The summer has always been one of my favourite times of the year. I’m cold natured, and the warmer summers over here in NC suit me better than the 3 days of 70 degree weather we get in the United Kingdom. (I truly don’t think I can ever move back for this reason alone!) However, once I became a camp director, the person in charge of everything that happened at Keyauwee Program Center, that excitement dissipated a little and was replaced with some apprehension. “Why?” You might ask. Well, the second you become a camp director you assume responsibility for hundreds of children and make a promise to their guardians to keep those children safe. I immediately realized the magnitude of that responsibility.
Being a parent is truly the most significant job anyone can ever sign up for. You effectively sign up for (at least) 18 years of putting someone else before you, coordinating all of your activities around this little human and taking care of someone no matter how you are feeling yourself. When you are a camp director, you take on that responsibility for 200 children at a time without knowing their individual guardians’ parenting styles. So how did I adapt to this colossal change and challenge in my life?
I got scared, and apprehensive, and then I realized I wouldn’t have been given this job if I couldn’t own it. The safety of each girl is always number one. Do not misunderstand me; we are constantly working to ensure the girls’ fun, development and engagement. But, when girls are onsite there is nothing that distracts me from the task at hand, and preparation is the key. The horrific events last week in Florida have reminded us all of how fragile life and the world we live in truly is as well as the responsibility on anyone who provides any form of child care. So now that I’m in charge of three camps, what am I and our Girl Scout camp staff doing to be sure that YOUR daughter is safe when she’s with us this summer?
First, all three of our camps are accredited by the American Camp Association, the leading authority on camp professionalism and safety. In order to be accredited, each camp must meet around 300 health and safety standards. We have a solid 14 days of staff training- more than many other summer camps– and we’re grateful for this. The training time allows us to spend a lot of time with staff on the softer skills and to be sure every emergency drill has been practiced. During this school year we’ve used local professional resources to be sure we have a solid active shooter drill for each of our three camps. Whilst an active shooter drill is relatively new to us, for many years now, we have been covering lost campers, severe weather, fire and tornado drills. Each camp is prepared and ready to deal with these possibilities. We have code words for different situations that come across the radio system. For example, if there would be a parent who came to drop off something a child forgot and the staff did not recognize that parent, a “goldilocks” call would be sent on the radio system to alert all staff and an emergency action plan to approach that parent would commence.
The time we set aside for these drills helps affirm the staff in their abilities and ensures that everyone is ready. Girl Scouts have a long history of being able to deal with emergencies. Recently, media picked up a story of how the buddy system saved a Camp Pisgah camper 50 years ago and NPR produced this report. At the time of writing, these women were hoping to reunite at Pisgah this summer. This further emphasizes how the buddy system helps in everything we do at camp. A few years ago, two Keyauwee staff members received a national Red Cross award for saving a camper’s life. While this freak accident (that occurred offsite) couldn’t have been prevented, these staff members successfully saved the camper’s life due to the skills they received during their 14 day staff training.
Whilst life goes ahead, happens and gives us speed bumps we don’t see coming, rest assured that when you give us the privilege of looking after YOUR daughter, we have covered both anticipated and unanticipated situations with staff so they are ready to take the lead and jump into action should the unthinkable happen. When you leave your daughter with us, we truly take on that parental responsibility and dedicate ourselves to her safety.
Charlotte “Web” Elliott
Charlotte first came over to the USA to work summers at Keyauwee Program Center from 2002-2008 whilst she earned her Bachelors and Masters Degrees and traveled. She was the director at Keyauwee Program Center for 7 years before assuming the role of Director of Outdoor Experience in 2017 overseeing GSCP2P’s three resident and day camps.