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Summer camps: training grounds for leaders

Skills provide framework for a lifetime of engagement, purpose

August 17, 2017

As the world tilts toward chaos and we stare down global uncertainty, it is not the mighty armies that make me feel safe. Nor does the knowledge coming out of universities bring me peace. Instead, I take solace in the fact that at this very moment, summer camps are taking place.

Cedarkirk is a year round camp and conference center. Owned by the Presbyteries of Tampa Bay and Peace River it is located on the Alafia River within 170 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and uplands. (Photo courtesy Cedarkirk)

Summer camp is the unsung hero of our culture. As a society, we tend to look at college acceptance, graduate school degrees and professional recognition as indicators of leadership. Summer camp often gets skipped over in the interview or on the resume, but the experience should not be underestimated. Camp serves a critical role as a primary training ground for local and global leadership.

I often half-joke that in the workplace, I encounter two types of people: those who went to summer camp and those who did not. Summer campers and camp counselors often become people who can lead with flexibility, think creatively on their feet, organize people for a common purpose, and infuse the workplace with positive corporate culture and cheer. Of course, people who didn’t go to camp can still become effective leaders. They just may not have that je ne sais … camp.

I wondered whether my instincts about what makes an effective leader were true. With a quick Google search, I was able to find numerous lists of characteristics desirable in effective leaders.

According to a report from Harvard Business Publishing called Leading Now: Critical Capabilities for a Complex World, leadership traits most desirable for business include managing complexity, acting strategically, fostering innovation, leveraging networks, inspiring engagement, developing personal adaptability and cultivating learning agility.

David Carter Florence, who works as a summer camp consultant, said, “On any given day a camp counselor will be expected to resolve conflicts between campers and staff, direct an innovative program in the outdoors, assess potentially life-threatening risk, shepherd a timid or homesick child to tough it out with friends, empower a group to find shelter, food and ‘relational community’ all the while positively leading the group with humor, song and yes, even dance! It’s almost like living out one’s wedding vows for a group of little tweens — for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health until this week is over!”

Camp counselors are also trained to recognize potential in others and draw it out. When they get to the workplace, they tend to keep doing just that.

As Brian Frick, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) associate for camp and conference centers, explained, “Leaders become leaders not because they succeed, but because they fail and have someone there to be a mirror for them. Camp counselors get support to reflect, adjust and try again. After a summer of doing this constantly, their leadership growth far exceeds that of a peer who did an internship or other job for the summer. I know of no other place where young adults are given such opportunities to fail, reflect and improve their leadership. What other job gives you this much, and makes it engaging and fun, and promises payback greater than what one gives?”

To recognize the impact of summer camps, the Center for Faith and Service created “Summer Camps that Change the World,” a list of institutions that are doing just that. For more information, visit

This year we also established the National Camp Counselor Leadership Award to recognize camp counselors who have given their time and hearts to making the world a better place. To view a list of this year’s recipients, visit Forms to nominate camps and counselors for next year’s awards are also available at the website.

In addition, to capture the conversations, reflection and growth that occur at camp, the center created “camp cards.” These cards are intended as a resource for camp counselors, parents and youth group leaders and can be used to spark conversation with campers about issues related to personal development, spiritual reflection, environmental stewardship and more.

This year, the center is providing free access to the cards at

 Wayne Meisel, Ordained Minister with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick Theological Seminary

Today’s Focus:  Presbyterian camps and conference centers

Let us join in prayer for:

Presbyterian Summer Camps that Change the World

Camp Maranatha, Scottsboro, Alabama
Ferncliff Camp, Little Rock, Arkansas
Heartland Presbyterian Center, Parkville, Missouri
Johnsonburg Presbyterian Camp & Conference Center, Johnsonburg, New Jersey
Holmes Presbyterian Camp & Conference Center, Holmes, New York
Sound View Camp, Longbranch, Washington

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Lisa Love, FDN
Sandy Lucas, FDN

Let us pray:

Loving God, thank you for the camps and conference centers of our church, where we learn to appreciate the wonders of your creation, feast on your unending love and share that love with others. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 97; 147:12-20
First Reading 2 Samuel 15:1-18
Second Reading Acts 21:27-36
Gospel Reading Mark 10:32-45
Evening Psalms 16; 62

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