Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring is in the Air

The first day of spring was almost a week ago, and the weather up here at FPC is beautiful. Despite some strong spring winds, most days are filled with sunshine and warmth. This can only mean one thing - it's time to start riding! After a lazy winter in the corrals, it's time to get the horses brushed out and tacked up for our first weekend of rides. Though I may groan as I roll out of bed long before my alarm usually rings, these days remind me of why I moved to Arizona. There is something wonderfully magical about putting a child on a horse. Their excitement at meeting their assigned steed is often mixed with some worry as they try to remember from which side they are supposed to mount. The initial moments of trepidation when seeing the vast measure of animal before them are quickly followed by exclamations of how their horse is the best horse in the entire world. After a quick review in the arena, we head into the national forest on a trail ride. We keep our eyes peeled for squirrels, horny toads, deer, and even the occasional coyote. The new riders point out the wildlife and try to guess which direction would bring us back to camp. Finally it is time to head back to the catch pen and dismount. Everyone says goodbye and promises never to forget their new best friend. A quick break for some water, and it is time to start all over again with the next group of soon to be riders heading down the hill to the boot barn.

Friday, February 20, 2009

From the Rental Director

Hello everyone,

As some of you might be aware I am the Rental Director here at Friendly Pines Camp, and it is my job to recruit and then make sure everything is perfect once the recruits arrive at Friendly Pines Camp. Now some people would ask, “Is he recruiting campers for the summer?” Well, the answer to that would be “No”. It is my job to find groups that want to rent out our camp in the off-season, such as schools, churches and other organizations looking for a relaxing site in the pines for their retreat, environmental camp, or business meeting. We have just said goodbye to over 100 students and teachers from the Scottsdale school district’s “Unitown”. During their stay, I check in with them everyday to make sure that everything is running smoothly.

We open up the camp to rental groups for about 9 months of the year and during this time many groups take advantage of the activities that we offer such as horseback riding and our ropes course, which Emily and Brannon head respectively; I do my best to keep them busy with groups. Well I hope that you have learned just a little about the off-season and our rental side of the camp, and I look forward to writing some more blog entries in the future.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Big Storm and the FPC Staff

It was an impressive storm.

It started late Saturday night. By the time we saw the sun again on Tuesday morning, the snow was thigh deep. Trees, laden with mounds of wet snow, bowed to the ground. Some snapped under the stress. The veranda canopy’s metal super structure crumpled in the middle of the night as if it were made of Tinker Toys. It would have been a wonderful winter adventure, were it not for the fact that we had 115 people in camp – a high school group from Phoenix, most of whom had never seen a snowfall in their lives.

Our duties to the group prohibited us from standing in the warmth of our homes next to a picture window, clad in cozy wool sweaters, sipping mugs of hot chocolate, and issuing folksy proclamations like, “Heavens to Betsy, I haven’t seen a snow like this since the blizzard of (insert date here).” We had to engage instead of merely observe. That means lots of snow removal. Our maintenance staff started plowing at 5 AM and finally called it a day after one last swipe of camp sometime around 7 PM. Between serving up hot meals, our kitchen staff kept the coffee brewing and, yes, the hot chocolate mix coming. The rest of the staff started the morning by feeding the horses, lugging buckets of feed through the corrals. The snow in some of the unprotected areas was so deep that you could see where a horse’s belly had dragged as it trudged up to the feeders. With that done it was time to grab shovels and clear steps piled high like frosted cupcakes; and dig out walkways, the course of which one could only guess at. By the time the first clearing was complete, we would survey our work and, like Sisyphus, watch our efforts silently obliterated by a fresh covering. Time to start again.

This ordeal taught me two thing. 1) I’m so lucky to live in Arizona. I grew up in Michigan, but I left 33 years ago. In that time, I’ve grown a little soft and spoiled. 2) Friendly Pines has a wonderful staff. The crew never once complained. In fact, I heard far more laughing and joking than I heard grumbling. Most folks came in on their days off to help pitch in. I never asked, and not one of them requested to be compensated for their time. In truth, I have seen these displays of teamwork and selflessness over and over during my years at Friendly Pines. I have watched their pleasant, positive demeanor even at the end of the longest days. It is a loyalty and dedication to purpose that is difficult, if not impossible, to repay.

A totally unrelated item. Friendly Pines has gotten involved in a new ad campaign ….on TV. It’s not as dramatic as it might sound. The ad consists of a picture of the camp with some text and a voice-over, so it’s not that different from looking at an ad in a magazine but it’s on television. The medium is the message, right? It’s supposed to air through the month of March on Good Morning America and something called ABC News at 5. I was shocked to discover that the 5 referred to 5 AM; however, I’m told that people are actually up at that time and coherent enough to absorb current events. Anyway, keep an eye open for it, and let us know what you think.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Winter Storm Visits FPC!

Every year, at some point during the winter months, a picturesque blanket of snow visits Friendly Pines. This came in December as a gentle few inches, just enough to cover the ground and frost the trees. Then, after several weeks of warm temperatures and cloudless skies came 4 inches…and it kept snowing. Five more inches overnight…and it kept snowing. All day long we plowed and shoveled but couldn’t keep up. The steps and walkways around the Dining Lodge would be shoveled expertly only to be covered by an inch of new powder within the hour. It snowed all day and into the night. After almost two straight days of snow, 20 inches of snow covered camp. The gentle blanket of snow was replaced by the entire linen closet. It had been over a decade since anyone had seen a winter storm like this at camp.

This time of year is not only our snowy season but also marks the beginning of our spring season and we welcomed our first large school group from the valley. The students and teachers of Trevor Browne High School were treated to a winter wonderland. Everyone arrived to sunny skies and warm temperatures…Oh! it would change so quickly. Snowmen and angels were constructed, snowballs flew through the air, and hot cocoa was consumed at an impressive rate. When it was time for Trevor Browne to depart, shoveling, plowing and good spirits prevailed; the students and teachers all made it back to the comfortable climes of the Phoenix valley.

It is now time to share some pictures…words can only say so much.

Before the snow could get reigned in, walking to the Dining Lodge was quite the task.

Remember watching skits, singing songs, and basking in the warm summer sun at the benches? Where are they now?
Boys Village from the Dining Lodge. Note the deep foot prints.

Emily and Stevie try to dig out the luggage trailer.
The Post Office and Smoki/Comanche cabins after the first night of snow. We all thought it was quite the sight...We were wrong...

This is quite a sight!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Launching the Friendly Pines Blog

I’ve been given the responsibility of writing the very first Friendly Pines’ blog. So this is it! The Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria of blogs. The blog heard round the world. The Sputnik of blogs. The first time my attention had been drawn to the idea of a blog or to the prospect of blogging occurred a couple years ago when the patriarch of one of our long-time and loyal camp families (whose advice, I might add has proved helpful on more than one occasion) suggested that Friendly Pines needed two things. One of them was a blog. I was taken so off-guard by the suggestion, I don’t even recall what the second thing was. At first I thought a blog might be a large inflatable toy for the pool or lake.

The advantage of working with a team of twenty-somethings is that you are never very long in the dark when it comes to things like blogs, friending, Googling or Wikipedia. (Interesting note. Spell checker has placed that red squiggly line under the words blogs, friending, Googling and Wikipeidia, which makes me feel a little one up on Mr. Mircosoft Word.) On one of our recent road trips to a Tucson Round-Up, the idea of a Friendly Pines blog was suggested just as we were passing the town of Anthem on the I-17. By the time we’d arrived at Picacho Peak, the staff had brought me up to reasonable speed on the subject. And when we’d finally arrived in Tucson, the notion of a Friendly Pines blog was a go!

I must confess that I’m very self-conscious as I sit here and blog. It is common among camp directors to be inextricably linked to things old-fashioned. Uncle Bud used to tell us running a summer camp was comparable to driving a Conestoga wagon in the fast lane of the Black Canyon Freeway. He was right. Progress may sweep the rest of the world, but at camp it hits a speed bump. I still remember my first email account. Though it felt kind of hip to have one, I had a hard time trusting that it would work. It was the mechanics of getting from here to there that bothered me. So for the first few weeks I would type my message using the email program. Then I’d print it. Then I’d fax it. Baby steps.

We will make every effort to keep our blog informative and interesting. We hope that you will visit often and comment when you feel the urge. Our staff will read your comments before posting them. (We’ll cull the inappropriate ones.) In the non-summer months, you can expect a posting or two every week. We’ll even throw in some pictures. During the summer it is our intention to post daily if possible. I guess we’ll have to see how things go. If you ever have a topic you think would be one we should cover, don’t hesitate to suggest it. Some of the best ideas start out as suggestions from you.

That’s it for today. Not an all-together unpleasant experience. It was actually kind of fun. I’ve been told to keep things brief, besides I’m all blogged out for today. Bye for now.
Hello from the desk of the Program Director (sounds so official)! Hopefully that was enough to catch your attention and intrigue has resulted in further reading. I must admit, so much anticipation has been built around these initial blog entries, that the pressure to become a successful "blogger" has created a certain anxiety around the office. Tiny memo pads have replaced our coffee mugs and everyone is now jotting down any quips or clever stories that may come to mind in hopes of spicing up their blog. Well, all that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but a forum to share the happenings of camp with parents, campers and staff had indeed added a bit of excitement to the daily life.

In case you're not sure what exactly a Program Director does, besides the obvious directing of programs, I am in charge of recruiting, interviewing, hiring and staffing for the summer. Each summer we hire approximately 50 counseling staff and around 25 support/special staff. I deal primarily with the counseling staff, most of whom are college students or recent graduates. A majority of the Friendly Pines staff come from within the US, but from a variety of states and only about 25% from Arizona. In addition to our "local" counselors, about 20 or so counselors and support staff come to us from various countries around the world. Using several different placement agencies we are able to conduct the same hiring process and adhere to the same standards we use for US applicants with those thousands of miles away. The international staff hold a variety of positions and add a lot to the camp experience for both campers and counselors.

Most of my winter season is spent staffing, yet it is during these months that we get a majority of our planning, programming and brainstorming done for the upcoming summer season. New activities, improvements to traditional favorites, special days, and daily life are the primary areas we focus on. A lot of our changes depend on the staff that we hire, being able to use their skills and talents to improve programs or create new ones, so essentially the staff profile is shaping the summer long before they even arrive.

As far as staff for 2009 goes, we are well over half full and I often find myself overwhelmed with dozens of wonderful applications that show so much potential and promise. Of course I can't accept everyone who applies, but I am happy to say that I believe I have hired those applicants who exhibit the traits and values essential to creating a wonderful summer experience for all the campers.

A large number of our staff this summer were in one way or another alumni of Friendly Pines. Whether they were a former camper, CILT/CIT or past counselor; many have a connection to Friendly Pines and are so excited about creating the memories and unforgettable experience that have followed them throughout their time since they left Friendly Pines.

In addition to all of our new staff, we are happy to welcome back a lot of familiar faces from 2008. Both Lilly O'Neill and Larissa Newman are travelling across the globe to spend another summer with us. Jason Hoppal and Megan Evans are taking time off work in the valley and escaping the heat to join our staff again. We are also excited to welcome back Will Moore, Gabrielle Abrams and Daphne Scranton this summer as well as Lisa McKinley and Dan Reynolds who we missed last year but are so excited to see again this summer.

I realize this may have exceeded the length of what some deem a successful blog, yet for my first time I hope it will suffice. I hope for parents, this blog has helped you to gain a better understanding of the staffing procedures and overall programming schematics, demonstrating the importance we place on the caliber of individuals we select to spend the summer with your children. Campers, I hope you recognized some names and are excited to see some familiar faces, but also to meet tons of new friends and possibly pick up some new accents or word for "flashlight" (seems like every country has a different word for that one). My future entries will be much more brief, I assure you, but I hope you don't hesitate to contact me should you have any questions or perhaps just to congratulate me on my first very successful, very informative and, admittedly, very long blog.