bunk1.com, explained it is likely the shared username and password would have to be changed frequently, or the security of it will be “compromised.” Bunk1.com is a full-service camp management and online registration system, which also includes a photo gallery for parents. Ackerman noted the difference between their product and the competition is the level of protection—parents are each given their own username and password so one account can be deactivated if it poses a security risk.

Technology offers many options for campers to stay in touch with parents. While encouraging campers to send letters home may be a great way to reinforce communication skills, this is a visual society, and there is nothing like a picture of a marshmallow-covered smile to let parents know their child is safe and happy. The applications of this technology are limited only by imagination.

Pam Kutsick is a freelance writer and contributor to Parks & Rec Business magazine. She can be reached via e-mail at pkutsick@zoominternet.net.