2018 Summer Listening Sessions
In 2018, representatives from the Council Executive Board, Council Camping and Properties Committee, Camp Strategic Planning Committee, Commissioner Cabinet, and Council Unit Relations Task Force embarked on engaging unit leaders and parents in discussions about their Scouting experiences in the New Birth of Freedom Council. The objective of the group was to gather feedback in two key areas: summer camp experiences and year-round Scouting experiences.
The group wanted to gain in-person feedback that could be used to strengthen and enhance camping operations at both Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe. It was determined that the ability to dialogue face-to-face with leaders and parent would provide important data that is necessary to help keep programs relevant, attractive, meaningful, safe and fun, feedback that standard paper or electronic surveys are unable to capture.
This report is a commitment to those leaders and parents that participated in these sessions that we heard your concerns and responsibly strive to make all available programs at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe the very best they can be for Scouts of all ages. It is also an opportunity to share with those units that may be finding us for the first time, including units from outside the Council’s territory, that both Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe offer outstanding programs and are continually striving to improve camper experiences.
The New Birth of Freedom Council annually employs about 150 seasonal employees to bring summer camp programs to life. Attendees in 2018 made it a point to emphasize the following about our camp staff:
Staff Takes Ownership and Pride in their Camp – No one has more enthusiasm and excitement about summer camp than our camp staff members. Leaders consistently pointed out that the efforts of our rangers and maintenance staffs resulted in camp properties that looked great and were in good repair. Camp staff members were cited for repeatedly going out of their way to make sure that every camper, from the first-time Scout to the most seasoned leader, had the best experience possible.
Experience – Though we don’t return every member of our staff from one year to the next, many of our key camp staff members return summer after summer. Scouts and leaders alike appreciate the strength of instruction and quality of experience from these seasoned staff members. The friendly and enthusiastic nature of our staff allows Scouts and staff to build positive relationships that make Scouts feel welcome and a part of the camp community.
Customer Service – As we will discuss later, our Council’s camps are not perfect, and we are currently developing a comprehensive plan for future enhancements to our camping experiences, but unit leaders consistently shared their appreciation for the degree of customer service they felt from our staff. Before camp, dealing with office staff and registration seemed very smooth. During camp, any program and facility issues were effectively dealt with in a timely manner.
Areas to Enhance the Camping Experience
Our staff and program are great strengths, but we recognize that there are areas that will help to overall enhance the camping experience. Whether a Scout is from the New Birth of Freedom Council or from somewhere else, our goal is to make camp feel like your home camp and we want everything to be just right. In 2018, the following are the key areas that our participants felt that we could do better.
Whether a Scout is from the New Birth of Freedom Council or from somewhere else, our goal is to make camp feel like your home camp and we want everything to be just right.
Whether your unit is five minutes or five hours away, a quality experience requires effective communications. Here are several suggestions we received to improve communications:
Leader Guides – Leader Guides are an important tool in making sure your unit is prepared for their stay at camp. Our Leader Guides have a lot of information on policies and general information, but in 2018, there were issues with conflicting activities and data. If something gets changed after the Leader Guides are published, we have to make sure changes are communicated and that all of our information is accurate and consistent (i.e. the cardboard canoe race)
Promotional Materials – We learned, especially with our Scouts BSA participants, that our older Scouts are often involved in the selection process as to where their troop will attend summer camp. Promotional materials need to be designed and accessible to both youth and adults and they need to be easily available to view and share.
Social Media – Scouts and families loved the Facebook Live Scoutmaster belly flop at Hidden Valley, but in reality, our camps only scratch the surface of what is possible with social media. Using social media as a promotional tool would help units get to know our camps better. Using social media during camp itself is a great tool to keep everyone connected. Our leaders felt we need to embrace the technologies that are available to us.
In-camp Communication – Our camps are 830 acres and 1,300 acres of fantastic forest and camping areas, but with that size comes the challenge of communicating during camp. Again, our leaders feel that services such as a text messaging service could help to deliver or reinforce important messages, alerts, or schedule changes, while utilizing the video screens in dining halls and other buildings would be a great way to share schedules and post results of things that have happened.
In support of the staff and the program is the physical camp itself. Leaders and parents provided valuable feedback on ways we could enrich the camp experience.
Tents, cots, and general site maintenance – Though few Scouts say the main reason they are going to camp is because of the tent they get to sleep in, there are Scouts that say “I don’t want to go to camp because of the tent I have to sleep in.” The need to replace/repair tents, cots, and tent platforms was a consistent theme throughout much of the summer.
Trails and Signage – With the size of our camps, numerous trails are necessary to get people from point A to point B. From those who are not already familiar with the camps, we received some great suggestions to add additional signs to reduce confusion or the chance to get lost. In addition to more and better signage, the development of a separate camp program area map, and not just a general camp map, was a great suggestion to help minimize confusion. Third, not all trails are created or maintained equally. In addition to a program map, leaders suggested having a ranking system for trails rating the difficulty/ease of hiking trails and the ability to do service projects at the camp in helping maintain trails, especially those that are off the normally-traveled roads.
Progressive Maintenance – As stated in the strength session of this report, our staff does a great job responding to maintenance concerns when things are broken, but our leaders noted that if we had an overall plan for upgrading, improving, inspecting and repairing, some things would last longer or never get to all-out need of replacement so quickly.
Vehicles in Camp – There are a certain number of vehicles that are necessary to the operation of any camp, but there were multiple concerns about the number of personal vehicles in camp, especially during flag ceremonies and chapel services.
Preparedness for Girls – This summer we welcomed our first girls to Cub Scout Resident Camp and Webelos Resident Camp at Tuckahoe. Every week there were questions about both camps being ready for more girls attending all programs in 2019. Most considerations were for changing areas at the pool, as well as bathroom and shower facilities.
Communication: This multi-faceted issue impacts your camping experience. Our committee is looking at various ways we can share information promptly and efficiently with the following being our first steps:
The challenge we faced is that we wanted to offer the camp experience to as many Scouts as possible and as a result, our camps exceeded capacity. In order to avoid this situation in the future, we have implemented a new registration and deposit structure which more effectively manages camp capacity. Registration will still be on a first-come first-serve basis, but the revised procedures and payment deadlines will provide information at an earlier date on the actual number of campers attending.
We are in the process of planning our new programs for the 2019 summer camp season. Specific information as to the advancement opportunities, social activities and new programs at camp are available much earlier than in years past and can be viewed from our website. This includes updated camp promotional videos for units to watch and share. Please review our competitive camp fees, camp videos, and the full list of activities and advancement that we will be offering at camp.
We are in the process of updating our summer camp leaders’ guides. Our goal is to make sure the information is user friendly, up-to-date, and can be readily updated (with notification to you) if a change becomes necessary. Our ultimate goal is to have information in a format which you can load on your mobile device.
We are also looking at new communication tools, like a texting program, so if an emergency or program change would occur at camp, you could be immediately notified.
Trails: We heard your comments about how we can do a better job of clearing and marking our trails and that is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019. We are looking to add additional signage, assigning volunteers to walk the various trails, clear those that can be done quickly, mark the trails, and indicate their length and degree of challenge. Our long-term goal is to provide you with a better trail map so when you are planning your hikes, you can select the appropriate trails for your unit.
Vehicles in Camp: We heard your concerns regarding the number of non-camp-owned vehicles traveling throughout camp. Our camping committee is reviewing our existing vehicle policy, modifying as necessary, and asking all camp personnel to enforce that policy. The policy will also restrict non-emergency traffic during specific activities. Camp Staff will close appropriate roads during these critical activities.
Multiple leaders in camp: We know that due to work and family commitments, some units have to “swap” leaders during the week. We learned the current registration process isn’t as user friendly as it should be in order to register these replacement leaders. This led to some frustration and created some challenges in providing medical forms and youth protection documentation. We are working on solutions and will be sharing the new procedures soon.
2018 was a great camping season for the New Birth of Freedom Council, but more importantly, was a great time for all of the Scouts and Scouters that chose to spend part of their summer with us. Our goal is to continue to build on our strengths, while incorporating the enhancements outlined above to provide the best and most memorable summer camp experience possible.
Thank you to all of the leaders and parents that took part in our listening sessions this summer. We value your commitment to Scouting and passion for helping us continue to meet the needs of your Scouts. If you participated and are concerned that your comments don’t appear in this narrative, don’t be alarmed, we heard you! There is a volume of comments, both positive and constructive, that we have shared with the appropriate staff and volunteer committees. This report summarizes the most-often cited comments that we heard across all of our camping programs.
The last overwhelming comment from the listening sessions was that the sessions themselves should continue into the future. Our committee wholeheartedly agrees with that assessment and looks forward to listening next summer and sharing with you more of what we were able to do thanks to your suggestions and input.
Listening Session Committee Members
- Randall Cline - Council Vice President, Program
- Thomas Steckbeck - Council Commissioner
- David Wyrwas - Council Vice President, Camping
- William McQuade - Council Vice President, Administration
- Todd Weidner - Council Director of Camping
- Christopher Styers - Assistant Scout Executive/COO