Hello and merry Christmas from the crew at Path of Life! We hope this email finds you and your families happy and blessed as we finish out 2021. We continue to be thankful for all of you and your support through a challenging season in our ministry, and want to keep you informed about what you might expect and how you can help and pray for us in 2022.
Many campers and their parents get the idea that I own the camp, and when I correct that and they find out I only work here, don’t own anything, they want to know, who owns the camp? The most accurate answer is that Path of Life is a 501c3 non-profit org run by a board of directors, not owned by anybody. But when I answer a child or parent, my answer is usually that God owns the camp, and in many ways, parents do as well. Although they don’t own any property or horses or go karts, I see parents, especially the ones who have sent their kids multiple weeks a summer for years, as the primary investors in the ministry at camp.
Some have inquired about price increases for next summer. We’ve always made every effort to keep our costs as low as possible, and raise funds through whatever means we have, to make camp affordable to everybody. That principle isn’t going anywhere. But it should come as no surprise to anybody that with just a 3% increase to 9-5 day camps in 2021 and the overnight camp price remaining the same since 2019, we’re going to have to raise our rates, as much as we hate to do so.
How much? Honestly, I have no idea. This time last year, we were very optimistic about the following summer, believing covid was going to be less of a problem, and staff were going to be cheap and easy to hire. So we posted prices early and regretted it by May.
At the risk of being too direct and aggressive, I’ll tell you that the single biggest factor that is going to determine the price of camp next summer is going to be staff, and you can consider this email a cry for help.
We have been blessed the last two years with pretty fantastic staff retention, with some of our counselors and CITs working their 3rd, 4th and 5th summers with us. While we still have great relationships with them, time marches on, and when they graduate, they need to get “real jobs” and begin adult life.
Further exacerbating the problem is that COVID absolutely destroyed our “staff funnel”. Historically, we’ve operated teen overnight camps where we can bring in 60 teenagers and develop them as volunteers and hire them as CITs and counselors when they meet the appropriate age. Teen camp didn’t happen at all in 2020 and we had only one 16 year old at teen camp this summer, and 4 15 year olds. Not promising in any sense.
The reality we are facing is that the prices we post are going to be a direct reflection of our capacity and the number of quality staff we can hire. Most of the costs of running camp are fixed. In other words, it doesn’t cost substantially more to run a week of camp with 120 campers than it does with 60. If we can only hire enough staff to run 60 campers per week, you can expect major price increases, but if we can find enough mature, responsible counselors to run at our historical average attendance, price increases will be minimal.
Recruiting new staff has historically been tremendously difficult, to the point I’d usually call it a waste of time. 95% of the staff that actually work out are either former campers or are referred to us. And that’s where you come in.
This email goes out to hundreds of families, and the number of older teens and young adults in your lives is surely massive. It goes without saying that the vast majority of them will never be interested in or available for working at a summer camp, or we would not choose them to work with us for any number of reasons. But my hope is that by casting as wide a net as possible, we may be able to pull in not only enough staff, but a higher quality staff.
Here’s what we aren’t looking for:
Kids- We don’t need 14 year olds. If I post on facebook 3 days before staff training that I need to hire 13-14 year olds, I’ll have 50 applications in the first 24 hours. I love kids that age, and we’ve used them to volunteer, hired a few of them for support roles in the past, and they’re welcome to apply, but that’s not what we need. Please refer staff that will be no less than 16 years old on July 1, 2022.
Barn staff- We always get a glut of young and older people who think it would be just swell to hang out with horses all day and get paid for it. Again, we hire people for this position, but it’s not something we are actively seeking.
Staff with a busy summer- One of the biggest obstacles to young people working for us is a fixed schedule that just doesn’t work with camp. We can always work with a planned family vacation, a dentist appointment, or college orientation, but being gone every Monday and thursday for basketball practice or trying to maintain another part time job or mid-day appointments every week with their psychiatrist while the camp season is going just doesn’t work.
Staff that can’t agree with our code of conduct and statement of faith. We have realistic expectations for the spiritual maturity of our staff. We know that if we required every staff member to be a theologian or seminary student, or to agree with every jot and tittle of our beliefs, or never make mistakes, we’d be unable to hire anybody. However, we cannot have staff that are diametrically opposed to our faith or actively choosing a lifestyle contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible.
Staff that are mentally/emotionally/socially deficient. At the risk of sounding unkind and unfairly discriminatory, parents deserve to drop their kids at camp and know that they will be cared for by mature, caring, capable counselors. It might seem obvious, but if you wouldn’t trust somebody to care for your child by themselves all day, please don’t refer them to us.
Staff with unrealistic salary expectations. One of the problems we anticipate this year especially, is that you can drive down front street and find 10 places advertising at least 15 bucks an hour to start. Teenagers and their parents see that and do the math in their head thinking that in a 40 hour work week, they’ll make $600, and assume that what camp is offering just can’t compete. I’m not going to get into all the reasons why that’s nonsense, starting with the fact that those places aren’t hiring the way they advertise, and that they’ll never see 40 hours even if they do get hired, but suffice it to say that if they’re realistic about the costs associated with working these type of jobs and the actual paychecks they can expect, camp more than competes.
So how much do you pay? We have budgeted an average salary of $400/week for our 16+ counselors. Not every counselor will make quite that much, especially if they’re under 18, and some may do better depending on seniority and experience. This includes a substantial bonus at the end of the season for completion of contract.
To refer staff to us, please have them go to pathoflifecamp.com/staff-application.
Another option we are considering at this time is implementing a parent volunteer program where parents or grandparents can sign up to serve as a counselor for a week or two of day camp to help us reach great staff ratios and keep our attendance and prices manageable. We would offer 2 free day camper weeks for each full week served. In other words, if a parent serves as a day camp counselor, two of their children could attend free of charge to that week or a following week, or one child could attend two weeks free of charge.
This would not be our primary means of staffing camp, but a supplement. At this time, I’m looking at 2-4 parent volunteers per week.
These parent volunteers would need to be:
Able to pass a background check with sex offender registry check.
Able to attend staff training- We will likely be announcing two alternative dates to attend staff training, mandated by the state, probably around 6 hours, in the month of June. One of those programs may consist of two weekday evenings in lieu of a full Saturday. Staff who will be serving the entire summer will have their own week of staff training, but this program will hit the basics and prepare you to serve at camp.
Present for ALL campers- One of the potential pitfalls of this program is that it could attract a lot of parents who want to go to camp “with their kids” for free and save several hundred bucks by doing so. While there are certainly a lot of parents who would have no problem serving as an effective counselor for the whole group, we would require campers and their parent/guardian to be on separate teams for the benefit of everybody and to avoid dramatic accusations of favoritism.
Physically capable- Camp is a young person’s job for a reason. While there is plenty of down-time throughout the day, it is physically demanding, but not impossible for most people. In a typical camp day, you can expect to walk two miles, but usually in short segments. The most challenging part is going to be the hills, hiking up and down the hills might be strenuous for some, unless you can talk your kids into pulling you around like sled dogs. =) One of our staff, kerri hamilton is a middle-aged mom fighting bone cancer, but this superhero trucks around camp with all her kids, through the pain, with a smile on her face.
Patient with all kids- Honestly, this is something I have to work at myself, and fail from time to time, but there are kids who will push you to your absolute limit. We need our staff and volunteers to be assertive without being aggressive. I would encourage you to consider your experience with groups of children before you apply. While camp is very different, a lot of skills acquired working in a school, VBS, Awana, sunday school, etc will be helpful.
Reliable- If you sign up for a week, we’ll need you to be there Monday-Friday, 9-5. Partial days or partial weeks just aren’t helpful.
If you would like to sign up for this opportunity, please go to pathoflifecamp.com/parentvolunteer and get your name on a list, we’ll be contacting you in the spring to get you signed up for weeks that work for your schedule.
Brad Kark, camp director