I had the pleasure of meeting Alyssa Cameron in 2016 at the International Camp Directors Course, and not only is she a brilliant Executive Director but she’s freakin’ hilarious!!
I enjoyed chatting with her, learning from her, and most of all just sitting back and being entertained by her whitty remarks! I’m so glad we stayed in touch after the course was over, because now you get to learn about her path to becoming a camp ED – it turns out volunteering really does pay off!
If you have a minute you should absolutely check out Alyssa’s YouTube channel. She and her colleague are entertaining goofs!
Tell us about yourself
Thanks to the internet, introspection is now an exercise of the past and I can simply fill out an 8 question quiz and be told exactly who I am! So, in the spirit of transparency, I thought I’d share these meaningful results with you.
If I were a coffee, I’d be a cappuccino.
If I were a muppet, I’d be Gonzo.
If I were a spice, I’d be salt.
The two characters from The Office that I am most like are Michael and Erin.
Have a clear picture of who I am yet? Don’t worry, me neither.
I am into pretty much anything that brings a smile and laugh to a room and have a special place in my heart for board games, black coffee, acoustic covers, and anything with beady eyes. You can usually find me lollygagging at the back of a hike being distracted by interesting tree branches, discussing ridiculous hypothetical situations with realistic fervor or trying to coax my dog, Indiana Bones, into warming my feet.
How many years have you been involved in camping?
“I hate camp”. These were the words I muttered under my breath as I bumped along in the backseat of my parent’s minivan on the gravel road to camp for the very first time. My mom had decided that I would attend for a week, whether I liked it or not. I was a shy yet belligerent 11 year old and made no qualms about how disinterested I was in trekking into the wilderness for a week with a group of strangers. We arrived to an eerily quiet facility and were greeted by the camp cook. Apparently, we were a day late for registrations due to a clerical error and I just missed catching the bus with the rest of the campers for an off-site hike. It was just me, my stuffed rabbit and the cook sitting on a couch in the lodge for my first few hours at summer camp. I wasn’t convinced that this was a great life decision by my mother at this point.
I returned every summer to the same camp since the age of 11, completed the Jr. Leadership program when I came of age and became a cabin leader at the age of 17. In the years that followed, I worked as a program coordinator then as the Program Director before taking some time away to finish school. I returned to do another summer of cabin leading before being Program Director again and then I thought my camp career was coming to an end as I couldn’t afford to just work seasonally anymore. I volunteered as a speaker and filled in for the Executive Director when she took time off, but I wasn’t employed. In 2013, the position of Executive Director opened up at the camp I had spent my entire camp life at and I’ve been there ever since!
All in all, I’ve been at the same camp for 21 years, 4 years as a camper, 3 years as a Leadership student, 11 as staff, and 3 as a volunteer.
What positions have you held?
Whoops, I answered this in my lengthy answer above!
How did you become involved in camping?
Being the Executive Director of Mill Creek Camp was always my “dream job” since my first summer as a camper. I never thought it would be a dream that would come to fruition until I actually started working at camp and realized what a natural fit it was.
Camp always had a stigma around it as a job you did until you got “a real job”, so I started looking for “real jobs” that were as close to a camp job as I could get. I went to post-secondary with the intention of becoming a teacher and quickly found that it just wasn’t quite the same, so I decided to just embrace the stigma and start trying to make a camp job into a “real job”. I switched into a distance education program so I could volunteer year round with the Executive and Program Directors at Mill Creek, hoping to learn and grow under their guidance and getting to see the nitty gritty of what camp work actually looks like in the off season. Once I made that switch, there was no turning back.
What was your “ah-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a camp professional?
I was sitting at a dinner table during an Alberta Camping Association and chatting with the program director of another camp in 2008 when he gave me some unsolicited bad advice. This advice would eventually eat away at my thoughts and lead to me deciding that unless I could be paid full time, I wouldn’t work at camp any longer. In retrospect, I look back and can say that it was bad advice, but it also did serve as the “ah-ha” moment for me realizing that I actually wanted more from camp work than just summer to summer.
What did you study in school? How has it helped you in your camp career?
As aforementioned, I began my post-secondary education in pursuit of an Education/Humanities degree. After 3 years, I decided to pause that and enrolled in a Community and Disability Rehabilitation Diploma distance education program. I’ve actually returned to distance learning within the last year, applying my previous post-secondary credits, to finish with a Bachelor of Professional Arts in Human Services.
In my camp career, my education has served me more directly than I could have even imagined. From learning about prompting hierarchies to teaching them as best practice to new staff, I found much of my own education correlated over into my staff training especially. With curriculum settings, I was also able to take risks and be a learner instead of an instructor, which holds such value when you need to think about how your campers/staff/volunteers are feeling and what they’re experiencing.
What was your “path” to your current position?
I touched on this a bit already, but ultimately, I worked my way up the ranks within the same camp for my entire camp life. After getting my first real taste of camp work as a cabin leader, I tried to find ways to be involved as often as possible. I would let the Executive Director know that I was available to help put stamps on envelopes in the off season and would volunteer for every and any kind of job they had to offer, from cooking to shelf building.
Did I know exactly what I was doing? Ha! Not even a bit.
But, I was willing and wanting and I had people who were willing to take the risk and the time to teach me. As Executive Director, I really value the time that I invested early on in doing every sort of job that camp had to offer as it really instilled an appreciation and understanding for every role.
If there was one thing you could have done differently early in your career, what would it be?
I would have stuck out the last year of post-secondary while it was a bit easier to complete my degree. While I don’t regret the decision I made to switch gears, it is significantly more challenging to find the right amount of time to do classes now that I am working full-time than it was then as a seasonal staff.
What is your advice to a “shiny new” camp director?
Go into everything with the classic camping adage in mind “leave it better than you found it”. Do your best to integrate succession planning into everything you do and realize that is a reflector of good leadership not of throwing in the towel.
What advice would you offer future camp directors?
Show enthusiasm for getting involved and be willing to do anything! Keep your eyes open and remember if you see a need, fill that need! More often than not, camp directors are on the lookout for people who love camp moreso than people who are skilled in a particular area. Take my word as a former shy kid that it is totally worth the risk.
Camp isn’t for everyone, believe it or not. I LOVE camp and want everyone to experience it and believe in the power of camp to change people’s lives for the better, but it doesn’t do me any favours to think that everyone will feel the same way. The same applies for camp careers. While a certain position might be what you wantto do, it might not be the right fit. Don’t be discouraged by that though, be inspired to find out what is the right fit! After my first year as Executive Director, I created an entirely new position at our camp for our former Program Director because she was an out of this world staff member but the position just wasn’t her strong suit. Now, she works as the Associate Director at the camp and is absolutely killing it. She could have given up after her first summer of program directing or continued to struggled through, but she and I would have constantly struggled against the things that didn’t work. Don’t be afraid to get inventive and do what it takes to create the very best camp that you can dream of!
How to connect with Alyssa
You can find me online in way too many ways:
YouTube: Mill Creek Tube (my Associate Director and I have a series called “Between 2 Friends” in which we do all sorts of camp shenanigans)
Letterboxd: AACameron (for those of you who are movie buffs)
Messenger Pigeon: Frank (just open a window and call out his name)
And for your viewing pleasure, I’m including Alyssa’s most recent YouTube video.