Opening My Own Camp

I failed

Written by Patti

OK, I said I’d share my journey of starting a camp with you guys.
So here’s the latest chapter in my adventure. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows (sometimes it’s snowstorms and icicles… and failure) and that’s ok.

It’s a little embarrassing to fail, but I’m a clumsy person who bangs into things in public on a regular basis – I’m used to sharing my embarrassment with the world. Plus, there’s no point in sugar-coating real life, right!?

So I mentioned a few times (on the blog, on the podcast, on social media… ) that I was planning on running a NYE sleepover camp. I was psyched. I had a great idea, a fun program, and awesome staff lined up, I knew that families were going to jump at the chance to send their kiddos to my program for a SUPER reasonable price … except they didn’t.

Womp womp.

What went down

A few days before we were supposed to run the NYE sleepover camp, I had to call it.
More specifically I had to call the mom who had registered her daughters – THE ONLY TWO CAMPERS WHO HAD REGISTERED (again, womp womp) and tell her that unfortunately we weren’t going to be able to run it…

Let me back up a second, I had said all along that I’d need a minimum of around 10 campers to run it (for financial reasons, but also because it’s more fun when there’s a few extra people) but when it came down to it I was feeling SO bad that I might have to ruin these kiddo’s and parent’s NYE plans that I was considering just hanging out with the two kiddos, and my former colleague, who was going to work the sleepover camp with me but offered to volunteer her time (so I wouldn’t lose as much money) BUT the president of the board I’m working with/ renting from called me and asked what was happening with the camp because we were experiencing a pretty serious cold snap and he was worried that the pipes would freeze.

Because, you guys, even though one of the FIRST conversations I had with the board when I partnered with them last year was “do you guys have the availability to be open year round?” and they said “oh yeah, yep, mmm hmm, sure do”.

It turns out that there was a little confusion, or miscommunication, or misunderstanding, or something, because after I told them about the NYE camp, and they okayed it, and I told them about a rental I booked for the end of Feb and they said “ok, great”, about a month later they mentioned that they usually shut down the camp, drain the pipes, and all of that from before Christmas till early March…

Wait, what?

The thing is, they’re so lovely that I can’t even be annoyed about the miscommunication (although I laughed about it a lot) and they were super accommodating, agreeing to shut er’ down from early January to late February, explaining that they were just concerned about the coldest weeks, which tend to be in Jan & Feb.

SO, when the president called and asked what the game plan was, because he was worried about the pipes in the cold snap, I decided to call it off.
It’s bad enough business to consider wasting all that power, heat, supplies, etc. for two campers (which I knew, and was seriously considering cancelling it, but that little bit of guilt was keeping me from doing it – and so was the hope that a bunch of people would register at the very last-minute)  but to risk bursting pipes – which could end up being expeeensive, yeah, it made it a no brainer.

Ok, that’s the back story. Here’s how the phone call went with the mom.

I called, explained that I had to cancel, apologized profusely, and offered to reach out to one of the counsellors I had lined up to see if they’d be interested in babysitting for her instead.

She was so sweet and understanding, she said “oh no, it’s ok hun, the only reason the girls wanted to go was to see you again. We’ll just take them to the events on the boardwalk.”

It melted my heart. I had met them when I did my little stint at day camp in August.

(Side note: it was so cold on NYE that all outdoor events were cancelled by the municipal rec department.)

So

That’s what happened.

I can’t decide if it was my last failure of 2017, or my first failure of 2018.

But I guess it doesn’t really matter.

 

I was bummed out.

Here’s a little tidbit about me. I’m not a huge fan of winter.
I don’t love Christmas (I worked in retail for a number of years – totally ruins the holidays!) and I usually experience a pretty low mood leading up to and during Christmas, then January hits and it starts to get better and better until it’s no longer dark out at 4pm.

That didn’t really happen this year (I’m sure there are a number of reasons why, but there’s no reason to get into all that). But after the holidays, whew-ee! I totally had (still have, to a degree) a case of the winter blah’s. I’m sure my NYE flop contributed to it, but only a very small role.

Anyway, I digress.

Here’s where I think I went wrong, and what I’ll do differently for the next program I (try to) run.

 

What I learned

Camp Culture

There isn’t a super huge camp culture around here. People don’t necessarily see the benefit in sending their kids. I have to work with the other camps in the area to promote camping in general – one of the things I already had in the works on behalf of my Provincial Association is a camp day at the mall. I’ve invited a bunch of local camps to set up booths on the last day of March Break (when the parents have had their kids home for a week) and we’re going to promote the crap out of it.

Technology

Most of my promotion was online, (aside from a bunch of flyers my cousin put up for me, that was kind of her!) there were thousands of shares of my FB posts, but it just didn’t translate to actual registrations.
I kind of assumed that people my age and a little older would be on board with online registration, etc.
But this is an area that still has “Tuesday night registration” for things like girl guides or summer soccer, where everyone stands in line for 2 hours to add their name to a list.
I think I need to offer paper applications too. Baby steps, I guess.

I also made a huge mistake by not waiting till my website was finished before trying to run an event. I know that when I check out a business online and find out that they just have a FB page and no site, I take them WAY less seriously.
So I kind of figured I could get away with it, since there are a few other camps in this area that only have a FB page… but they already have their church community and they’ve been operating for 60 years. Really bad call on my part.

Relationships

It’s no accident that the only two kiddos that signed up had spent a week or two with me last summer. Relationships are huge with any camp program (people are sending their children to you after all, of COURSE they’re going to want to get to know you) but I think it’s especially important here.
I’m not kidding when I say that anytime you’re introduced to someone here, the first question is “Who’s yer father?” (pronounced “whoo’s yer faaah-ther”) so of COURSE I can’t just waltz in after living off the Island for the past decade and expect that people are going to send their children to me.
My camp isn’t even affiliated with a church or organization that they recognize.
I’m unknown to them.

So I have to do a lot of home visits, meet-n-greets, and open houses as part of my recruiting for summer camp. Let them get to know me, and tell them who my father is (ps. my answer is always – Charlie, one of the Butcher Boys who owned the Heather – true story. Feel free to ask follow-up questions.)

Staff

I had some awesome counsellors lined up, I was excited to work with them and since some of them were teenagers willing to give away their NYE to hang out with me and some kids, I’m confident they’ll be willing to do the same for a week next summer.

Communication

With the board. I need to check, double-check, wait a few weeks and then check again when I’m planning events at the camp. We’re still figuring out our working relationship and working out the kinks, but as long as we keep doing it from a place of mutual respect and the shared desire to bring great programs to kids, we’ll figure it out. And now I know about the winter shut down. So I learned something.

Anyway, I failed.

I’m not thrilled about it. But I’m grateful for it.
I’m grateful for the things I learned from it. I’m grateful that it will make the eventual wins that much sweeter.

Fear of failure has always been something that has held me back from taking chances and really putting myself out there, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to fail (somewhat) publicly, and feel that twinge of embarrassment and get through it. It will make me stronger for next time (cause I’m sure there will be a next time – cause I’ll continue taking chances) it will help me continue to push myself to do scary things (like allowing myself to be excited by things and telling everyone I know about them) because I know I’ll survive it if it doesn’t work out.
Plus it never hurts to be humbled every once in a while… things were just going a little TOO well, ya know? hahaha

Anyway, that’s my story.
I’ve been riding the wave and things have been going pretty easy for me, falling into place. So I had a bit of a wipe out. But I’ve still got my board and I’m swimming back out to catch the next wave – aiming for an even bigger one this time.

Do you have any words of advice? Or things you tell yourself after experiencing a setback? I’d love to hear em’ in the comment section down below.

Check back next week for a guest post from Dave Hennessey (that I’ve been meaning to post for weeks!)

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2 Comments

  • Patti – thanks for sharing your journey through this. I imagine that once you do get your camp running, you’ll look back on this story in appreciation that you stuck with it. The lessons you learned were also helpful to me. It helps when you see other people (esp. in our little world) that are real and human and sometimes successful and sometimes not. It reminds me to keep chugging along, that eventually things will come together and then we’ll choose another journey to start. Thanks for sharing a moment that probably felt like a moment of defeat but that will eventually become a step to success. It’s all temporary and this is just the beginning! ‘Til next time!

    • Thanks Becky!
      You are so kind and I appreciate your words so much.
      And you’re absolutely right, it’s already playing out in my favour. I’m applying for funding for those starting small businesses that I wouldn’t have been eligible for if I had received any payments. So yay for small blessings!
      I am constantly inspired by you and your adventures, so I’m glad that I could be helpful to you too! 🙂

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