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Managing a Huge Summer Camp

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You can also find out about a Spontaneous Summer Camp I threw for 100 teenagers effected by wildfire at www.ylpeacecountry.ca/savecamp

I don't do anything in half measures. It just isn't in my personality. This means that since launching in April, I have put a lot of into work into campaigning. So the day after knocking on my 1000th door (www.voteBressey.ca/blog/1000doors), I took a few well deserved weeks away from the campaign.

But I didn't go on vacation. I went away to work as the Camp Manager at a large summer camp: RockRidge Canyon. This camp is a huge property which has over 400 people on site at any given time in the summer. Providing leadership to an operation of this scale is quite the undertaking! But it is also a lot of fun.

This summer, camp was a bitter-sweet time for me.

It was awesome because I love camp. I've been involved at RockRidge Canyon since it opened in 2004. I've led cabins of teens, I've program directed, I've been the camp speaker, and I spent the last two summers managing it. I love seeing the teenagers (many from Grande Prairie) who attend have their lives changed. I love the friendships I make. I love the challenge of the work. I love the food and fun. And I love seeing our young staff learn and grow. Camp is always great.

But this year it was also sad because I don't know what my future involvement looks like. I'm sure that next summer I will spend a week leading a cabin of teenagers from Grande Prairie. But if on Council, I know I can't spend most of my summer working at camp. This realization was one of my few hesitations when deciding whether or not to run for office. However, I do take comfort in this: much of my camp experience can translate into Council work.

Here are some lessons I learned at camp which I think will serve GP well if I am on Council:

  • Awareness of complexity. Camp is made up of many different groups. There are up to 300 campers per week. They all have different needs and interests. Additionally, we have about 40 cabin leaders, 40 high school aged volunteers, 40 college aged volunteers, 15 college aged summer staff, 20 year round property staff, 15 Young Life staff from across the country serving for a month, and 15 adult guests checking out camp. Everyone needs to be housed, fed, and entertained. We also want camp to be a growing experience for everyone. That is a lot of moving pieces! Any decision I make as a Camp Manager needs to be filtered through the needs of every single group. What I do to benefit one group impacts many others. City Council also has many different groups it needs to consider. Every decision it makes needs to be filtered through its impact on diverse interests. I am used to thinking through complex decisions. I am also used to looking at opportunities and challenges from many different perspectives.
  • Long term thinking. Since I have been involved from its opening, I've had the privilege of helping form our camp culture and operations. This summer, I made sure to pay especial attention to how decisions I made over ten years ago are still shaping camp. Most people my age have not been involved in one job long enough to get this type of perspective. But it is an important perspective for Council, which needs to be thinking about our City's needs decades from now.
  • Working with volunteers. Camp only works because of the volunteers who have built it and who run it every summer. These volunteers provide labour. But just as important, they also provide vital passion and insight. This is true in a city as well as in a summer camp. Volunteers are a crucial part of our community. Council needs to engage and support people who donate their time and energy to building Grande Prairie. I've spent my career at camp and elsewhere learning how to engage volunteers.
  • Strong and cheerful work ethic. Camp is demanding. The days are long. Many issues come up last minute, which means you need to be free by being ahead of your work. And no matter how stressed and tired you are, you need to be ready to work with campers and other staff cheerfully. I am well aware that serving on Council is often a demanding job. I also believe that all of our citizens deserve to be addressed with a positive attitude. Camp has taught me how to work hard while interacting with others positively.
  • Clear communication. I've served as a Program Director. Explaining a game to 300 antsy teens and 80 tired staff takes skill. I have spent summers as the camp Speaker, which is a job that is all about developing communication. But being Camp Manager takes communication to a completely different level. You need to communicate your vision and plans in writing and verbally. More importantly, you need to listen to the vision and plans of others to act on them and help pass them along. Communication is also a vital role of Council. Council needs to communicate its vision and plans so that citizens, businesses, and organisations can adjust accordingly. More importantly, Council needs to do a great job of listening to those it represents and acting on their needs and ideas. Camp has prepared me to work with the rest of Council on developing excellent communication.

I think my experiences at camp and elsewhere have prepared me to act as an effective Councillor for Grande Prairie. So I hope I get the chance to serve. That is why I am already back to campaigning hard, despite the fact that I just got home yesterday.

I'm going to continue to work hard on this campaign. But I can't do it on my own. I need help. Tomorrow I will be posting details about how you can get involved. If you think I would bring a valuable voice to Council, please consider getting involved in this campaign.

Thanks for reading about my summer!

-Dylan