S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Never Miss an Opportunity to Pay a Kindness

What it’s like when people are kind and thoughtful and filled with joy

Christmas Tree at #STANDatCAIRN

Christmas Tree at #STANDatCAIRN

What a perfect time of year to be writing about this day of S.T.A.N.D..  Although it happened many months ago on a sufferably hot August day, much of what occurred is happening all around me right now.

I wanted to get the campers and staff into the mindset of what it’s like when people are kind and thoughtful and filled with joy.  I could have used any number of celebrations but, as Cairn is a Christian camp, I chose to celebrate Christmas with them.  I wanted them to think about family and dear friends gathered today, wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen, decorations sparkling on the tree, familiar and favourite music all around them, and the feeling of joy and peace they have for all humankind at Christmas.

When I drove to the camp the Friday before, I shared my air-conditioned car with many of my own Christmas decorations for the long 3 ½ hour ride to Muskoka.  As the campers gathered outside the lodge for our morning session, already sweating in the morning sun of that humid August day, they had no idea that the dining hall would look like a winter wonderland.  We had decorated with ornaments, bells, Santa’s, snowmen, garlands, and a nativity scene.  We even had a tree with a golden star and it’s very own tree skirt.  The kitchen staff had prepared hot chocolate for all and the wonderful special needs adult team had baked Christmas cookies!  The decorations were out on benches that corralled the teens into the centre of the room in a nice cozy group focused on the tree.  

As always, the teens lined up in cabin groups outside and, with my signal. entered the room in silence listening to the song of the day.  This morning one of my favourite Christmas CD’s by the Indigo Girls was playing.  As the campers sat squished together on the floor, I joyfully announced that we would be celebrating Christmas.  I had the hot chocolate brought out on trays and the beautifully decorated cookies passed out.  I encouraged them to share with one another their favourite Christmas traditions and what made the celebration so special and meaningful to them.  The room was...very quiet...and hot...really hot.

Presents around the Tree

Presents around the Tree

I had forgotten one of my own golden rules:  “people before program”.  I was so excited to share with them my own favourite time of year and to get them into that wonderful spirit that I ignored the elements and the comfort of the participants.  They would much rather have been spread out in the shade with cool glasses of water or, better yet, in the lake.  Even as a team of carollers strolled the room while singing the most cherished Christmas hymns in 4 part harmony, the teens seemed thoroughly unimpressed.  The carollers, such dedicated staff members, had even dressed the part and were just dripping with sweat.  

As we collected the mugs (not many of them empty), I began to ask the teens and staff to share their treasured Christmas moments with the whole group.  Many of the staff members were helpful in getting the discussion going.  Listening to the shared traditions began to lift the mood and folks began to smile and nod in understanding.  I had thankfully salvaged some of what I had tried to create.

We talked about how their worlds are different at Christmas time.  We shared how people seem kinder, gentler, more ready to speak to strangers and wish them well.  As we delved into today’s “World Vision”, we discussed what our world would look like if every day was Christmas day.  We ended off this time of sharing by asking ourselves why we don’t treat one another with this kindness and thoughtfulness every day.

It was time to get them up and moving.  Once again, I paired them with a new cabin group and they shook hands with one another and introduced themselves.  I was thrilled to note today that I didn’t even need to ask them to do this but they started all on their own.  Each new grouping became a team and, today and on purpose, they were made up of one male and one female cabin.  I had them run a relay race in which the first person ran to the other side of the room, left his or her shoes and ran back to the back of their line.  The next person then ran to the shoes, took off his or her own, put on the first person’s shoes (as best they could) and ran back.  This continued until the last person returned and sat down.  Pairing them as male and female cabins got a great mixture of feet sizes!  Some found it quite difficult to run in shoes either far too small or far too big.  

Of course we debriefed the activity.  It did not take them long to get to the point of the exercise.  Everyone has a different walk in life and sometimes we need to understand other's situations in order to show them kindness and goodness.  Sometimes we need to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”.  



Under the tree, there was a gift for each cabin.  They were beautifully wrapped and loving prepared by members of the senior staff.  At Cairn, program staff and leadership team members have the opportunity to be “grandparents”.  They are given a cabin group and get to visit, have the occasional meal with, say goodnight, and generally spoil the campers.  And, just like grandparents, they leave the disciplining to the “parents” or counsellors but are there to offer advice and support.  I had asked the “grandparents” to write a letter to their cabin group days before.  It was to be a letter highlighting what they appreciated about each person and outlining their hopes and dreams for them all.  I asked one person from each cabin to get their gift from the tree and to go back to their cabin group, circle up and have one volunteer open the gift and share it with the others.  I asked them to do it quietly so as to be respectful to all those others reading in the room at the same time.  While they opened their gifts and read their letters, another Christmas hymn played.

I was hoping the gift would have several effects;  I wanted them to have that warm and wonderful feeling from hearing someone they admired and respected say such kind and thoughtful things and I hoped they would see that it did not take a physical item to be a wonderful gift. It was very fulfilling to watch their faces as the letters were read.

We came together again and shared ways in which we can begin to be kind to others right here and now.  The campers decided that huge extravagant means are not necessary to be kind and generous.  We discussed that there are 2 types of people in the world - the I-centred, me-first people and the others-centred people.  I asked them 2 questions:  which kind of person are you?  Which kind of person would you like to be? We ended this group chat with the idea that if one person has the courage to care perhaps others will be inspired to care too and what amazing changes we could see in the world.

As usual, I had planned far too many activities for the hour but had time for 1 more. I asked them to decide what gift they had to give.  What could they put out there and share with the world.  In silence they wrote a letter to God and promised to share their gift.  The carollers sang in the background as they wrote and, one by one, the campers came to the tree and put their gifts in a box with a gift tag made out to God.  They were assured no one would ever read what they had written.

As they ended their morning session, they turned to one another, wished each other well, and headed out.  As they left the dining hall, I handed each cabin group a note asking them to give a gift to another cabin sometime during the day (I made sure to name the cabin to be certain each group would receive something).

With lessons learned (by all of us) and hearts filled, these kind and wonderful campers went out to face the day - caring for one another, treating each other with respect and dignity, and doing their best to stay cool!

Happy Holidays To You All

At this time of year, I wish you all a joyous season.  No matter what you celebrate this time of year, may you and your family and friends set aside time to gather, share fellowship, laughter, and memories, count your blessings and be kind to all you meet.  Any may you carry that feeling with you all year round.  

Until next time...


S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Ask Intelligent Questions


Training Summer Camp Leaders to notice and confront problems

S.T.A.N.D. Leadership Training Teen Campers

This morning began moving one step back.  As I had been frontloading my expectations each morning at breakfast throughout the week, I thought that perhaps it was not necessary to do so again this morning.  I figured they had it all down.  I was wrong.

During the breakfast announcements each morning, I had let them know, through a funny skit or other creative means, that they were to line up in their cabin groups as soon as they heard the bell ring and to silently await my instructions while listening to our song of the day. We had so much to cover and I needed the whole hour to get through it all and certainly did not want them to be late for their 1st program session of the morning.  

It was a lovely day, sunny and warm.  People had gathered in the courtyard and were sitting on benches, chatting on the deck and generally milling around. And when the bell rang, no one moved.  No one.  I rang the bell a second time and still very few made their way into their cabin line ups.  One of the directors had to come out of her office and help me hussle people along.  

I chose to wait until we were inside before addressing the issue.  As I was going over my disappointment in the behaviour in my head, I realized that, although I had given them my expectations on several mornings, I had never told them why.  This was my fault.  Over my years of camp directing, I had seen a change in staff and campers.  Teens today need an explanation for expectations and do not necessarily accept them simply because they are told to.  It is not enough for them to be informed of them; they need to understand the reasons behind them. I had missed this. So...I explained to them what had occurred outside and how that did not follow the expectations set out.  I let them know it was not respectful of my time or theirs and asked that it was something that did not happen again.  I was a bit worried I had lost them for the morning at this point as I had called them out on their actions but, as we did not dwell on what happened but got right into the activities, the campers were willing to come along for the ride.  And I never saw this lack of respect at anytime during the rest of the camp session.

We began in new cabin groupings. I had the counselors divide the teens into pairs and stand back to back. I explained they were going to take turns trying to outsmart one another.  They would take turns changing something about their physical appearance (ex. putting their hair into a ponytail, taking off their earrings, moving a bracelet or watch to their other arm).  On my signal, they both turned around to face one another. The other person had time to guess what their partner changed.  We played it a few times to get them comfortable with someone new and continue to build community and also to introduce the idea of needing to pay attention to details and not be fooled into accepting everything at face value.

Our next activity worked exceedingly well because of the generosity of the camp directors and the willingness of staff members to get dressed up and play along.  We played a game of “Real or No Real” complete with models carrying briefcases and “Mowie Handel” hosting.  Prior to this session, I had made up some construction paper briefcases and written inside prizes the entire camp could win.  I sat down with the directors earlier in the week and got their permission for the prizes offered.  The staff members who dressed up as models for me did an outstanding job.  They entered the room on “Mowie’s” invitation and stood on benches and tables they had set up to resemble the risers the models stand on in the tv show.  A representative from each cabin had the opportunity to choose a briefcase, answer a question and, if answered correctly, win for the entire camp. Some of the prizes included: a special dessert for dinner, a musical performance by certain staff members at campfire, the opportunity to dress their counselors up for a meal, marshmallows to roast at campfire, and a 15 minute extra sleep-in.  

I had prepared true of false questions ahead of time and campers needed to guess correctly in order to win the prize.  I had googled facts from Guinness World Book of Records as well as celebrity gossip and science articles and come up with statements that seemed ridiculous.  Some were true and the object of the game was to get them to really think things through before accepting them as reality.  

As we continued to play, the teens got more and more into the game, and their enthusiasm was contagious.  They were excited by the prizes especially because everyone was going to benefit.  Even though the clocks are set back at Teen Week to allow an extra hour of sleep anyway, the campers were most excited by the 15 minutes more sleep and chose this as their top prize! (Because of their great enthusiasm and involvement in the rest of the morning’s exercises, I wound up giving them several of their other top choices as well at the end of the session.  They absolutely deserved them!)

I asked if they were then ready for some serious grown-up discussion.  They felt they were and their counsellors heartily agreed.  I explained that, as children of this planet, we have a responsibility to be able to discern real from not real.  We need to be able to stop and ask really good questions so that we are living as authentically as possible.  We talked about the definition of discernment and what it means to be authentic.

I had them circle up in their individual cabin groups and showed them ads in a powerpoint presentation. The photos included fashion models, weight loss products and other advertisements, music video stills, and pictures from news stories.  I asked them to share in small group discussion about the kinds of questions they should be asking themselves when presented with these images.  Once finished, we had a large group discussion.  I asked them to share an insightful answer they had heard from someone else in their group.  This way of debriefing showed their fellow campers that they were listening and also that they respected what they had to say.  We discussed ads with promises too good to be true, reality shows that promote conflict, and images to which we have become de-sensitized. We talked about what is being marketed to them and how.  The teens were extremely invested in this process and asked intelligent and thoughtful questions.  I was most impressed with their insights.

We ended off this discussion with a great video from Ellen DeGeneres.  It was a short clip in which Ellen shows us, as only Ellen can, that we need to ask really intelligent questions when confronted with new products.  I’ve included it here for your enjoyment:


As we neared the end of this morning’s session, we talked about another great question to ask ourselves:  What can I control?  With the help of some staff members who acted out the scenarios, we shared events that can happen to teens and discussed what they could control in any given situation.  The campers certainly had a lot to say.  We focused on pulling out what is truly important in the scenarios and what is just drama.  

Because the teens were so invested in the last 2 activities, we ran out of time to do some sharing in concentric circles.  I had prepared some questions they could ask their ever-changing partners and practice being authentic and genuine with their answers.  In the words of Margaret Wheatley, I had wanted them to “be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”  Although we ran out of time to do this exercise, it was worth sacrificing for the amazing discussions that we had shared this morning.  

We all learned a lot that day. The incident which began the morning allowed us to get on the same page and impressed upon them that they have responsibilities if they wish to become people willing to make a difference.  They learned the importance of asking intelligent questions and what consequences can arise if they miss those opportunities.  

I re-learned the importance of explanations for expectations and reinforced for myself the value of treating others with respect even when sharing my disappointment in their behaviour.  I also was reminded of a few other valuable lessons:  creating activities which offer teens opportunities to gain something for themselves really catches and holds their interest and expecting mature answers from them and telling them we feel they are capable, encourages them and allows them an opportunity to live up to those expectations.  

Without question, this was our most exciting session of the week.  The teens really bought into the discussions and were open and honest with their answers.  They astounded me with their mature insight and willingness to share their views.  I think we reached a new plateau in our S.T.A.N.D. relationship that day and I am forever grateful for all that we took in.  



S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Take Responsibility for Your Own Actions

Learning How to Apologize and other Responsibilities

CAIRN's Teen Week S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers

CAIRN's Teen Week S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers

The morning of “T” began with a few special touches that I’ll get into at a later date.  There were so many throughout the week, I thought I would give them their own article at the end of this series.  It was important to start the day’s session giving them yet another opportunity to use their social graces.  I divided them again into pairs of cabin groups - different ones so that they were continuing to meet new people every day.  The counsellors then facilitated putting them into partners, one person from each cabin per pair.  Before the game began, they introduced themselves to their new teammate and shook hands.  They looked a lot less awkward than yesterday and the teens didn’t even shoot me those strange looks I got the day before when I asked them to do the same!

The simple activity that we used was to give them 3 minutes to find as many things as possible that they had in common with their partner.  They were not allowed to use the obvious - ‘we both have a nose, eyes, etc.’  After 3 minutes, we had a contest to see who found the most things in common and who found the most unique thing in common.  The answers were quite remarkable and the campers surprisingly invested in the process.  It was important for them to understand that we, as people, have so much more in common than we think and that one of the ways we change community is to get to know people.  

A few skits followed, thanks once again to the wonderful resource staff of the camp who were willing to allow themselves to look a bit silly and, specifically today, a bit irresponsible.  Of course, at the end, it was important to tell the campers that our skits were just that and that the staff members who helped me were actually very responsible and, that if they had not been, I would never have shared my disappointment with a room full of people.  

Through both skits, which I had thought were relatively clever and funny, I got very little reaction from the teens.  They were attentive and polite but did not show any emotion while they watched. The staff members in the ‘audience’, however, reacted as I had hoped. This was a fascinating eye-opener for me.  The information presented in the skits was geared to the campers’ age group but they did not seem as invested as I had anticipated.  As the week continued, I think I began to understand why and know what I need to change in the future but more about that on “A” day.  

Both sketches lead us into group discussions on responsibility and my fears of how the morning was going dissolved a bit as the teens became more involved. First we agreed on a definition.  We decided that “responsibility = own your ______”.  We made a long list to fill in the blank and had small cabin group discussions about how it feels when people are responsible.   We came together to report on our conversations and, in our “World Vision” portion of the morning, chatted about what the world looks like when people do not “own their _______” and how that affects us all.  We ended off this section by having volunteers record the campers answers to “what are ways we can practice and show responsibility here at camp?”.  These answers took a bit to pull out of them but we got there.

The mood changed considerably in the second half of “T”’s session.  

World Vision exercise at S.T.A.N.D.

World Vision exercise at S.T.A.N.D.

We talked about what to do when we screw up.  We discussed that sometimes we drop the ball, we make mistakes, we forget things, we hurt our friends’ feelings and we let people down.  With a fun activity I learned years ago from Michael Brandwein, I had them change partners within their cabin groupings (of course, they introduced themselves and shook hands first).  Each pairing was given a tennis ball and, over the course of 5 minutes, threw it back and forth to one another while, with signals from me, they moved further and further apart.  Now picture over 100 people doing this in the lodge.  Of course, many people dropped the ball but, every so often with my interruptions to move further apart, I instructed them what to say if a ball was dropped.  I changed the responses several times throughout the activity.  Of course, there was much laughter.  At first, it was the embarrassed kind and, as the activity continued, it was just the “this is okay and I’m having fun” kind.  

We debriefed the exercise and talked about how much easier it was to own up to a slip-up when their partner said things like, “It’s okay, everyone makes mistakes.  Just try again.”  Of course, we also examined the fact that botching our responsibilities and making mistakes is not always this fun.  Sometimes it’s really hard to admit you goofed.  Sometimes it can be really painful to take responsibility for your own actions.  I had frontloaded with a number of staff members that I would be asking how they deal with these kinds of situations.  They had had a day or so to think about it and gave really thoughtful answers.  I think hearing from the counsellors and senior staff that the teens really looked up to was a moving experience for them.

Nearing the end of our session, we talked about apologies.  This is when the campers really came to life.  They had a LOT to say on this issue;  they were eager to share their examples of a really bad apology and how it made them feel.  We reviewed the 3 steps of apologizing and went over the one step that makes us truly responsible human beings.

We wrapped up talking about owning our mistakes and learning from them so that they can empower us to be better people.  We ended our morning by making a physical representation of our commitment to show what can be built if we are all responsible for our own actions.  Ahead of time, a lovely volunteer made us a bridge using poster paper.  It was 2 dimensional and pretty big because it needed to hold a lot of hand prints.  The campers and staff each took turns putting their hands in washable tempera paint and placing a handprint somewhere on the bridge.  It was a lasting and colourful work of art symbolizing their pledge to change the world for the better by owning their own actions.

From a morning that began like me pulling teeth to get responses from the teens, it ended in really great place.  I look forward to sharing all about “Asking Intelligent Questions” in my next instalment.  It was one difference-making session!

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