Category: Leadership Development

Befriending Fears at Camp

I was an anxious kid. Life, for me, meant constantly fighting an incessant stream of questions like what if that plagued my mind. But there was an escape–spending the summer at Camp Woodland. At camp I took six activities, the same every year: swimming lessons, free swim, riflery, archery, tennis, and horseback riding. The familiarity of my camp routine distracted me from facing anything unknown. There was a simplicity in my regimen that I clung to for most of my early summers. I never wanted to try any new activities for fear of embarrassment and failure. So, I stuck to what I knew. My activities were like old friends. I knew them blind. That worked perfectly for three summers, until my fourth year, when I was placed in a more advanced horseback riding hour and my little world flipped on its head.

I had ridden horses for three summers by then, but the prospect of being in the advanced hour, surrounded by older, skilled riders, made me so anxious I felt sick. I had caught glimpses of the pasture during these sessions and seen blurs of beige and brown, clouds of kicked-up dust, and what seemed like impossibly fast speeds. I was certain that the second I mounted any horse going that fast I would be flung off and land somewhere in the trees.

My first day in riding left me in tears. I already felt miles behind my peers. I trooped, defeated, back to the cabin, and I was in no mood to unpack the day with my friends, so I sat on the porch in the sinking sunlight alone. The door creaked open and my live-in CIT, a girl named Arantxa, sat beside me. She introduced herself, but said nothing. I was grateful for the silence. Her presence was comforting enough, as if she was letting me though she was there for me. She would wait until I was ready to talk.

Day after day, I wandered out to the porch. When I felt like crying after being reminded again and again I was the worst in my class, I found some semblance of solace on the rickety cabin steps. Arantxa came out and sat with me every day. Eventually, I began to tell her about riding and my debilitating fear each time I walked into the barn. I confessed I wanted to quit. She frowned. “The fear you have,” she said, “is not something to run from. You have to accept your fear. Live with it. Free it, and it will make you better. Don’t quit riding because you’re scared. Just keep going.”

Those words kept me enrolled in riding for the next six weeks. She was right, I was afraid–that never went away. But Arantxa helped me befriend my fear. I made peace with it, and understood that its very existence was proof that I was growing. Growth, I learned, was not what resulted from natural skill or prowess. It was earned from that uncomfortable in-between, that space where what if still pestered me. But this time I was armed with the tools to twist what if into something powerful. Something hopeful. Instead of asking, what if I fail? I found myself asking, what if I succeed?

We had a horse show on the last day of camp to demonstrate all of our acquired skills. I mounted my horse, welcoming the flutter of anxious butterflies in my gut. Scanning the crowd, I saw my friends beaming at me. But something else caught my attention: Arantxa, breathless from running to escape her CIT duties, stood at the fence with a handmade sign drawn just for me. She waved and smiled, and warm pride bloomed inside my chest. As I rode around the arena, I felt like a blur of beige and black, fast and flying, ready to take on the world. I knew then that I could conquer any activity, any obstacle, and any challenge in my way.

This blog was originally written by Molly K as an influential figure essay for a college-prep English class assignment. We are excited to have Molly join our staff team in 2023!

We are in the Business of Construction!

Keep reading, this is still the Camp Woodland Blog.   I had a great opportunity to attend the 2016 American Camp Association Midstates Conference in Illinois. It is an annual training opportunity for over 700 camp professionals from various midwest states to learn and keep making camp experiences great for campers, staff, alumni, and parents! It is an energizing weekend where I could learn and immediately add techniques and activities to my toolbox: from a new simple camp game to learning new techniques to build engaging staff training activities.

4-up on 4-8-16 at 2.46 PM (compiled)

Susan, Joanne, and myself having a little fun before learning new things 🙂

I also got to be “Michael Brandweined”. Ah, yes, I totally pulled a Calvin Hobbs and verbed a person’s name. But I believe Michael has earned the right to be verbed. Michael Brandwein is an internationally recognized expert on management, communication, leadership, team-building, and customer service. Anyone who produced and performed with Jim Henson’s Muppets has got my attention!


But I digress from my story……Michael was one of the Keynote speakers of the conference, and he talked about the vision of camp and our professional responsibility to camp. He first had us fill in the blanks:

We teach skills for life in a safe, fun, loving place!

Simple but deep statement and then followed up by getting the whole audience to repeat after him:

“We are the in the business of Construction and we build great kids!”

I heard it the first time and thought yup, that is exactly right, Camp Woodland is in the business of Construction, and we definitely specialize in building great kids. Then we (the audience of 700 camp professionals) were asked again, what is our business and the response got louder, “We are in the business of construction and we build great kids!!” I was now in a room with fully engaged directors and staff who are in the business of construction. There is nothing better than being in a room of 700 energized camp representatives!

LightbulbThe lightbulb was now blinking in my brain – Michael you have my attention, but how do we build great kids? Then there it was, as if Michael and I were having a one on one conversation, he took his vision to the next level. (Ps. this is what he is internationally known for).

Michael continued, we build great kids by developing a nurturing, positive environment for them to learn in. I am paraphrasing of course because Michael is a genius at articulating a big vision, and I am still learning this technique. So instead I will give you the example that he used of an adult/counselor reacting to a child/camper using his vision in the following themes:

  • Problem solving: “We’ve got a problem, this is a good one! How can we solve this? What our options??”
  • Team Work: “Let’s try to do this together”
  • Persistence: “Let’s try again. This is a hard one!”
  • The Mantra: “We can do hard things”

Wow! As I am writing this down, I am thinking, I am going to try this as a parenting technique too. Sure enough, instead of accusing my children or negatively anchoring on the problem of spilling milk or not sharing or not listening (we have all been there), I changed my tone and redirected. The outcome was miraculous!

Maddie (frustrated 4 year old): I spilled my milk – everywhere!

Me (in a happier tone): Oops! We have got a problem, this is a good one! How can we solve this? What our options??”

Maddie: Well Mommy, I think I can clean it up but I can’t reach the paper towels.

Me: Let’s try to do this together. I will get you the paper towel if you wipe the milk

Maddie: Thank you for helping me. I really didn’t mean to spill my milk

Me: We can do hard things Maddie girl!

Micheal ended his presentation with this statement, “What they “see” is how they will “be”. It’s true, children of any age want to emulate what they see in their life. They are demanding tools to learn to be “grownups”. So by training our counselors to focus on a solution instead of the problem, they can provide campers the tools to be caring, do hard things and be great grownups!

Camp Woodland is proud to be in the business of construction!

Camp Woodland is proud to be in the business of construction!

Parents, I am so glad we are partnering with you in the business of Construction and specializing in building great kids! Our goal as camp professionals is to build a positive, nurturing environment where we teach skills for life in a safe, fun, loving place!



I am truly greatful to be part of the team Where Everything Clicks in 1-6!


Me and my family!











A note to staff: Camp IS the REAL World!

Posted by on March 24, 2016
I was recently invited to present at a regional camp conference in Northern California where the theme was “Caring”, one of the C’s of positive youth development (the others are Compassion, Connection, Contribution, Character, Confidence, and Competence).  The conference chair made an interesting comment in her opening remarks that I had to check out for myself upon returning home.

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Grace cares for 4- and 2-legged friends

This person mentioned that Harvard was launching a project to “Make Caring Common”.  Through an article online, I discovered that intent of this project is to “help educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice.  Leading colleges and universities are joining together to reshape the college admissions process and promote concern for others and the common good.” (Click here to read more…)


Sam promotes respect for the outdoors and nature

The first thing that crossed my mind when I read this post-conference is that any student who has “camp counselor” on her resume, should automatically rocket to the top of the college application pile!  At Camp Woodland, we are all about caring and being responsible to our community.  Because caring for one another is so important, we build the foundation for this to happen starting on the very first day campers arrive.

Sara and Collette

Sara instills confidence at the Ropes Course

Counselors are key to helping cabins create a contract that encompasses ideals to live by such as respect, honesty, enthusiasm (and FUN!).  We honor this pact and the family (community) we will become through a special Cabin Unity Campfire.  We revisit this contract often throughout the summer to stay true to the promise we made to each other.  Caring for the common good of others is definitely a common practice at camp!


Tori and Mera foster 
working together as a cabin

Once in college, there is a lot of pressure for students to pursue an internship as a stepping stone to get into graduate school or to land a job post-graduation.  Returning to camp summer after summer can be a challenging decision for staff to make because it doesn’t seem possible that such a “fun” job can prepare someone for the real world.


Sofia teaches teamwork in dance class

What is interesting to note; however, is that the skills that are at the top of the list for job success include creativity, flexibility/adaptability, initiative, teamwork, leadership, responsibility, critical thinking, and problem solving…just to name a FEW!  These are the skills that will help you to get a job, keep a job, and advance in your career.  While it may be compelling to consider an internship or other job preparation this summer, working at camp provides specific training and experience in these very same competencies!

Camp is a REAL job that will make 
you marketable in the REAL world!
 Katelyn guides campers to
use persistence in Archery

Are there skills/experiences are you hoping to obtain through  internship opportunities that we could help you cultivate at camp?  There are many leadership roles at Camp Woodland…we would be happy to see if there is something that would help you on your path to your desired career goals!


 Let us help you design an internship
experience this summer!


A Counselor’s letter home

Posted by on July 17, 2014

Sam (right)

Dear Mom & Dad,

I’ve had the easy job. From the summer when I was nine, my job has been to come to Northern Wisconsin and grow into myself by learning how to ride, canoe, and shoot bows and arrows at camp. I lived with my best friends who are now my sisters and lost track of time in the warm summer haze.

Now seventeen, I recently figured out that your reality for the past nine summers has been very different from mine. While my days were punctuated with bells ringing and counselors cheering, you were at your job waiting for the mail truck to deliver one of my elusive letters. I avoided homesickness because I was at camp, my second home, while you missed your daughter because there was no one to greet you when you came home from work.  I had the easy part – I was able to live, love and laugh in a place where I belonged unconditionally. I became a stronger swimmer than you, Dad, and rode in first hour just like you, Mom. While you were at home, your two daughters were away at different sleep away camps for almost the entire summer.

For years, when other parents looked at me in disbelief and asked how you could possibly send me away for six weeks, I always smiled and said that you were happy to rid yourself of me for the summer; it was our break from each other. There’s a better reason, a truer reason, and I want to apologize for not giving it at the time. That reason is that you were willing to put aside your own selfish wants of having your child home because you knew that letting me go to camp for six weeks was the absolute best thing that could ever happen to me.

You were willing to let me go and let me figure out myself on my own terms. This allowed me to be independent and become a little more self-sufficient every time I came home.  You didn’t get frustrated with me during the summers when I barely wrote, and you never hinted at being insulted when I mentioned I wasn’t homesick at all during my time away.

You knew I loved you very much, and you let me love you from afar. You let me learn to love others who weren’t related to me in a way I was told only families love each other. You let me love a place with a different family to the same degree if not more than the love I have for my biological family and childhood home. Your selflessness gave me the opportunity I needed to be selfish for a few weeks each summer so that I could learn how to be selfless, too.

For all of this and more, I THANK YOU. Thank you for giving me nine summers in the Northwoods at Camp Woodland. Thank you for being tough when I wasn’t and letting me be tough when all you wanted was to carry me. Thank you for being camp parents, and thank you for letting me stand on my own feet. Thank you for giving me a place where I automatically belong and giving me two homes to love. More than anything, thank you for loving me and letting me love camp.


Sam with Cabin at Ropes Course

I love you and will see you soon,

Sam E

2nd year JC

2nd generation Camp Woodland Girl

The “S” On Your Chest

Posted by on April 28, 2014


supermanLast week I had the pleasure of hearing Superior Court Judge J Wade Padgett speak for 2 hours on “Teenage Years 101” to the student body at a local high school.  One of the parents whose daughter and son I tutor recommended that I go, not only for the benefit of what I would learn regarding the students with whom I tutor, but she also thought that it would be a good idea because of the work that I do with summer camps.   I have to say that it was an eye-and-ear-opening experience to say the least!  Judge Padgett didn’t sugar coat anything while sharing an important lesson about the consequences of poor choices or decisions made from the minors who have come across his path in the judiciary system.


In addition to covering all of the “usual” risks (drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.) that adolescents so often take that may provide a perceived short-term “high”, Padgett also delved into the long-term consequences that may be unknown (losing the privilege to drive, getting an STD, being taking advantage of because of loss of consciousness, etc.).  He gave example after example of “good” kids who made a poor decision, got caught, and are no longer in school, no longer pursuing their dream, or are no longer with us.  In other words, the future is not looking so bright for these folks.  My stomach was in knots throughout his entire presentation, and it was one of the few times that I was part of an audience that was so engaged, you could have heard a pin drop.

ropes course

Judge Padgett also went into various Social Media issues with the students (texting while driving, posting inappropriate pictures, cyber bullying, etc.).  He mentioned an app called “Yik Yak” which apparently gives the capability to send messages anonymously; I had never heard of it, but from what I now know, kids are using it to ambush one another because no one knows the author.  By having the app, it sends out messages to other users by zip code.  Several schools in my area are banning its use by their students because of the potential it has to be anything but nice.


Padgett kept coming back to the “S” that many young people (and adults, too!) wear on their chest…the “S” that says “I am invincible – that won’t happen to me – I would never do that!”.  The “S” that came to mind for me in all of this “doom and gloom” was the “S” that stands for the SOLUTION = SUMMER CAMP!!  The time that kids spend at summer camp allows them to take a break from the many temptations that are out there because the culture is different at camp.  The culture that is the “norm” for campers at Woodland/Towering Pines is to build each other up, not tear each other down; to take risks that are constructive and build confidence with appropriate supervision, skills, and support, not destructive and may cause harm to the person or to others; to get a “high” just from being with your friends in the outdoors while being “unplugged”, not sink “lower” because of poor choices or miss opportunities because of too much “screen-time” and not enough time fostering face-to-face relationships.


Summer camp is one decision that should be easy to make because of the many GOOD consequences that are a result of the experience.  If your daughter comes home this summer with an “S” on her chest, it is because she SUCCEEDED at trying something new, reached a goal she never thought was possible, became more independent, branched out and formed friendships, was a valuable part of a community, had fun being silly and spontaneous…just to name a few!  You will be AMAZED at the confidence she will come away with that will help her navigate the many decisions she will face in her life at home and school.