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How Many Lollipop Moments Have You Created?

A couple of weeks ago I asked a Facebook Group of Camp Professionals for camp videos for my Video of the Week series. One person, Amelie Nicole, offered up a TedX video called Leading with Lollipops. This was not the type of video that I was looking for, but after I watched it I knew that I had to share it.

In the video Drew Dudley speaks about a moment he created where he unknowingly made a huge difference in a young woman’s life. He mentions that he doesn’t remember that moment at all, even after the young lady tells him about it.

This TedX talk hit me in the gut, because I have had similar experiences. As camp professionals, I am certain that we have changed and/or inspired many lives without knowing it. A comment here, an action there, a conversation with a camper or staff member…we will never know all the lives we have affected.

This is a must see video.

Here are two personal camp stories that I’d like to share with you. The first is about a camper whose life I affected and the second is about a camp director that affected my life.

Camper Billy

I was born and raised in Southern California and it wasn’t unusual for me and a few friends to just decide on a whim to go to Disneyland for the day.

camp-counselorMy first camp job was as a counselor for an outdoor education program. A year after that OE season had ended I went to Disneyland with a couple of friends. As we were walking up to the gate I heard a kid yell out. “Curt! Curt!” I looked around, and this small 6th grade boy was running towards me with his dad in tow.

My friends were on either side of me, and this kid jumped into my arms giving me the biggest hug. His dad immediately said, “So, you’re the famous Curt I have heard so much about this past year. You made a real impact on Billy’s life”.

We talked about camp and other things for about 5 minutes and then off they went. One of my friends said, “Whoa, that was so cool.” The other agreed. I responded with, “Yeah, it was…but I don’t remember that kid at all.”

Billy’s life had obviously been changed. I was his counselor for only one week, but in that time I became a mentor for him. It was not unusual for me to take my group to a place on camp that we called “Storybook Rock” and have serious conversations with them about home, school, their family and friends, etc. I was an adult that the kids felt comfortable sharing their feelings with and taking advice from. That is the power of camp.

Even though I didn’t remember Billy, that moment at Disneyland had such a huge impact on me. It is why I do what I do, and why, when the camp industry has such a high turn-over rate (even with leadership staff), I remain in this field. So, in the end, Billy changed my life as well.

Wally, the Camp Director

It was at this same camp that I had another life changing experience. I wasn’t what you would call a “hard worker”. In fact, I was a bit lazy. I skated by on wit and charm. People liked me, and that allowed me to get away with things, like not pulling my weight the way I should have around camp.

The director, Wally, was someone who I admired for a number of reasons. He wasn’t the most approachable man, and I didn’t have a lot of contact with him since the program director was our direct supervisor, but there was something about him that I connected with.

cw-dininghallOne day, I was taking my cabin to an activity and I saw Wally picking up trash in front of the dining hall. He wasn’t picking up just one piece, he was going around camp and cleaning it up. We had a maintenance staff that, I thought, took care of these things. Then again, I was a counselor, one of the lowest people on the camp staff totem pole. Why didn’t he just insist that me and my kids pick up the trash? I have worked at a number of camps since then and have seen one or two directors do just that, insist that someone else pick up any trash that is within site instead of doing it themselves.

When we returned from the activity, there he was again. This time he was hosing down the front of the dining hall. Even though we had staff that could do this, he was out there leading by example once again. His actions got me thinking about my own and how I would skate by doing as little work as possible. I admired this man and wanted to be like him in many ways. Looking back on it, I wanted him to be proud of me. I think, for that reason, something in my brain made a switch.

Since then, I pride myself in the work that I put in; pulling all nighters, working weekends, etc. I have also been intentional in my actions at camp and in the office, making sure that I am leading by example, that I am willing to do anything I ask of others, that I am creating “lollipop moments” for my campers and staff. I hold myself to a higher standard than even my employers do.

Here’s the kicker, I never told Wally what an inspiration he was to me. While we will never know all the lives we have touched, because most of those kids and young adults will never tell us about it, we can at least make sure that the people who have given us our “lollipop moments” know they have changed our lives. Think back on people who have affected your life and tell them about it. It could be a conversation or a quick email. Either way, it will make their day, and you just might change their lives as a result.

What lollipop moments have you had? Share them in the comments/reply section below.


  • I worked at a Summer camp in Wisconsin for three months in the summer of 2013. It was through one of many exchange programmes that we have in New Zealand, called ‘Camp America.’
    I met many campers and got to work with some real cool kids, and some real… ‘interesting’ kids. One camper that particularly stuck with me was a 17 year old girl at one of the Teens camps, I’ll call her Diana. We kinda gelled, both being musos, and having a similar sense of humor.

    On the last night (we were pulling an all-nighter, as per programme!) Diana started asking me some very deep questions, like what to do about her boyfriend who was pressuring her, and had been through depression and was subtly threatening suicide! I tried to answer honestly and sensibly – we as camp staff were not allowed to ‘give advice’ on such topics, as the camp did not want parents coming back saying ‘your counsellor told my Son/Daughter to do this or that!’
    We talked for a little while, me trying to be non-commital, but eventually just saying “Don’t let anyone push you around – you are yourself and you make decisions for yourself. You are not responsible for him – you are not his parent or therapist, and you can’t fill those roles for him.” She left the next day, and I never saw her again.
    A few months after arriving back in New Zealand, she sent me a Facebook message thanking me for that chat on the last day of Teens Camp. She said she was no longer with that boyfriend since he didn’t respect her and was pressuring her, and she was moving on with her life.
    It was a really cool moment to know that half-an hour’s conversation had such a positive impact on her life, so often campers are there for a short time, and then gone without you knowing what happens next.

    • Thank you for sharing that, Nat. Think of all the lives we positively influence and never hear about. Even little things, like making sure that the camp is a safe environment where kids can be themselves. For kids who don’t feel safe at school, camp has a real impact on them. It’s the counselors that make sure this happens. Or, being out in nature. For a kid who has grown up in an urban area away from the woods, this can be an incredible experience, creating a mind shift on how they view the world. And, of course, meeting people from other countries, like yourself, can have a profound effect on a kid, sparking an interest to travel, learning that people in other countries are similar to them, and discovering that, in some ways, they are different, and that’s cool.

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