Collaborate, Create, Dream – An Interview with Topher Aderhold
The Summer Camp Society Interviews. This interview is the eighth in a series from Sarah and Jack interviewing change making camp professionals and sharing their advice because great leaders make great camps.
Topher is the Assistant Director at Camp Gray in Wisconsin, but that doesn't begin to explain what Topher does for the community. He shoots and edits videos, plans the marketing, runs giant programs, and turns kids into burritos. Camp Gray has some of the best social media on the planet and Topher is the architect. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did and don't forget to check out Topher's work on Facebook and Instagram
What’s your story? How did you get involved in camping and the camp profession?
I went to sports camps as a kid, but nothing like Camp Gray. When I was in college, it was my last summer before I was to graduate and I thought, before I grow up and join the real world, it would be really fun to work at a summer camp. I started Googling around and looking—I’m Catholic and I thought it would be fun to experience a Catholic summer camp. I found this camp in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin just seemed exotic and different for this kid from Oklahoma!
After just a couple of weeks up here [at Camp Gray] I knew that this wasn’t going to be just a one summer deal. I graduated shortly after with a degree in marketing, and a little after that the position I am in now opened. A lot of the tasks I do for camp are marketing things, and it all fell into place. If you had asked me in college if I would be working at a camp and living in Wisconsin, I would have thought you were crazy…and now it doesn’t make sense to do anything else!
How long have you been in the assistant director position at Camp Gray?
Going on my 9th year. It’s been quite a journey.
Thinking back to when you started, what was difficult or what were some challenges?
As far as the supervision piece goes, it was going from being a counselor and becoming friends with everybody at camp to the next summer where all of a sudden I’m one of the people in charge. It was difficult to have that confidence of “hey, I can do this!” and tough to not doubt myself, I guess.
So how did you gain that confidence? When did that happen?
I’ve been really blessed up here with a number of good camp friends—mentors—that were around Camp Gray long before me for several years. We’re going on 64 years of history here, and in all that time we’ve only had 7 or 8 directors. Especially in the last 40 years, the few people that have been directors are still heavily involved in camp, whether they’re serving on the board or they’re accessible with questions.
My direct bosses here at camp, Jeff and Rebecca Hoeben, are Camp’s co-executive directors and I’ve been serving with them since the beginning. They’ve played a huge role in giving me the freedom to try new things while exploring new ideas. They’re also really great at guiding me when they see fit, and answering any questions I have. I give a lot of credit to them, as well.
What are you learning right now?
The biggest thing is trying to improve my gaga skills! Just kidding. I’m a tall guy, I’m 6’4”, so I’m a big target. I’ve kind of given up at being any good at that!
At this time, what I’m trying to do best - maybe some would think after 9 years in this role I would have this figured out by now - is prioritizing what needs to be done now and what I can tap the brakes on and do later. Camp being a non-profit, I do the marketing for camp, but that’s not all that I do. We all have so many random tasks that get dropped onto our desks.
It’s easy to just jump in and write a blog or create a video and do those tasks first—things I enjoy doing—when maybe the priority is something I don’t enjoy doing. Trying to take that step back fairly often and see what’s best for camp right now and what is going to be best for camp long term. Maybe by year 20 I’ll have it figured out.
One of Topher's many creations
What’s the long game for you? What are your professional goals?
That’s a good question; something I have been thinking a bit about.
At times I can dream big about staying around here for 10 or 20 more years - what could I be a part of as camp continues to grow? Then there are times I think maybe, OK, it might be time to move on and grow elsewhere. I’m not sure what that looks like but I am really content at camp and love the people I work for and work with.
Why do you like your job?
Awe, man. There are so many reasons. I guess, first and foremost, I love it because of the impact it has on the kids that come. I also love it for the impact it has on our staff, and the impact that it has had on me. Camp has done way more for me than I have done and will ever do for it.
As far as my job specifically, I love being able to dream big, to collaborate with staffers to create an atmosphere that we can impact kids. I love being at a place where we’re never satisfied. I like that there’s high standards. Summer Camp 2016 was wonderful! We did some awesome things and then we ended the summer and said, “OK how can we do better?” Like Bill Belichick or Nick Saban will win a championship, and the next morning they’re probably still covered in Gatorade…and then they ask again “how are we going to win the championship next year?”
What advice do you have for someone starting off in their career as a camp professional?
Simply, have fun. I know for me my first summer in the full-time position, second summer even, I stressed trying to learn things, trying to figure it out, trying to come into my own as a leader. It can be easy to forget that this is camp—make time to play some lightening and go fishing with the group down by the lake, and don’t forget what drew you to camp in the first place.
And for a bonus check out Music Monday's from Camp Gray...
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