A Singing Hills cook takes a bite of coffee-covered ice cream. Forty feet away, an Echo Valley counselor dances and screams the lyrics to Bass Cannon. Just outside, two Headwaters crew bosses start their third consecutive game of Connect Four. There’s something for everyone at the Singing Hills Ranch House on this warm Tuesday night, but whether they’re screaming Nickelback lyrics or drinking their second affogato, everyone is celebrating the same thing:
Summer is coming.
It’s Staff Week, which means seasonal staff from LLYC and LLFC have come to the Canyon in preparation of summer. But that preparation is more than just setting up camp.
Beck Marlar, director of Singing Hills, says there are two main reasons for Staff Week: “the first [reason] is to foster relationships within our staff that’ll last through the summer, and hopefully for a lifetime.”
Weeks of meetings and hours of planning in the Kerrville office came to fruition as staff poured into the Canyon from across Texas (and in some cases, from outside of it) to meet each other for the first time or reunite after nine months apart. New friends talk like old friends. Old friends talk like they never left camp.
“The second [reason],” Beck says, “is to give our staff the necessary training to physically, emotionally, and spiritually equip them for the summer.”
Staff Week is a combination of celebration and certification. That ice-cream-coffee-board-game-dance-party only came after four days of meetings, presentations, and trainings, and Staff Week itself only came after a 10 days of optional activity certifications, like mountain biking, lifeguarding, and wilderness guiding.
Summer staffers put those certifications to the test in their free time—when they’re not hearing talks on mental health, caring for the Canyon, how to manage cabin time well, and parent Q&A panels.
According to Ethan Oliver, LLYC intern and program director, Staff Week is even more than relationships and training: “There are so many details that go into each summer and it’s hard to get it all into one week, but at the end of it, Staff Week is for staff to feel loved, to feel served, and to feel ready for the summer.”
This summer is going to be Ethan’s fifth on staff. He’s gradually moved from receiving the Staff Week experience to being part of the team that plans it.
“My first Staff Week was in 2015,” Ethan says. “I was new and, honestly, it was intimidating. But I ended up comfortable.”
And that’s what LLYC is meant to be: a safe, comfortable place. For some, that’s somewhere that constantly kindles lifelong relationships; for others, it’s the only place they can experience an ice-cream-coffee-board-game-dance-party.
“Staff Week is for staff to feel loved, to feel served,Ethan Oliver
and to feel ready for the summer.”
Each camp (Singing Hills, Echo Valley, and Headwaters) gets to show who they are and how they do summer camp. The three campsites each host their own Roundup with its own personality—and yes, that takes hauling all several hundred staffers in trailers and trucks up and down the Canyon throughout the week.
This year, on top of the usual trainings, team times, and activities, LLYC and LLFC gave raincoats to all of its seasonal staff as gifts. They also treated them to a private show by the Duncan Fellows on the last night of Staff Week, which they’ve taken to calling “Leakey City Limits.”
“Having the opportunity to create spaces and events for them to connect and get to know each other is really special,” Ethan says.
“I don’t know how to describe it other than fun, but it’s so much more than that.”