This is one special camp.
Before I share any more observations, please allow me to introduce myself. I am Steve Baskin. My wife Susie and I are the owner/directors of Camp Champions in Marble Falls, TX. We are also partners with Jane and John Dockendorf in Camp Pinnacle, a project that is creating great excitement and joy in our lives.
I have been a camp professional ever since I graduated from business school in 1993. Prior to that, I was an investment banker. Susie also has a graduate degree and was a health services professional. Camp has been an unusual career decision for the two of us, but a wonderful one.
Since we run our camp in Texas, we do not have much of an opportunity to visit Pinnacle during camp season. Of course, having people as wonderful as Jane, Dock, Ben, Maggie, Cait, and Charlie, make it possible to be a distant partner.
But I make it a point to visit each summer. I spent this Saturday at Camp and I would love to share my observations.
I should also add that I am an unapologetic camp geek (at least, that is what Susie calls me). My idea of a fun vacation is to visit camps, attend camp conferences, read articles on youth development and dream about making camps better. As a result, I have physically visited well over 100 camps (think about visiting just 100 homes and then make the homes 200 acres) and talked with literally thousands of camp professionals. I like to benchmark the best practices, the most interesting activities, the most functional structures and most transformative philosophies.
With that rambling introduction behind me, I will get back to the core of this blog.
Camp Pinnacle is one special camp.
When I met Dock two years ago, we realized we were kindred souls. He showed me the amazing campus of Camp Pinnacle and we agreed we had to accept the challenge to help it become a great camp once again.
Since then, I have watched as he, Ben, Cait, Maggie and the maintenance team of Nick and Tom tirelessly pursue improvements to every aspect of camp.
He has overseen a massive series of repairs and improvements. Some are boring (fixing leaks) while others spectacular (I rode the new water slide 4 times and it is a blast!). From the decking and new porches to the miniature golf course to the bike trails to the paddleboards, virtually every aspect of the physical plant is a quantum better than it was just 20 months ago. I marvel at how stunning this property is – both its natural beauty and the structures.
I also love the program and philosophy. The proximity to a million acres of Forest and Parks creates outdoor experiences that I could only dream of in Texas. The activities at camp are fun, engaging and challenging. But most important to me is the focus on the growth of our campers. I believe that camp is an almost unique youth development experience. In a world inundated with technology (the average teen will spend 52 hours a WEEK looking at an electronic screen), few children are honing their interpersonal skills. Not so at Camp Pinnacle. Every day is 16 hours of face-to-face interaction (rather than screen-to-screen), which builds skills like communication, collaboration and leadership.
Camp also develops important character skills that predict for success in college and beyond, especially grit, self control and optimism. We have designed our program to foster these character skills. We build experiences into the camp program that specifically address these skills. Learning a new skill or climbing a challenging rock face helps develop grit. The nightly cabin meetings where we talk about the high points of each day is an exercise known to make children become more optimistic.
I am so impressed with the intentionality of the Pinnacle program.
The food is ridiculously good. On Friday, I apparently missed sushi and ahi tuna (are you kidding me). But I did enjoy a breakfast with 10 different options and a dinner that featured competition-quality chicken and ribs that had been smoking all day long. I try not to be jealous, but I can tell you that I would love the Pinnacle food at my camp.
Of course, all of this is made possible with a great team. It starts with the exceptional full-timers that Dock has hired: Ben and Maggie (program and counselor management), Tom and Nick (site improvement and repair), and Mike and Richard (kitchen aficionados). These are all committed and delightful people. When I ask them about their days, the quickly deflect the conversation from themselves and instead talk about your children and the experiences they are having. The chef wanted to brag on the campers that love to do small acts of kindness rather than brag on his own cooking. Maggie wants me to know about the triumphs of the campers that overcame a fear of heights or a cabin that has learned to resolve their conflicts.
But the true “secret sauce” is the counselors. Camp Pinnacle has an advantage in counselor hiring that no other camp has that I am aware of. Lets call it the Adventure Treks Gap.
Since 1993, Dock has run a top-notch adventure camp called Adventure Treks or AT. AT takes groups on trips from North Carolina to the Rockies to Canada to Alaska. The students that attend learn about the “5 R’s” and a love of nature. They are often exceptionally talented young people. They can continue as students with AT until they are 17 or 18. They, however, cannot become Adventure Treks instructos until they are at least 21, and the average age is 25. Since these groups go into the wilderness, the instructors must be highly trained and experienced. A 20 year-old is generally not ready to be the sole decision maker with a group of 15-year-olds.
But 20 year olds make fantastic camp counselors when there are older and more experienced people around, as is the case at Camp Pinnacle.
This is the Adventure Treks Gap – the time between when these young people can be Adventure Treks students and when they are eligible to become Adventure Treks instructors. In the past, they would simply not be part of Dock’s life for 4-6 years. Now, with Camp Pinnacle, we can take the best of the pool of great Adventure Treks students and train them to become your child’s counselor. Remember, since most of these candidates attended between 3 and 5 years of AT trips, Dock and his team knows them incredibly well. I like to think of those trips as incredibly thorough job interviews for a counselor at Camp Pinnacle.
Last year when I visited, here are the first 4 counselors I met: a Morehead Scholar at UNC, a student of architecture from Stanford, a woman from Hong Kong who attended the University of Edinborough, and a member of the varsity crew team at UVA. More important than these accolades was the fact that every counselor was engaged, fully present and full of fun. In short, I would love to have my own children see them as role models.
I was not expecting this summer to be quite the same. I was right. I think this year’s counselor team is even better. What I have seen in the counselors are sparkling eyes, ready smiles and easy enthusiasm. They are obsessed with their campers (your children) – sharing stories of triumphs, jokes and trips. These counselors have been wonderfully polite to this greying camp director, but they quickly turn the conversation to their camper who went on the zip line after 15 minutes of fretting or the one that conquered a fear of the mountain slide.
In short, I am honored to be a part of a place that is committed to children and creates a loving community that fosters growth.
PS – Your children are adorable. The Pinnacle team told them that my camp name is “Steve Sir” and they have been having great fun with that. I think virtually every camper has taken the time to introduce themselves to me and strike up a conversation. I feel wonderfully welcomed!