ACASE 2015 – EPIC Talk

Early in October, the  American Camp Association hosted it’s Southeastern regional conference in Jacksonville, FL.  I was asked to present on ‘Recruiting, Interviewing & Hiring Quality Staff’ on the final morning of the conference.  You can read more about this topic in my previous two blog posts HERE.  It was a great chance to interact and share ideas about the most important job camp professionals have: hiring the staff that interact with our campers.  Also, I would like to give a big thanks to everyone who came to the presentation!

I also had the wonderful opportunity to give an EPIC (Emerging Professionals in Camping) Talk.  It was a chance for a few of us (Shawn Marler – from Camp Rockmont & Sara Huffman – from Green River Preserve) to speak to the majority of the conference attendees on any issue pertaining to camping of our choosing.  Think TED Talk:  an inspirational story, teaching a skill, challenging a longstanding belief within the camping industry, or reaffirming the lifestyle that we camp pros choose.

Briefly, I chose to talk about some of the difficulties that come along with the camp professional’s lifestyle, particularly that others do not always understand why we do, what we do.  However, if we know the answer to that question, and are intentional about remembering that we are responsible for creating an environment that produces joy for others, we will be filled with that same joy.  Simply, it was a chance for me to say ‘thank you’ to a lot of devoted youth development professionals for making a positive impact on their campers’ lives.

Finally, I would like to thank Ruby Compton (GRP) for asking me to be a part of this and to Shawn and Sara for their amazing messages and sharing the stage with me.  You guys are the best!

Watch and enjoy!

This is a JOB – Top Tips for Recruiting/Hiring Staff

I refer to this part of the camp off-season as being “in the weeds.” I’ve always found that when the calendar turns over the New Year, that there is a new intensity to summer preparation. And one thing that takes up most of a camp director’s attention this time of year is finding enough quality staff. Like many of you, I’m currently recruiting potential staff, reading their applications and facilitating interviews. As I type this, I am staring at a huge white board with a ton of names of potential staff members … and I feel anxious. Where I am going to find a qualified horseback counselor? Will I have enough lifeguards? I’m anxious because hiring staff the most important thing that I will do for camp all year. Camps can have the coolest games, the newest equipment, the nicest amenities, and the best activities, but if we don’t have a meticulously selected and well-trained staff, then we are not providing the excellent service and experience that our parents and campers deserve. So, here are my top tips for hiring the best staff:

Start Recruiting Early:

And I don’t mean August or September. I mean recruiting staff begins with your campers. Hopefully, your camp program gets the campers excited to keep coming back and moving up the ranks. Your leadership program (LIT, CIT, etc.) should begin instilling virtues that you are looking for in your staff. Begin incorporating aspects of staff training and leadership development into these parts of your leadership program, and continually show your oldest campers how great it will be to be a part of your staff one day. Hopefully, this excitement and natural progression will lessen the stress of looking for staff come February and March because you’ll have a line of potential staff members that you’ve cultivated for the last five years.

Never Stop Recruiting:

There is a saying in the world of college football: “Recruiting is like shaving. If you don’t do it every day, you start to look like a bum.” Always be looking for more applicants. Go to job fairs. Consistently ask past staff to recommend friends that would be interested AND they believe would do a good job! Call, text, email, Facebook. You don’t want to bombard them, but you never know which medium is the best way to connect with different individuals. Even if you feel like you have plenty of applicants to fill your staff, you never know when you may find that next great camp counselor.

Be Intentional in Every Step of the Process:

Every step of the recruiting and hiring process should have a specific purpose.

  • First, review your staff application yearly. Don’t ask questions simply because you think you should. Make sure the information you are asking for is pertinent and you follow up on those questions in the interview.
  • Give the applicant important information up front.
    • Make sure the required dates for staff are upfront and visible. You don’t need to waste your time interviewing someone only to find out that they are planning to take summer classes in July and cannot work the last 3 weeks of camp.
    • Tell them about the camp’s goals and mission.  Tell them about their job and your expectations of their roles and responsibilities. Staff training starts in staff recruiting.
  • Ask pertinent questions during the interview.
    • One of the most common questions among camp professionals is “what are the best questions to use when interviewing staff?” And one of the most common answers I hear other camp professionals give is a variation of: “I get them to sing a song/make up a game/teach a skill.” Basically, insert any type of creative and on-the-spot activity. Is this really the core of what you want in a staff member? Not to say that creativity and the ability to be goofy or have fun is not important, but is it more important than past life experiences that show a pattern of nurturing behavior, strong work ethic, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution or leadership???
    • The other common question type I hear is “_____________ happens at camp, what do you do?” Usually the BLANK is some type of homesickness, bullying, fight, or other camper interaction example. I do not use these questions because I do not care if this potential staff member knows how to handle these types of situations right now. He or she should learn those skills during staff training.
    • Instead ask questions about the person’s life experiences that exemplify the core of what you want in a staff member that reflects your camp’s mission. Here are some examples:
      • Give an example of a time you put the needs of others in front of your own. (nurturing behavior)
      • Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with someone in your life and how you resolved it. (ability to solve conflict and deal with others)
      • Tell me about an example from your past where you stood up for something that may have not been a popular position. (leadership potential)
    • And ask follow up questions!
      • If you could do this over again, would you do it differently? Why?
      • What was the toughest part about this situation? The most rewarding?
      • What did you learn about yourself from this situation?

Asking questions about past experiences give you a true understanding of the person because he or she has already exemplified this type of behavior. We all would love to have a staff member that can spontaneously come up with a game on a rainy day or know how to help a camper through homesickness, but I think we all would rather have a staff member that has strong values that have been demonstrated throughout his or her life.

Finally, Do Not Rush Hiring Decisions

We all have the pressure to fill up staff for the summer. Prospects have other job or internship options they are considering or we finally have found someone to work at the craft shop. But we should not sacrifice quality for simply filling spots. Again, you never know when you may find the next great counselor. So, take time to do a second interview. Follow up in more detail with references. Have a weekly staff meeting to discuss candidates at length with the other directors.

Make sure the person that you are hiring can do the J-O-B of a camp counselor, to ensure the emotional, mental, and physical safety of other people’s children. The only job that comes with more responsibility than a camp counselor is the person that has the trust from the campers’ parents to hire the quality people.

This is a JOB – Top Tips for Potential Summer Camp Staff

I refer to this part of the camp off-season as being “in the weeds.” I’ve always found that when the calendar turns over the New Year, that there is a new intensity to summer preparation. And one thing that takes up most of a camp director’s attention this time of year is finding enough quality staff. Like many of you, I’m currently recruiting applicants, reading their applications and facilitating interviews. Unfortunately and much too often nowadays, I wonder, “are we not teaching this generation of young adults how to go about applying for a job??” So, in part one of this two-part series on summer camp staff hiring, here are my top tips for the potential summer camp counselors out there.


Treat this opportunity like a J-O-B!

Because that is exactly what it is. You are applying to work for a company. In most instances, you will be compensated for your time and labor. MV5BMTg2NDIwNDY5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODE5MTI1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_The camps in the real world are not like the ones you have seen portrayed in the media. I am not Ug and this is not Camp Anawanna. I am a professional, and this is a serious job with significant responsibilities. The core of a camp counselor’s job is this: to ensure the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and safety of other people’s children. Be aware of the seriousness of that responsibility and show the camp staff you are ready for it. And you can convey that preparedness in many different ways.


First, Project Professionalism.

From the beginning take the application and hiring process seriously because all of your interactions (verbal or written) with a potential employer make an impression. If the job requires a resume, take half an hour and go by your school guidance office or college career center and get some tips before submitting it. Just because we work at a camp does not mean that we want a resume on neon paper with a lot of pictures that details your personal likes and dislikes. Camp employers appreciate energetic and creative people, but you can show us that in other settings. The attention-grabbing portion of the resume should be your experience, not the bedazzled appearance. Keep the information simple, action-oriented and job specific.

I cannot tell you how many emails and applications that I have gotten over the years from job seekers that are haphazardly put together with grammatical, punctuation and capitalization errors. I will respond kindly to your email; however, if you cannot take the time to proofread an email (which is essentially a cover letter) or much less your application, then I do not have time to interview you. And when we speak on the phone, even if we have known each other since you were a young camper, camp directors want to hear “yes sir” or “no ma’am”, and not an assortment of slang terms you use with your friends. A little respect and professionalism goes a long way.


Then, Be Prepared.

When it comes time for your interview, make sure you have done your homework. Research the camp your with which your interviewing. Know the mission statement, the camp history, the activities and some basics of your responsibilities. Also, the interviewer will have plenty of questions for you, but we love when you have questions for us. Show your interest! Ask questions about your job functions, how the camp deals with certain situations, and advice or recommendations from the interviewer. Two of the best questions I have had asked of me in interviews have been: “What is typically the most difficult part of the job for your counselors?” and “In your opinion, what is the most important skill of a great counselor?” This shows that you are serious about the possibility of being a camp counselor and you are already preparing to do your best for the campers.


Finally, Show Perseverance.

Do not be afraid to follow up with the camp director that interviewed you. It is always great practice to send an email or letter thanking that person for their time and the opportunity to be considered for the position. You can also use this follow up as another opportunity for a quick pitch about how you would fit into the camp environment and make a positive impact on their program. It does not need to be long or involved, but just enough to convey your excitement about this opportunity. All potential employers will appreciate you taking the time to do this.


It’s not that complicated or difficult, but it does require a little effort, and for the most fun and rewarding job in the world, that’s not too much to ask.


Check back in two weeks for my top tips for full-time camp staff on interviewing potential counselors!

The Gift of Camp

I received an email from a long-time camper and counselor this week. He told me about a recent weekend that he had with a good friend, another long-time camper and counselor. He said they spent a good portion of their time sitting on his front porch, looking at old camp photos from 2008 all the way until 2013, and reminiscing about their time on staff. He simply wanted to express his appreciation for the time he had at camp, his “home away from home.” I was thrilled to read this email and again be reminded of the power of camp and what it does for campers and counselors alike. There was one part of his email, however, that was difficult and somewhat troubling to me. He said that camp was a chapter in his life that had closed. I had a hard time accepting that statement, and I did not truly understand why. He had not been back to camp in 2014 and is gainfully employed as a marketing director, so I knew he would not be coming back in the future. But, I did not like him thinking about his time at camp like it was over. As a therapist I naturally began to examine what these emotions revealed about myself. Was I incapable of letting camp go? Absolutely, but I’ve made this my career. Did I just miss having him as a part of camp? Certainly, but the problem seemed deeper than that to me. As I ruminated on this for a while, what I finally landed on as the reason for my discomfort was this: camp is a gift, one that does not fade away, and I do not believe that the camp chapter ever truly closes in one’s life even after he or she has stopped attending.

Robert Irwin & Dexter Rowe: 2 of the best camp counselors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with


Camp Laney (where I’m currently the Program Director) has a tradition, like many camps, of a Morning Watch, where counselors give a brief devotional or life lesson to start each day. Laney’s owner and director, Rob, gives the morning watch on pick-up day of each session. And he gives the same one each time, and it is never stale. He tells the boys that we have all given each other a gift, but it is not like a gift that we receive on our birthdays or holidays. This gift is not opened, played with and then discarded to the closet to collect dust and be forgotten. The gift of camp is an experience that we have all created together, because the compilation of that group will never be together again. This experience will stay with us forever through our memories, friendships, the lessons that we have learned and the character that we have built. This gift can be called upon at any time to give us strength when times are difficult and allow the successes, friendships and joy of camp to keep us afloat.


In this way, camp continues throughout the year in every person who carries the gift of camp with them. In this way, camp continues forever in the hearts and minds of the people who have been impacted by camp (and also made an impact on camp). This is the beauty of camp; in that it impacts us in a way that the camp chapter of our lives never truly closes. It stays with us forever. We may have turned the page, but we can always pick up the book, flip back a few pages and before you know it, you’re immersed in memories and stories with a friend on your front porch talking about camp for hours.

CampCode Podcast – Training at a Boys’ Camp

Click to listen to the podcast!
Click to listen to the podcast!


I had the privilege of being asked to be a guest on Episode 20 of the CampCode podcast, which is part of (check them out if you haven’t!).

I had a great time covering some awesome topics with one of the co-hosts, Ruby Compton.  We talked about the benefits of single-gendered camps, staff training and management in an all-boys camp, the qualities/skills to look for in leadership staff, how to prepare young men to help their campers cope with homesickness, and overall best practices for staff training.

I hope you check it out!  Just click the picture above OR click on this link to listen.  And if you have any comments or questions, please make sure to reach out!



Welcome to Camp Sense!!

Hello everyone and welcome to the Camp Sense website! It has been a long journey to finally reach this point of launching this company. I cannot tell you how excited I am to begin sharing with all the other camp professionals through a different medium.


Before getting into the details, there are so many people I need to thank that made this company a possibility. First, to my wife, Ivey, I do not even know where to begin. I’m afraid to think that if someone would have told you what our crazy life would have looked like six years ago, you probably would have said no thank you. Your constant patience, love and support mean the world to me. This journey would not be possible without you. To my parents: I’m sure you initially had some doubts when I decided to use my Vanderbilt degree to work at a camp, but you’ve seen my passion for this work and supported me throughout.   To my brother, Geoff, who has always been there to brainstorm and give me guidance. Truthfully, this company (especially it’s name) does not exist without you and your unwavering belief in me. To the Laney guys, Rob & Whitney, thank you for understanding of my desire to get my advanced degree and unable to be on the road … I promise it won’t last much longer. To Blair, Chris, Steve, Brian, Matt & Brandon, you guys have pushed me to be better whether you realize it or not and your friendships mean the world to me. To the camping professionals who paved the way before me: Chris Thurber, Bob Ditter, Jerry Jennings, Scott Arizala, and Steve Maguire. Thank you all so much for your insight, guidance, inspiration, and friendship. I hope that I can live up to the examples that you all have set and make half the impact on the camp world that you all have.


So, why did I start this company? The answer is simple: It is because I believe in the power of camp in transforming children’s lives. I have been a “camp person” since I first entered the gates of Camp Laney in 1995, and as I have grown in the profession I have loved the passion and camaraderie of camp professionals. It has always amazed me how information, guidance and support is so willing given amongst camp people. I wanted to find a way to give back and help improve the industry. And then I met Dr. Chris Thurber … more accurately, I got to know Chris Thurber. His passion is contagious and inspiring and his depth of knowledge is astounding. From then, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to help camps improve the ways in which they ran their businesses, specifically preparing them and their staffs to work with children. In coordination with this desire, I began pursuing a M.Ed in Human Development Counseling with the goal of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. Through this program I have learned how the psychological side of human development can be used in the camp world to help prepare camp leaders to work with children in the midst of their developmental years. I want to help camp directors become more aware of issues children are facing today and how to reach them in safe and growing ways. I want to help them become more proficient and exciting in their programming. I want to help camp staff be prepared to handle the physical, emotional, and mental safety of the campers of whom they are charged to take care. Camp Sense allows for all those things. Camp Sense combines my expertise of being a lifelong camper, a full-time camp director and a soon-to-be mental health counselor. Again, the answer is simple: camp is transformational and I want to be an integral part in growing this tremendous industry.


If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re willing to check out the rest of the website. The site is very basic, and it will certainly continue to grow. My main hope is that the site is interactive and allows me to connect with you! Follow me on social media, get in touch with the contact form on the site, and check back weekly for different blog posts. The camp world is about connections and I hope that this site continues to help connect camp professionals from all over.


Finally, if you think I can be of help to you, your camp, or a camp or other camp professionals you know, pass this site and my information along. I look forward to working with you to help make your camp, and the camp world as a whole a better place!


— Luke