“Oh man, I totally forgot.” Stinks when you realize that you forgot to do that thing before you left for vacation, the weekend or a conference....
Building Blocks of a Thriving Vacation Bible Camp
As we prepare for our Vacation Bible Camp, the excitement is palpable. After the success of last year's beloved tradition, we have decided to extend it into an all-day affair, from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are ready to surpass expectations once again.
Throughout the years of coordinating camps for children and teenagers, I have gained invaluable insights and learned important lessons. While most of our camps have created fond memories, we have also encountered mistakes along the way. However, we have grown and learned a great deal, and here are some key takeaways:
A CLEAR PURPOSE LEADS TO A NEW LEVEL OF ENTHUSIASM AND CONFIDENCE
Running a camp simply because other parishes are doing it misses the point. Your camp needs a clear objective; otherwise, you will find yourself repeating the same mistakes each year. Without a purpose, the excitement of your camp will fade.
Developing a purpose goes beyond choosing a theme. Yes, your camp could focus on teaching social Catholic values or helping kids understand that Christ has a plan for their lives. But at the end of the day or week, what tangible changes do you see in their lives?
Whatever the purpose may be, it is crucial to communicate it effectively to your volunteers and participants. Help them understand that your aim is more than entertaining their kids for a week in the summer. Developing a clear purpose will enable you to set specific goals and make necessary adjustments for growth each year.
YOU CAN NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A COMPETENT AND ENTHUSIASTIC TEAM
Volunteers play a vital role in the success of any camp. Without an enthusiastic and competent team, everything feels like more work. When building your team, ensure that you assign leadership roles, such as captains or point people. Prioritize meeting with them first and coach them on the values and expectations you have for the rest of the camp.
Take care of your volunteers and treat them with respect. Provide meals, especially for teenagers, and celebrate their willingness to get involved. But most importantly, invest time in preparing them to be flexible, adaptable, and creative.
If you only meet with your team once or twice when planning a camp, it's probably not enough. Although it may feel like an extra commitment, it will enhance their overall experience by avoiding frustration during the camp week. They will know what is expected and be able to engage at a deeper level. When volunteers have a positive experience, it raises the bar on the camp's quality for everyone involved.
WHEN DEVELOPING YOUR PLAN, ALWAYS START WITH THE END IN MIND
Successfully executing a camp requires accomplishing numerous tasks. Working ahead of time is key, and the best strategy to allow for sufficient margin is to work backward. When you begin thinking about a camp, ask yourself:
"What do I want to have accomplished by a certain date?"
For example, you might decide that two weeks before the camp, all materials should be prepped and ready to go. Or you might aim to have each email for parents drafted a month before sending them out. By working from the end, you create not only a to-do list but also build in the necessary margin to complete everything.
If the plan is not fully developed by the time you need to recruit volunteers, don't worry. One of the biggest stumbling blocks we face is trying to perfect the plan before sharing it with others. Unfortunately, this approach only wastes time and energy, and you might end up delivering the message poorly.
ASKING YOURSELF WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED WILL LEAD TO BETTER OUTCOMES
After a week-long camp, it's tempting to shut things down and take a break. However, one of the most critical steps you can take is scheduling time for reflection and evaluation. Allow yourself a moment to breathe, but also make sure to set aside time for the following:
- Reflect on your personal experience.
- Sit down with your team to review goals and outcomes.
- Meet with parents and participants to gather their feedback and insights.
While surveys can be helpful, do not rely solely on them. It's important to capture the tone and story behind the feedback. After collecting all the data, compile it into meaningful notes that will guide you in planning future camps.
Camps present significant opportunities for parishes, but they require a substantial amount of work. Don't host a camp simply because others are doing it. Take the time to understand the purpose, assemble a dedicated team, and develop a well-thought-out plan with the end goal in mind. When you utilize what you have learned, you will create a more enriching experience for the entire Church community.