Parent Survey Results
After summer camp 2010, we promised we would share a compilation of some more frequently-expressed questions, suggestions and comments we received from the 2010 Summer Camp Survey. That compilation is shown below. It is presented as sort of a question-and-answer session with Glisson's Director/Manager, Russell Davis.
The 2011 summer camp survey began as soon as the first week's campers and their parents returned home last summer. We anticipate that a similar compilation of last year's responses will be posted to this page soon. It is our desire that this information, explaining the logic behind our process for planning the summer camp program, will help put the summer camp experience into context - providing some perspective for summer campers and parents who may not be aware that we really do put a full year's-worth of planning, collaboration and prayer into every season of summer camp.
1. One of the most common topics is about why buildings at Glisson - especially the cabins and the Holland Building - are not air-conditioned.
I enjoy saying that “camping” is a verb. Recently I was corrected. “Camping” is a gerund. Point is, the purpose of camp is not to be passively entertained but to engage Creation and one another in daily living.
As wonderful as air-conditioning is, it does not encourage us to go outside. It actually makes going outside less comfortable. Campers rapidly acclimate to summer temperatures and are helped by not having an air-conditioned alternative. With that said, operational costs for air-conditioning 20 cabins would be enormous. We are better stewards of our campers’ comfort and experience - and our donors' funds - without climate-controlled cabins.
The Holland Building is a wonderful gift from the Holland family built in 1958 when weekly camp capacity was around 125 campers. Glisson has grown dramatically in the last 54 years. With 320 summer campers plus 120 staff and 480 family members each Friday at Celebration, our current use of the Holland Building for 900 was never anticipated when it was built. Air-conditioning the Holland Building is possible, but would require the insulation and windows of a larger renovation – one called-for by our updated Master Plan.
2. Village campers spend one night each week camping-out under the stars. Many campers really look forward to this, while some aren't quite sure about it. Why is this part of the Village experience?
Creating experiences in God’s creation is a key element of Glisson’s mission. Our kids today are less connected with Creation than ever. While we know this deficit has huge implications for our understanding of environmental and social issues – critical issues of our time – we often overlook how our disconnection with Creation is a loss of a fundamental way through which we understand God.
We hope the introductory camp-out serves as an opportunity for campers to fall in love with camping, beginning a lifetime spent in Creation. We know it serves as an opportunity for the living group to work together, living together in simplicity, drawing closer through the common experience. Plus – according to the vast majority of survey responses and conversations with campers – it’s just plain fun!
3. Some campers come to Glisson hoping to get onto the Alpine Tower ... and the Climbing Wall ... and the zip lines ... and every other element on our Challenge Course. Is that a realistic expectation?
It’s a choice that faces all service organizations in our consumer-minded culture – activities with “Wow!” or activities that advance our mission. Our answer – both! Fortunately at Glisson we have fun activities that we use to build Christian community and grow individuals. Our high Challenge Course activities: the zip line, climbing wall, Alpine Tower and climbing tree are all popular with our campers. Each activity can serve a limited number of campers each day and we try to optimize the hours each element is open to serve as many as possible.
Some elements – the Alpine Tower, the Zip Line and the climbing tree – are open to all campers starting with elementary age. The Climbing Wall is reserved for middle school and up. Of our high challenge course elements, only the zip line has a fairly consistent length of time for the experience. All others are dependent each camper’s skill, fears, and desire to face the challenge posed them by the element. Some finish the challenge very quickly, others take a long time. Our philosophy is “
challenge by choice”. The camper decides throughout the challenge element whether to proceed. Variations in camper ability, afternoon rain showers and group arrival times all play a role in determining each camper’s opportunity to attempt any particular element
Given all the variables beyond our control - including the number of campers in the Village each week, the number of slots available on any given element, inclement weather, etc. - it is not realistic for a camper to expect he or she will get an opportunity on all of the Challenge Course elements. However, we do make every effort to get every camper onto at least one high element, and it is our hope that campers will be able to experience more than one high element during each week of summer camp.
4. On a related topic, a few years ago we eliminated Interest Groups which gave campers a chance to select activities. Now activities are planned by the Living Group. Why did this change?
Under the Interest Group system that allowed individual campers to sign up for activities, a camper’s chance of being assigned a high Challenge Course element (or any particular activity) was small. For example, the seven interest group periods for the Alpine Tower could only accommodate a total of 42 out of 252 campers each week. The installation of the zip line helped us tremendously, but it only had space for 126 campers. Campers were being assigned interest groups that didn’t hold their interest, often with campers they did not know. The Interest Group system had become an effort to keep campers happy with little contribution to our mission. And it was not keeping our campers happy!
In 2009, Living Groups - the group of campers and their counselors who are together all week - had the opportunity to plan some of their own Living Group times together for the first time ever. Counselors still plan the majority of the week, but now our campers experience the communication, problem solving, empathy, teamwork, sacrifice and benefit of being a part of a team and planning activities within the confines of limited time slots
5. The most common questions about Sunday check-in and Friday check-out are: (a) Could we stagger Sunday arrival times to shorten the wait?; (b) Could we check-out on Saturday instead of Friday?; and (c) Could we have an earlier pick-up time on Fridays? What alternatives has Glisson considered?
Ah, the joy of Sunday check-in. It’s a challenge for camps to collect the necessary information, the medication, the “what-to-bring”, the balances due and…oh yes, the 300 campers in a timely manner each week. At Glisson, we’ve worked hard at it and many of you have noticed. While the nature of our site (being in a narrow valley) constrains us in many ways – parking, pedestrian/vehicle pathways, and clustered development – our system is more streamlined than camps of comparable size and administrative requirements. Glisson is accredited by the American Camp Association, which means we make every effort to do things the right way at every turn.
Still, many families have made suggestions to improve the check-in process. Believe me - we’ve considered every suggestion at least once. Among the most frequent: Staggered arrival times to shorten the wait. One of my favorites, it would work well except for two important factors:
- First, times staggered by grade level would lengthen total check-in time for families bringing more than one camper - elementary and middle-high campers, for instance.
- Secondly, to stagger alphabetically by last name would disrupt the all-important bunk choice. (Some of you know what I’m talking about – you arrive two hours early to ensure that your camper gets the bunk of his or her choice.) To stagger arrival times means to eliminate choosing your bunk.
We have employed the staggered arrival times as much as we feel is possible. Village campers arrive at 3:00pm. Outpost campers arrive at 4:00pm, and Sparrowwood campers arrive at 6:30pm. Village Camp is by far the largest of our camper groups, and it's also the only group for whom bunk choice is a significant factor. Please continue to share your ideas with us… we’ll continue to do our best to make check-in completely painless.
Folks have also suggested that we check-out on Saturday rather than Friday. This idea has a couple of significant problems. The first is that we already have problems with families who insist on picking up campers early on Friday, disrupting the Living Groups' last day together. Family vacations often begin on the Friday before the week of vacation to maximize the time away, and we understand that, but parents insisting on picking up campers before the end of camp is a significant disruption. Secondly, the biggest reason for Friday dismissal is the health of our staff. Our staff members already work through Saturday noon each week, planning for the following week. They are required to return to camp by 11:00 Sunday morning. At least one full day off is essential to the well being and effectiveness of our staff.
On the other hand – many folks have suggested that we have an earlier pick-up time on Friday. This would allow those who live in Augusta or south of Atlanta to return home from camp at a decent hour, and might also help mitigate the heavy traffic on Georgia 400 each Friday afternoon. Others have argued that an earlier departure time would cut into the camp week and require parents to leave work even earlier. This suggestion is still under review. We may try a week or two with this idea next summer.
RECENT UPDATE: For summer camp 2011, Celebration took place at 4:00 p.m. each Friday (and one Tuesday during Mini-camp). Parents were surveyed throughout last summer for their feedback on this earlier Celebration and check-out time. Results clearly indicate that parents prefer this earlier check-out time for a variety of reasons: getting back home at a more reasonable hour and the ability to have dinner together on the ride back home are two of the more prominent reasons.
6. Our campers seem to have experienced more chigger bites in recent summers than usual. Is that true?
The short answer is, "Yes". We should all remember that this is camp. We do live outside and bugs are around. But I’ve gotta’ tell you - while 2011 was a bit better than 2010 was, we found 2010 to have been one of the worst in recent memory for bug bites and chiggers. I experienced them myself. We treated known areas around the camp for chiggers prior to camp, but have had problems in those areas and in the grass around camp that’s never been a problem before! We do make every effort to remind campers to apply bug spray daily and re-apply in the evening. We’ll continue to monitor and make efforts to reduce campers’ exposure to insect bites as best we can.
7. "Free time" went away. Some campers miss "free time", while many parents indicate that they appreciate the change.
In 2010 we removed “free time” as it had existed for years at Glisson from the schedule. It’s tempting for camp directors to regard free time in negative ways; after all, it’s during free time that lots of negative things can happen: accidents, bullying, pranks and just being left out. The positives of free time – non-programmed time, creative play, meeting campers in other living groups, exploring the camp facility – cannot be denied. So in the change of schedule in 2010, we made efforts to retain the best of the free time experience while eliminating the damage it does to individual campers and the camp community.
We have living groups participate in the planning of the camp week. This allows the groups to plan for time that is less-programmed, to have experiences of creative play and to explore the camp facility together. The times that living groups plan are not planned prior to their arrival. They are free times, just in a less individual, more corporate form. In addition we’ve added daily large group “section” activities and have kept our weekly “all camp” events for time when campers can connect with other campers not in their living groups.
8. Some living groups are co-ed, while others are all-girl groups. Some campers find that they enjoy the single-gender group, while others appreciate the dynamics of a co-ed group.
The Living Group is the fundamental structure of camp life. It is the group that works together throughout the camp week. Central to our camp philosophy is the practice of working to become and to experience the “body of Christ”, the church. That practice takes place in our living groups, making them critical to everything we do at Glisson. They are “laboratories” in which we experiment with living as the people Christ calls us to be – living out all that we’ve learned throughout our lives in church.
Glisson is a co-ed camp and we most often have co-ed living groups. However, every week we have more female campers than male campers, making all-girl living groups a part of every week of the summer. Cabin assignments and living group assignments are made weekly during the summer and we have no provision for campers to select a co-ed or single-gender living group. It just happens as a part of the way camp works here. There are benefits to both co-ed and single-gender living groups and most of our campers find that the goal of becoming the “body of Christ” for one another is much more important than the particular people in your living group.
Gender often, but not always, has a bearing on the types of activities individual campers would choose for their living group. For us, any difference in activity preference, whether gender-based or not, is an opportunity to discover how to live as Christ calls us, finding solutions to problems together and thinking together as one unit rather than a collection of individuals. It is an opportunity to practice becoming the church for one another. Activities are important at camp, but only inasmuch as they facilitate our primary goal, learning how to live life together as Christians.
9. Because "free time" was eliminated, some campers were only able to visit the store 2 or 3 times during the week.
The camp store is an important part of the camp experience. For younger campers, it is the opportunity to have their own money and spend it in their own way. (We sometimes learn the hard way about money and spending!) For others, it is a chance to get a souvenir or keepsake to mark camp as an important experience in their life.
We changed the camp store in 2010 to become a cashless system, and 2011 was our second year with the cashless store. This addressed lost and stolen money and a variety of administrative headaches. We also purposely changed, with the elimination of free time, the way campers accessed the store. When we visited the store during free time, dozens and dozens were in the store at one time and the line to pay at the register backed out into the quad. It was a miserable experience for everyone involved and the amount of inventory that was lost each summer was staggering.
Last year living groups signed up for free time and went together to the store, limiting the number of customers to 14 at a time. Living groups were welcomed and encouraged to visit the store as many times as possible, but, with a new schedule and new system, many found themselves only managing to get to the store 2 or 3 times during the week. It is our hope that with two seasons-worth of experience “under our belts”, our 2012 staff and campers will be better able to plan store visits to meet camper expectations.
By the way – I am grateful to all who donated store account balances last summer! Those gifts Campership Fund allowed Glisson to assist a record number of campers in 2011 - campers who would be unable to attend camp without assistance. Thank you for making camp more accessible!
In their own words ...
"I cannot express adequately what a blessing camp was to our son and our family this year. He came home excited about life, excited about his love for our Lord and Savior, and just plain excited. THANK YOU!"
"(My kids) had an amazing time now 2 years in a row. They could not stop talking about their counselors. The living groups were amazing!"
"After driving in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic the last thing I want to do is sit in the Holland Bldg. Can't pick-up be some other time? Friday afternoon, later Friday evening or even Saturday morning?"
"Olivia says 'It was great! It was the best week of my life!'"
"From the time we drove in was wonderful and very reassuring. I was so excited for my son and his first time at camp. Thank you."
"The (Holland Building) for the closing celebration was stiflingly hot, is there anyway you can do this outside under a pavilion...? or open the doors more?"
"(Our daughter) had a special spiritual moment at chapel on Thursday night. Thank you for helping to grow her faith!"
"I had an incredible time as an LIT. I learned so much and grew in my faith. I hope that the (Day Camp) kids were able to see God's love through my actions and encouragement during the week!"
"The only negatives were nothing that could be helped - the extreme heat of the week and the rainy camp out. That goes with summer in Georgia!"
"This was my daughter's second year at Glisson. In her words, it's her favorite place on Earth! (She) wants to grow coming to Glisson and one day be a counselor too!"
"My kids had a great first experience at camp this summer! My only concern was the number of chigger bites on my daughter's body."
"The ONLY thing I would want to understand is why there are not at least window units in the cabins? Is this something we could support as a special fund raiser through our church? Is there another reason AC is not in the cabins? Expense...? Just curious."
"She had alot of fun and really enjoyed meeting new people. She also learned more about herself as she tried new things."
"He said it was one of the best weeks of his life!"