Woog's World / Taking the stress out of being a kid
Published 5:51 am, Friday, August 3, 2012
Meaghan George comes from a camp family. Her mother ran camps for the Pawling, N.Y., Parks and Recreation Department. Long before Meaghan was old enough to be a camper, she hung around the camp office. Her stepfather was a camp director, too.
Meaghan attended Hi-Rock, a YMCA residential camp in Massachusetts, then worked at a day camp in her hometown of Kingston, N.Y.
So it was no surprise that, at Springfield College, Meaghan majored in human services, with a concentration in YMCA management. (Springfield started as a YMCA training school.)
"I just love being outdoors," Meaghan says. Her words tumble out, like children chasing each other on a perfect summer camp day. "I love watching kids learn. I love watching them grow, from the beginning of the summer to the end."
Meaghan spent seven years as director of Camp Tepee, part of the Lakewood-Trumbull YMCA. She had a great time, she says. She watched with pride as former campers grew into staff members, then unit directors.
She was ready for new challenges, though, and when she heard that Mahackeno -- the Westport Weston Family Y camp on the Saugatuck River -- was searching for a new director, she leaped into the applicant pool. She got the job. Now, midway through her first summer, It's a tossup who's happiest: Her campers, their parents, her staff, or Meaghan herself.
She loves the facility -- a still-rustic, wooded property in the north end of town. She's excited that Mahackeno works closely with the municipal human services departments in both Westport and Weston. That's a new experience for her, and she loves building networks that help children thrive.
But although she's in a new community, at a different camp, some things don't change.
Traditional summer camps, she says, "let kids be kids. We don't strive to develop the next Bill Gates or Derek Jeter. Camp is a place where kids can forget the stresses of life. We don't grade them. We just let them have fun and grow."
Growth, according to Meaghan, takes many forms. For one child, it's progressing from the shallow part of the pool to the deep end. For another, it's having the courage to do a zip line. For a third, it's coming out of a shell and making friends.
How does a summer camp accomplish all that?
"I have no idea!" she says. Then she offers one way: Through counselor role models. "A lot of the staff here now went here as campers. They can point to someone who changed their life 10 years ago. And that person can point to someone who changed their life 10 years before that. That's pretty cool."
Meaghan does not want to take credit for all the good things that happen at camp. "I just order the glue and glitter, and make sure we get accredited," she says. "It's the staff that makes it all happen." With hundreds of campers at Mahackeno, "I can't make a difference in every kid's life," Meaghan admits. "But if I can teach the staff how to be professional role models, that will impact everyone." She knows that for youngsters to grow, the adults around them must grow, too.
As she did at Camp Tepee, Meaghan is spending her first year learning the "culture" of Mahackeno. That includes traditions like the LOGS program. The acronym -- meaning "Lots of Good Stuff" -- is a morning ritual in which staff members act out activities like dance parties and model runway walks that kids love.
She's also spending time talking with parents. The feedback she hears is gratifying.
"Kids go home and talk about their counselors a lot," she says.
They talk about what they've done, too. Interestingly, there is no one activity that stands out above all others. "Some kids like sports. Others like canoeing, or archery, or swim lessons. It's good to know that each kid here finds something to love."
As little-changing as Mahackeno has been over the years, it will soon look quite different. The Y will relocate there from downtown, in a brand-new building.
Meaghan is excited at the prospect.
"Every camp director always wants more rainy day space," she says. "We'll be able to use the indoor pool and basketball courts. It will be a great step for us."
It will be a great step for Y members too, she hopes. She envisions adults watching children playing. They may gain a better appreciation of what the Y does -- and perhaps recall their own, long-ago days at summer camp.
But that's in the future. Today, Meaghan George has a camp to run.
"The summer has flown by," she says. "I feel like in the blink of an eye, the first year is almost over."
Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.