What does your shirt say about you?

By Ruby Compton

If you have had a camper at GRP in the last three years, you may have noticed that on Closing Day of each session, our staff were wearing t-shirts that had a single large word on the back. Many summer camp staff in the camping industry dream about the day that they finally get that camp t-shirt that has the word STAFF written across the back. It is something to be worn with pride. It is a shirt to be earned. It is token of the time and energy invested into camp and of the incredible work that is done every day.

I have been fortunate enough to be the beholder of a STAFF shirt. And there is something magical about donning a garment that so definitely expresses who you are. However, Green River Preserve is not like other summer camps so when I came on as Program Director in 2013, I wanted something more, because our staff is more than your run-of-the-mill summer camp staff.

In 2013, a “safety green” (lime) shirt was featured with the words SAFETY PATROL in big block letters on the back. You may not have known that particular summer, staff endured a full day of safety training including discussion of emergency procedures, worst-case scenarios, insurance talks, legalese, and other staff training must-dos that can be painfully hard and are skills we hope to never need, but want to have practiced if the moment arises that they are needed. Occasionally throughout the day, members of our administrative team, donned in the Safety Patrol tees that were unveiled that morning, busted in SWAT-team-style to stop unsafe circumstances and arrest offending parties who chose to make unsafe decisions. This all drove home the point that if your campers are not safe, then nothing else we do will matter. This kept safety as a top priority for all staff at all times. After all, it is hard to make poor decisions when the words SAFETY PATROL are printed on your back, or worse, staring you in the face as a reminder of your role in managing risk at camp.

2014 brought an academic theme to staff training where all staff received letters from the University of Green River Preserve and the training schedule read like a course syllabus. At the end of staff training, we strive for our staff to be experts at facilitating great programs at summer camp. The last day of training, staff all put on hats from the costume closet that had a green ’14 tassel attached and marched up on to the deck while humming Pomp and Circumstance. Program Intern Avery delivered an inspiring graduation speech. Each staff member was called to the podium and granted their Campologist degree. They received a t-shirt rolled and tied to look like a diploma. The word Campologist also represented the idea that there is always learning to do at GRP and that learning is valued greatly within our community.

Fast forward to this summer where black shirts with gold letters on the sleeve claimed #grpismagic. On the back of 2015’s shirt was the word CREW. In the most elaborate theme yet, the 2015 staff were welcomed to camp with a musical number performed by the GRP administrative team to Pippin’s Magic To Do. A theatre theme was an obvious choice because, well, no matter what, the show must go on. The first day of orientation, the staff saw the performance. They were welcomed, moved into cabins, and saw the show as we expected it to be created for the parents on arrival days. Overnight, the Lodge was transformed to backstage with a prop table, costume rack, old set pieces, and a collection of Tonys (which were mostly framed photos of famous Tonys. You know Tony Blair, Toni Morrison, Tony the Tiger). For the rest of training, staff saw the comparison of the front of the house and what the performance looks like compared with the back of the house and all that is required to create the magic of summer camp. If they learned nothing else, the staff understood that All the world is a stage and all the men and women, merely players. And what if the world were a little more like theatre?

2016’s t-shirt is a big secret and we aren’t telling until the staff arrive at camp. What do you think 2016’s theme will be? What do you hope the word will be on the back of the shirt?