Those of you who have 17 year old sons (or have been a 17 year old son) know what it’s like to walk that balance of adventure seeking while staying safe. Our son, Turner is a junior in high school, and he is passionate about kayaking. His school’s outdoor program provides opportunities for adventure and mentoring so that many afternoons each week, he is able to head out to the French Broad River, the Pigeon River or if the “water is running” to the North Fork for some creek boating. He also grew interested in scuba diving after his chemistry teacher shared videos from a recent trip of his. A few weeks ago in an effort to be cool, I pulled my circa 1999 wetsuit out of storage and took him on a weekend scuba certification trip to some springs south of Gainesville, Florida. In a three day period, we spent 20 hours of it driving! But being trapped in a car with your teenager isn’t a bad thing. There is lots of time for talking and laughing and for giving “life advice.” Kayaking and scuba diving aren’t exactly “low risk” sports, so believe me, I had lots of words of wisdom to share with him even in the midst of his eye-rolling. While I can’t be with him on every adventure, I’m thankful for the adults in his life who can come along beside him as he makes his way toward independence.
Summers at Illahee offer girls steps toward independence. For younger campers challenges involve being away from home and having someone other than a parent tell them good night; learning to keep up with belongings and even preparing for the day. As campers get older, peer and counselor friendships become more of their focus and the challenge of activities helps to satisfy that teen-age desire for risk. Whether it be through rock climbing, trying out for the drama production, making an announcement in the dining hall or leading a song during campfire, camp provides many avenues for taking risks. And taking healthy risks offer a great opportunity for growth. As parents we want for our children to “be comfortable,” yet it is in stretching and working through discomfort that campers grow in confidence and in their ability to persevere.
At Camp Illahee, we offer many opportunities for campers to grow through activities and relationships. We work to keep the camp community as safe as possible for your daughter while she is here to stretch her wings. We know that you are entrusting her to our care. Much of what we do throughout the year prepares for the safest experience possible for each camper.
The most important part of insuring a safe camp is the team of counselors and staff in place. We work to hire staff who possess the skills for teaching activities along with excellent character. Camp Illahee is an accredited camp by the American Camping Association. We follow ACA standards and run background checks for each applicant. But we exceed the ACA’s standards in many areas. Gretchen or I conduct “face to face” interviews with each applicant and then we follow up carefully with their references. We also talk with friends of theirs who we know and we “check them out” on Facebook. Camp policies and guidelines provide a standard for staff behavior and these are communicated throughout the hiring process. Once hired, training begins with regular communication prior to camp. The staff handbook helps to prepare the counselors for camp expectations, and the week long staff orientation at the start of the summer brings it all together.
During the summer we are actively involved providing leadership and supervision in all areas of camp. Each hill group has an experienced “head of hill” to set the tone for the cabin groups and counselors, and a director advisor who meets with the hill groups regularly. Activity instructors and heads are overseen by directors. Counselors follow protocols that are designed to help keep all campers supervised and safe in activities and in cabins. Male staff or directors are never alone with campers or staff. A high standard and strong framework helps support our staff so that they can be the best possible role models for the campers. Gordon and I are in camp every day setting the tone and getting to know campers and staff. We eat all our meals with campers and are always available while camp is in session.
During the year we work to make improvements on the camp facility and equipment. This is done to increase our margin of safety as well as our margin for FUN! We update activity equipment regularly and inspect the cabins and buildings. When families visit Illahee, they remark at how beautiful the setting is and how well it is maintained. We want you to know that working hard to keep the camp setting at its best is a visual example of how hard we work to make camp the best and safest place possible for your daughter. We want for her to be challenged and supported and to grow in character and independence during her summers at Illahee. It is our goal for next summer to be her BEST SUMMER EVER!