Some of us can recall, with a slight cringe, our first middle school dance: dozens of people you don’t know, upbeat pop music, and a general uncertainty of what to do. Opening day of camp can feel much the same for our campers whose excitement is often challenged by their nerves.

Here’s a little secret: our summer staff experiences those same uncomfortable emotions before stepping into a new summer too! So how does our staff become those confident, inclusive, dancing queens we all know and love on opening day? Easy: staff retreat.

Hosting our 300 summer staff and crew for a weekend helps them feel comfortable and form friendships ahead of time, that way when campers and families arrive they experience amazing hospitality from confident staff. First year Singing Hills counselor Adrienne Gray experienced the shift from nervous, middle school dance tension to that river rave excitement when she was able to meet her bosses and hang out with new friends.

Adrienne says, “I think of course it’s going to be awkward meeting a whole new group of people, but sitting with your team at meals helped with any awkwardness … our bosses for sure serve as role models on how to welcome our campers on opening day; they put in a lot of effort to help the counselors bond already.”

LLYC Singing Hills Director Beck Marler agrees, “Staff Retreat Weekend is a weekend where our staff get to have some fun, get to know each other, and be out in the Canyon. Crew and staff are given an opportunity to see the vision of what we want the summer to be about, why we hired them, and why their jobs are so important.”

“Staff retreat weekend helps everyone see the vision of what we want the summer to be about.”

Beck Marlar

Unlike trainings and certifications, Staff Retreat Weekend is when our staff form new friendships or reconnect with old friends while getting excited for the upcoming summer. Once our staff have a sense of community, it is easier for them to welcome campers into that community.

Program and work crews actually do their jobs for the first time while attending staff retreat. For many of these high school students, this is the first time they have used commercial dishwashers, worked on a large team, or served so many people at once.

LLYC Food Services Manager Wylie Shellhouse says, crew learns “what hard work actually feels like, the impact of it on their bodies, and the way that translates to their spiritual and mental state over the course of the weekend.”

“Work crew learns what hard work actually feels like, and how that translates to their spiritual and mental state.”

Wylie Shellhouse

Beck says he is hopeful that all staff realize the impact that they are going to have in the coming summer. “Counselors would be thinking about campers that they are going to meet,” says Beck. “The cooks are thinking about the quality of the food and why that matters so much to camp. Media team is thinking about how their art and their craft is going to bless parents outside of camp, etc.”

By the end of the weekend, both staff and crew shook off those pre-summer jitters while singing along to classic camp songs like “Hey Baby” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” And they learned that camp is the place where everyone is a dancing queen.

LLYC Intern, Molly McIntire

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