So Much Opportunity - An Interview with Rich Rinaldi

The Summer Camp Society Interviews. This interview is the seventh of a series from Sarah and Jack interviewing change making camp professionals and sharing their advice because great leaders make great camps 

Rich Rinaldi


Rich is a systems thinker, operations expert, a former camp director and a future camp director. He dreams big and works small, because the details matter. We caught up with him for a Summer Camp Society interview to see what he is up to these days after leaving YMCA Camp Erdman in 2015 Turns out he is always and forever a camp guy...but just spending a few years getting an outside perspective. Here's the scoop about the man behind Lights Out at Camp:

Hey, Rich?  Are you in camping right now or what?

I like to keep one foot in the world of camping because it is very important to me.  I currently work full time at Devereaux Advanced Behavioral Health.  We do a ton of things in advanced behavioral health care, everything from working with folks with intellectual disabilities to autism to youth with serious behavioral challenges.  We have a psychiatric hospital, we have foster care, we have long-term living for adults with disabilities. I’m an analyst with the company.  I work at our corporate office in different projects so I get exposed to all different aspects of the business.

So that’s your day job.

For camp, I do my best to blog and run the website that I created, Lights Out at Camp, to talk about the business side of camp to provide some tips and tools.  I happened to be good at the operational stuff of running a camp and developed systems to make things in the office run faster and more efficiently.  What I want to do in supporting camps is provide some guidance around how you can operate so you don’t have to do things in the office as much, because then you can do the most important things….but there’s a lot that keeps you in the office.  Let’s make the operations as efficient as possible so that you don’t have to do that!  My upcoming presentation at Tri-State is talking about using Google Apps to automate some of your day-to-day tasks.

How did you get started in camping?


I went for the first time to YMCA Camp Ockanickon in Medford, New Jersey, in 2000--I was a 4th grader on a class trip!  I went and then I begged my mom to go to camp in the summer, and she said, “Why should you go to camp, we go to the beach every summer?  That’s crazy! Why would I send you to summer camp.” But she ended up sending me.  

I went back every single summer from then until my last summer at camp was 2015.  I worked all the way up at Camp Ockanickon through my time in college and did the classic camp thing--I was a camper, I was a CIT, I was a counselor, I was the nature program director, I was a village chief, I was the assistant camp director.  And all that while I graduated from Georgetown with a degree in business, and all my friends were going into finance and consulting jobs in New York, and I could not have want ed something more different from that.  When I graduated, I found a job at YMCA Camp Erdman in Hawai’i, and I flew out there. I was a program director jack of all trades--I ended up leaving after summer 2015 after I’d had the chance to do a bit of everything.

What is something about you that makes you good at your job?

I think what is really important in camping is to have another skill that you can bring to the table, and for me that happens to be business--that’s what I liked, that’s what I’m good at.  I loved my business classes--to be able to get those hard skills and bring them to the table, that’s what made me so successful.  I was able to secure a program director job really quickly, which was important for me to get my foot in the door for camping professionally.  

To generalize that to other folks, I tend to push, emphasize and get enthusiastic about furthering your education -- that’s what I did while I was at Camp Erdman, I earned my MBA in nonprofit management. It  doesn’t have to be business, either--there are so many other fields that you can earn additional education in or advanced degrees in that I really think professionalize and lend more legitimacy to camping. Whether that’s education, psychology or business, I think all those specializations are needed in camping, and I think that it really allows you to move to the next level in terms of your skills.

What is something that was really tough for you at the beginning?


I think that one of the things that really surprised me is that I was like the classic (and I think many other camp pros are like this, too), “I will not burn out!!” and I would say it, “I just do not burn out, it doesn’t happen to me!”  But it just totally does, it happens to everyone, right?  I don’t know how to get that message across without people experiencing it personally. I think that self care and creating really clear boundaries is really really important.

What is something you are working on getting better at right now?


At my current job, I’m at our corporate office.  And anyone who has been a part of an association Y or agency like that--they might not think their corporate office gets them.  So, I am working on trying to really get what’s going on at the centers--just building relationships with all types of folks is really important.  That’s the ongoing learning that doesn’t cost anything; that’s just time and relationship-building.  

My job is more akin to a project management-based job, so i’m trying to get a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification just to bolster my skills and efficiency in the project management area.  I trying to do soft skills and hard skills and marry them together.

How do you see yourself as a contributor to the camping movement?

Even though I’m not currently working in camping, I try to stay involved because camping is so important to me. I’m lucky because I still get to talk about camp on a daily basis -- my girlfriend is a camp director at a nature camp in the Philly area, so we talk about camp over dinner every night! I also make sure to network for conferences and stay engaged online and continuing to share what I learn about operations and business through my blog.  There’s a couple of key places, like Summer Camp Pros on Facebook and GoCampPro, and if know a few people, it’s easy to stay involved.  I’m sharing what I have to offer, which is business experience. What’s fun about this community is that anyone can do the same.

What is your dream job?

I’m one of those classic “I want to own my own camp”-kind of people.  I want to own my own camp, I want to shut it down for two months so I can go travel  I don’t care where it is, but it’s going to be somewhere where I don’t deal with bureaucracy of a big organization and where I can run camp the way I want to run it. Don’t we all want that?

Why are you so committed to that dream and to camping?

Camping provided me with a community of people that I can always rely on.  My best, best, best friends are folks who were counselors-in-training with me at camp.  To have that kind of connection---it really lets feel you grounded no matter what.  The mission of camp?  You get to give that back to everyone who attends.

There’s so many different kinds of camps out there---I think that you can do almost anything with camp.  There’s so much opportunity out there.

What is your advice for someone who is a new camp professional?


I think that it is to take every opportunity to experience what you can outside of your world, because camp is its own world, it moves at a different pace, it consumes you, your professional and personal lives, and I think that makes up what is so great about camp but also what is hard about camp.  

But in order to continue to be a professional and grow, I think it is important to take a step back and network outside of your camp, make relationships, learn what’s going on outside the industry--and, for me, that meant taking a step outside of camp and getting a deep understanding of a large non-profit, because this field is important to me.  So, make sure you contextualize that in the broader horizon of what’s out there.  Don’t get caught up in your immediate surroundings and issues -- as pressing as they may be! -- because you’re limiting yourself!