The Power of Gratitude

making bracelets at summer camp
making bracelets at summer camp

Years ago when Travis and I were still directing there, we began this tradition of counsellors sending a postcard to each camper.  The postcard was written the day before the camper left Camp and mailed that same day so that it would arrive just after the camper was home.  The staff were directed to be sure there were personal and specific details in the postcard about the camper and that they were thanked for coming to Camp and making it a memorable experience for the staff.  

Although I had a part in beginning this tradition, I hadn’t really realized until today how meaningful this small gesture could be.  Back then, we had hoped it would allow us to stand out in the camper’s summer experiences, to show parents the kind of community we aspired to be and how thankful we were for the opportunity to serve.  In hindsight, I see that it was one small way our staff helped to teach the importance of gratitude.  

“Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. In addition, behavioral and psychological research has shown the surprising life improvements that can stem from the practice of gratitude. Giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient, it strengthens relationships, it improves health, and it reduces stress.”

~ Marelisa Fabrega

I am a firm believer in the concept that we choose our attitude.  Every day, in each situation, even the difficult and most stressful, we decide how we will feel and deal.  We worked hard as Directors to impress this approach upon our staff.  

As Marelisa says, being grateful, giving thanks, just makes us happier, more resilient and helps to strengthen relationships.  And doesn’t that sound exactly like what we want for all our people at summer camp? An attitude of gratitude can help not only to teach our young people how to cope but can alleviate some of those issues that could arise each summer when people live together in close community.   

If we are to lead by example (as all good camp Directors do), we need to be intentional in how we appreciate all those in our care and set in place programs in our daily schedules to allow our people to experience gratitude for themselves.  Here are a few ideas to add to your repertoire:

  • September is a great month to take some time and write hand-written notes (how often do those arrive in the mail anymore?) to all our staff members, vendors, volunteers, and anyone else who made an impact, large or small, on our camp season.
  • Way back in the late ‘90’s, we began the tradition of having our staff write in their Gratitude Journals every day.  They had to write 3 things they were grateful for that day (it was important to make them realize they could find things to be grateful for every day and not have to look into their past to find some), 3 things they were proud of themselves for that day (THIS was a tough one for many of them), and 3 goals for the coming day.  This time of centering, which started off our Staff Bible Study (we gathered after dinner each evening for 1 hour and had a rotating team of staff members take the campers for “funnengames”), allowed staff members to decompress, take time to realize all the amazing things that had happened that day, and think about what they really wanted to accomplish.  If we were ever having a particularly bad and stress-filled day at camp, I would ask them during this time after dinner to start at the beginning of their Gratitude Journals and read what they had written.  You could literally see the mood change in the first few minutes as joyful moments, big and small, came flooding back.  It helped us to find perspective and to choose our positive and thankful mindsets.
  • Each night of Leadership Training, at the end of campfire, Travis and I would ask our staff a question.  They included things like: who do you need to thank today? who helped you today? for what are you most grateful today?  These fireside chats allowed staff members to publicly acknowledge people and their kindness, hard work, and care. It allowed them to express their gratitude. It was one of my favourite Training traditions that helped to close our day together focused on what really mattered.  It also gave people the opportunity to feel appreciated.  And we all know that a person who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected.  
  • Why not make this ‘fireside chat’ routine part of putting campers to bed?  It could be a wonderful time for counsellors to get campers thinking about what they are grateful for at camp that particular day and help them maintain a positive outlook as well as build a strong connection to their cabin family.
  • Set aside time during Training to do an activity with your staff.  Pair staff members together and ask each partner to come up with a scenario of a difficult and stressful situation that could happen at camp.  Now explain that, when things don’t go our way, we can ask ourselves these questions:  ‘what’s good about this?’, ‘what can I learn from this?’, and ‘how can I benefit from this?’.  After they have had a chance to share their answers with their partner, work with them to feel comfortable to be able to do this type of exercise with campers.  These kinds of lessons help teach resiliency.
  • Have each cabin group create a 7 Day Gratitude Challenge. They can decide what they will do each day as a group to help show their gratitude to the people who have positively impacted them.  It’s a great way to teach campers that even small acts of kindness go a long way.  Sit back and be prepared to be amazed at how the overall atmosphere at camp is charged with abundance and creativity.

As William A. Ward says, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”  Gratitude changes everything!  It makes us more joyful and more present. It gives us strength to move forward and places us in a good head space to make the right decisions.  It takes practice to be grateful but I promise you and your camp family will not regret making it a priority.

Gratefully yours,