Return From Camp

Raven_Knob_signAs I mentioned in the last post, I recently escorted 19 Boy Scouts to summer camp at Raven Knob Scout Reservation near Mt. Airy, North Carolina.  Being as there is generally not a lot for adults to do there, I was able to spend a lot of time observing, reflecting, and planning.  This is our second straight year at this camp and we plan to return next year as well, primarily because this particular camp is so well run.  The amazing part of it is that the program is almost entirely run by Boy Scouts, not adults.  And by almost entirely, I mean that the adults involved are in supporting roles and primarily managerial roles.  The Program Director on down are Scouts running the show!

Now, summer camps by necessity are pretty well-structured and offer lots of programs.  A Boy Scout camp is no different, offering opportunities for the boys to work towards rank advancement or earning merit badges.  All that structure requires a lot of staff members to make it go, providing administration, program, food service, and other elements.  When you have a program that is well-organized and runs smoothly with that many factors and personnel involved, and it is run by boys; well, that deserves a little looking at to find out why.  So, I did.

The Raven Knob Difference

The Camp Director is Keith Bobbitt and my understanding is that his philosophy and approach is what drives the success of this camp.  Keith is what we call a Professional Scouter, an adult who gets paid to do this.  In talking with Keith both last year and this year, I am struck by the awesome leadership he exhibits with the summer camp program.  Keith has developed a vision and core values that are the cornerstone of the program.  Applicants to work summer camp are carefully reviewed and selected.  All staff members are required to attend ongoing training in how the camp runs, their roles, and their leadership.  As camp goes on, Keith and his team identify staff members who exhibit extraordinary competence and leadership.  Those candidates are then provided with additional training and guidance, moved to more challenging roles, and return the next year to serve in higher capacity.

As I mentioned, even the Program Director is a Scout.  He is responsible to lead all the section directors (also mostly all Scouts) and lead daily meetings with adult leaders from all the troops that attend to keep them informed.  If you have an issue during camp, you will speak to Scout to get it resolved.  When I asked Keith Bobbitt about the Program Director role and how he can confidently fill it with a Scout, he told me that the person for the that position has actually been trained over a few years to fill it.  He even confidently boasted to me that when the current Program Director ages out of Scouting or moves on, he has 3-4 others already prepared to take that role on and maintain the consistency in the effectiveness of the camp.

Vision, Empowerment, and a Commitment to Excellence

A few take-aways for me stood out from observing the week, not all of it new but certainly reinforced:

  1. Vision helps everyone perform better.  What’s amazing about Camp Raven Knob is not just that it is run by boys — other Boy Scout camps do that as well — but rather that it is run so smoothly and efficiently by boys.  They were always courteous and helpful.  And while those two words are part of the Scout Law and you would expect them to be that way at every camp; the reality is that not all of them go the extra mile with it like they do at Raven Knob.  I believe it is because the vision of what they want the camp to be is consistently communicated to the staff.  Once they understand the vision, it sets an expectation, which then makes it easier for the staff to behave in a manner consistent with that vision.
  2. Empowerment lets each person contribute and spreads the load.  When you provide the vision, tell them to go make it happen, and get out of their way then most everyone will rise to the occasion and perform based on the vision.  By empowering the Program Director to run things, make decisions, and make changes as necessary, Keith not only allows that Scout to truly contribute to the success of the camp, he is making his own load lighter as well.  When the Program Director allows his section directors to do their jobs and make decisions, he also is developing people and lightening his own load.  I daresay that if the Program Director kept all the decision making to himself, he would go crazy around week 2 or 3.
  3. Boys teach me more than I ever teach them.  They had challenges of bad weather at points, being in a totally unfamiliar environment, hustling around from session to session all day, and yet took the time to thoroughly enjoy themselves and get to know each other better.  I believe our troop firmed up their relationships that week through the shared experiences and the resulting “inside jokes” from that.  Litigious spiders, “are we there yet? Yes, get out!”, playing SetBack, and “Hey, Hi!” will all become cultural components of our troop.  And it reminded me of things I often forget in “the real world”.