Two troops, same Scout summer camp, same week; one troop has a wonderful time and goes home smiling, one has a difficult time and leaves unhappy.
I observed hundreds of troops and thousands of Scouts As a staff member and camp director for a dozen summers.
I can tell you one thing that makes or breaks a week at camp.
It is not facilities, location, staff, or program. Those things will have less to do with the experience you’ll have once you are there than you expect.
The most reliable predictor of the sort of experience you will have is what you bring with you.
I am not talking the gear you pack, but what’s between your ears and in your heart; a sense of perspective and a heart full of Scout spirit.
A good camp director and good staff have one goal – to serve Scouting. They are seriously customer oriented and will bend over backwards to meet your expectations. Things usually go south when adults lose their perspective and overplay their role as a customer to the point it encroaches on Scout Spirit.
A sixteen year old aquatics counselor has no control over the camp budget, the weather, or the schedule. Yet I have seen and heard ill-tempered adults treat that sixteen-year-old like as though he were their personal servant. They act like a fussy society matron in a world-class hotel complaining about how they brew the tea or the quality of the chocolate left on their pillow.
The camp staff is there because they love Scouting, not for the small salary they get for weeks of preparation and 18 hour workdays. As a rule summer camping operations don’t make a profit. What you pay is usually only a percentage of the actual cost of your stay.
Share Scouting Spirit, and things will go well even in the worst circumstances.
If you are traveling to an unfamiliar camp adopt the attitude that you are a guest visiting another country. A gracious traveler celebrates the differences of culture, language, geography and climate as the real joy of the voyage. Enjoy the particular culture and traditions of the camp, no matter how unfamiliar. Resolve to be the most welcomed, polite, spirited and helpful troop in camp and you’ll go home happy.
Variables like location, cost, program content, and facilities cover a broad range of personal tastes. One camp is not objectively better than the other; choose based on what appeals to the majority of your Scouts.
Videos, brochures, and other marketing tools provide some information but the inside track is the camp director’s email address. The telephone number or email address associated with the camp is most likely answered by the registrar at the council office who may have limited knowledge of the summer program or facilities.
Here’s what to ask the camp director:
What is their staff retention rate is from year to year? The more the better; it indicates the staff has a positive experience, and that’s a strong predictor of a great program.
What is the average age of the directors in the various program areas? Younger area directors (early to mid twenties) are more likely to bring into more energy and fun in the program.
What percentage of the staff are Eagle Scouts? A high percentage means the staff likely understands the Scouting program and what it’s like to be a Scout in camp.
Ask how long special programs have been running, how many Scouts participate, and how participants evaluate them. New, untested programs or those with low participation rates may not be what you are looking for.
What ratings do they get on their food service? Food service problems eclipse all else: great weather and a great program in a world-class locale are immaterial if Scouts don’t eat and eat a lot.
A good camp director is tracking responses to their program and will be willing to talk to you about the evaluations they receive. If they don’t know the answers to these questions there’s a possibility they aren’t paying attention to other things as well.
As a general rule of thumb camps with a great program usually have few openings, camps with a so-so program usually have many.
Finally; every BSA summer camp must meet minimal national accreditation standards. Accreditation does mean something, but it’s not a good way to gauge the program or the facility against other camps.