Building A Team

I think every year about this time I post something about our seemingly endless process of hiring a staff.  It truly is "endless" in a manner as things change year to year, quarter to quarter, month to month.  We walk into a season already with our eye on the next two seasons and begin the work of the year.  Situations come up, staff have to leave and new staff have to be brought on to replace that deficit.  The replacement may be a former staff who has time for the remainder of the season, a CIT who did a great job, or some scout that stood out during his week at camp.  For the most part, we have been very lucky with these stop-gap measures and vow that in the future we will be better prepared for the potential shortage but are fooled once again when next season comes around.  As we make our way through our current seasonal hiring process we find similar challenges.  There are many of our veteran staff that want to return but then find themselves at a crossroads with school, career, finances or a combination of those.  Some of our staff members graduate from college and plan to start a new job at the end of the summer only to find that their employer wants them sooner, or an individual has an opportunity "pop" up which is too hard to pass on.  Although understandable, it does throw the proverbial monkey wrench into the hiring process and our vision.

Over the years I have been doing this you would be surprised (or maybe not) of the amount of "advice" or opinions I receive from current or former staff members about who should go where when it comes to job selection.  Every one has their particular insight; every one knows something I or Ken do not know that should influence a selection; every one has a good bead on anothers particular talents.  As I have told older staff in the past, I understand that there are a lot of things that go on in which I am oblivious.  There may be certain characteristic traits that are not evident to the general public and only seen at certain times "off stage."  However I think what my staff seem to forget is that I view things from a distance.  I am in the back of the staff line watching what goes on; when I pass a program area seemingly disengaged I am listening to every word that is being said (scout and staff); I am always backstage during campfires and although I may be twirling my key, I am also aware of what is around me.  There is truly a lot I don't know, but I do know what the bigger picture is and I know what the end result is and I know how to achieve that in an expedient and efficient manner which may not make sense to others.  Sometimes it doesn't even seem fair to others.  However, there are core elements that we adhere to when we undertake team building with the focus on completing a goal or a mission.

When we go about building a team, or in this particular case, the staff at Camp Parsons we enter in to this process by understanding that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  We understand that not everyone can be the best at everything.  What my weakness is may be someone else's strength and our plan is that we have such a wide variety of strengths that they should cancel out the individual weaknesses.  So by combining these strengths and combining the individual talents, the staff as whole is "great" at everything.  To achieve this though, one has to give up individual pettiness.  We are not hiring a group of "best friends" we are hiring a group of talented young men and women that at the least will have respect for their colleagues.  Much like a symphony is made up of many different instruments, they all follow the rule of the one holding the baton.....the baton here is the scouting program and the CP ethos and the one holding it could be myself, Ken or one of our designees.  You can be an talented individual, but you are only one part of a great we expect each staff member to be a good "part."  I think all the coaches out there who read this blog would agree that a talented individual can win a game, but only a team can win a championship.......and that is how we look upon our staff, one team one goal.  So sure, we all have our drawbacks, but I am looking at the strengths and how they add to our whole talent.  It may not seem fair at times but again, my purpose here is for the scouts and their experience at camp.

So I ask my senior staff to keep in mind, it is not their job to guide us on our journey although it is their job to provide us with insight when asked.....and when asked, we don't want advice, we want collaboration.  Everyone has some talent and it is up to all of us to make the most of it for camp and for the scouts.

Something Lost

There is a local site on the Internet that covers all things outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.  Everything from trail reports to equipment to politics to history of the outdoors.  If you have an interest in hiking/camping or anything outdoors that involves our corner of the world, it is a neat site.  I was reading the recollections of a former scout about his trans-Olympic hike led by hikemasters from Camp Parsons in 1965.  This is interesting as we knew that there were Olympic hikes sometime during the 60s but we do not know when they stopped.  Based on reading this trip report, I think the treks ended in 1967.....but that would be a guess.  When I joined the staff, we still had a hike shack outlet in the old dining hall (when the kitchen was on the east end of the dining hall) and an equipment shed behind the SMG.  However no one could recall when the last hike took place.  Regardless, the trip report this gentleman put together based on his recollections is fascinating and a little disheartening in the fact that it would be unlikely we could do this type of hiking today as a result of regulations.

The hike that was described was very much like those from the 20s-40s; a two week trek with re-supply from tenders that brought food in on mules to rendezvous at some point in the Olympics.  This particular trek started up the Hoh river valley taking the same route that one would if they wanted to climb Mt. Olympus.  Now this trek was over two weeks, so I will paraphrase the route and objectives.  The trek went up the Hoh to Elk lake then onto the blue glacier of Mt. Olympus.  It skirted to the east side of the glacier with plans of ascending Mt. Olympus, but due to weather that came rolling in they could not.  They proceeded over Humes glacier and then down into the Queets basin.  From Queets basin they made their way over to the Elwha valley to Chicago camp where they were re-supplied.  From the Elwha valley they ascended the ridge to Hayden pass between Sentinel Peak and Mt. Claywood.  They went down the Sentinel col and then up Mt. Anderson summiting that peak.  From there, they went back to the Sentinel col and eventually out the Dosewallips for pick-up and a short ride back to Camp Parsons.  Now, if you have ever hiked the peninsula before, that is one heck of a hike with a good portion of it cross country.  The trip report was full of day to day adventures including some that were life threatening including being stuck near blue glacier for almost two days in a Pacific storm that came charging off the ocean and was causing hypothermia, then almost running out of food before re-supply.  The crew made fires for warmth and cooking, a big no-no into today's park and the size of the party was not an issue.....there were no size limitations during that time.

Today, with rules and regulations from the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the BSA, you are lucky if you can even get out of the car to hike now a days.  Even though I fully believe adventures like this really build self confidence and are at times a life changing experience I have had concerns in the past about some of our hikemasters going off trail to do some cross country hiking.  I am not as concerned about their skills as much as I am the scouts that they take along with them.  I trust my guys but I also know that the allure of the outdoors can sometimes blur common sense and decision making.  Still, hiking has been and should be a large part of the Camp Parsons experience if not also the scouting experience.  Why should that be?  Although there are many avenues of exploration today, hiking into any untouched wilderness by a young person for the first time brings a sense of wonderment and awe.  You have found something that you really could not imagine as you have never had any other experience to compare that to.  That is exploration; you discover something that is indescribable yet has an incredible impact on you.

In my research about the founders of the scouting movement in Seattle I stumbled across the fact that Professor Edmund Meany was a huge Rudyard Kipling fan.  There were lines from Kipling's "Lost Poem" that intrigued him tremendously and when he wrote to Kipling to inquire where the poem was published, even Kipling could not remember which poem it was, although he knew they were his words.  Because of his admiration for Kipling, Meany is the one who had that quote placed on a sign that has hung in all of the CP dining halls from the beginning; "Something hidden.  Go and find it.  Go and look behind the Ranges.  Something lost behind the Ranges.  Lost and waiting for you.  Go!"  This challenge of exploration has served scouts at Camp Parsons well for over 93 seasons and goes beyond the ranges in the wilderness but the drive to continue to explore beyond our knowledge.  Whether it be the wilderness, our families, our profession, our lives; there is something always hidden and it is waiting for us.

A Cool Camp

I received an e-mail this morning from a gentleman living in Georgia.  His last name was Parsons and he mentioned that he was surprised that there was a Camp Parsons which he read about in the new edition of Scouting Magazine and were there any patches from the camp that he could purchase.  I went to the Scouting Magazine website and sure enough, there was Camp Parsons listed in the "Guide to Cool Camps."  The picture you see here is the picture associated with that listing.  I thought that was great.

I remember now that we had a photographer from Scouting Magazine visit us for a day last year.  I think I also remember that he was there as part of a story that was to be written on scout camps and Camp Parsons was one of the camps to be mentioned.  However much like the photographers for Boys Life or the Merit Badge books you quickly forget about it after the photographer leaves only to be reminded once again when a picture pops up in some publication.  That was the case for the new Boy Scout handbook.  When I saw the new edition and quickly went through it, I had to stop when I came to a certain page.  There in the photos were a handful of my staff portrayed as scouts learning ecology/conservation or scoutcraft skills.  As a matter of fact, there were several photos of the guys throughout the book.  Then I remembered the day a few years ago when the national office sent photographers out to take pictures and we assembled a handful of our younger staff to go off with them to various places in camp to do photo shoots.  It seems CP is becoming a bit of a scouting media darling.

I spent a fair amount of time with the Scouting Magazine photographer the day he was at camp.  Although I was not with him for the photo you see above, I had him out on the boat for the pier jump and then we spent about an hour out towards Puali Point taking photos of eagles perched on trees or flying off the trees.  The guy must have taken a gazillion photos (if that is a number) that day, it is interesting he or the magazine picked this one, though I must admit that it does capture just about everything that is Camp Parsons.  You have the pier filled with scouts, you have the pier sign that proudly shows the Camp Parsons logo, name and council (thank you Alex), you have the American flag waving proudly, you have scouts in canoes as they participate in the Hullabaloo race, you have the boathouse with its Indian killer whale design (thanks Sam), you have blue skies and the mountains in the background.  That is CP in a picture!  However like any other photo, it can be too revealing.  You have a scout sitting up on the top handrail of the pier, a big no-no (tish, tish beach crew) and of course, God love Finn Thorsell, but why is he wearing that blue, suede "pimp" hat?  I know, it was Hullabaloo and the scouts love the eclectic (if they know what that means) and it is all in good fun.

I must admit, they selected a good photo and I am happy with the little snippet that the magazine wrote which captures our program in a snapshot.  I just wish that all the photographers that come out from the BSA would send up all the other photos they took; they may not use them, but we could.


Given the fact that there are so many Johns, Bobs, Dans, Marys, Sues, etc in the world, it is not surprising that our governmental/on line/public individuality boils down to a number or numerous numbers.  You have a social security number, a voter's registration number, a driver's license number, an employee number; a number that makes you "unique" in the eyes of a bureaucracy.  To those agencies or institutions that lack the concept of customer service, that is all you will ever be.....a number.

I have to keep a list that has over thirty lines of information that contains the combinations of my various numbers, my various "user IDs", my various accounts along with all of their respective passwords.  I need them for my e-mail (both personal and work), bank account(s), a variety of personal accounts (Visa/Amex), frequent flyer accounts, rental car/hotel(s) accounts.....I could go on and on.  "Oh, make it easy" you may say...."use the same one across all accounts."  Well, that certainly is a thought but dismissed quickly because of my OCD when it comes to security issues.  However, it wouldn't work even if I bought into the idea of keeping it the same.  When I set up a new account and use a familiar user name it is usually already taken by someone else, so I have to go through a variety of different permutations until I get one that the computer will accept.  Then comes the password; some allow just letters, some just allow numbers, some require the use of both letters and numbers, some require that one of the letters be capitalized, some require at least thirty characters in combination, some require a DNA sample..retinal scan and a paragraph of why I want to log on.  Numbers.  If that is not bad enough you quickly find that some of these accounts want you to change your password every sixty days.  Why can't we just get a bar code tattooed to ourselves and scan ourselves into the system every time we need access an account (though that is very Orwellian and an ugly reminisce of humanity's evilness in this past century).  I get that there is a need for a "unique" identifier particularly if we continue on this path of accessibility to online shopping/banking/payment and information.  However, you can only keep a certain amount of combinations without forgetting what goes with what.

Then there is the BSA where I have a user name and a password (letters and numbers) and I also have a membership ID number.  If I want to look at my training record I have to look at both.....if I look up my user name it lists only a certain amount of the training I have done; when I look up my BSA number, there are other training programs listed there.  Why are there two different sources of information with different information on the same website?  I am sure there is a data base that would pull up my Eagle Scout rank date, I know there is one for the OA that has my vigil date.  I have yet to see a data base that has my basic leader training, wood badge and multiple (and I mean MULTIPLE) NCS trainings and certifications though I am sure there is a data base for that as well.  Why can't this be combined all into one single profile which I can access with just one user name and password?  As we are tasked to assure that adult leaders have complied with youth training requirements, we are going to need more than just their word that they have done it.  If they cannot produce a certificate of training then I suppose we would have to accept that they have had the training if they are a current registered adult.....but how do we check that if they don't have their card?  I cannot offer my staff a contract until they prove to me that they are members of the Boy Scouts of America.  For me, this is an easy obstacle as we can register them a members of our Varsity team and if they are over 18 they will sit in my office and complete the online youth protection course.....done and done.  There has been a lot of talk about on-line merit badge registrations and although that may be appealing to scout leaders I can tell you after decades of experience at CP, it will not matter as things change once you arrive to camp.  You are dealing with is inevitable that they will want to change merit badge classes once they arrive.  I would rather have online scout/scouter registration for summer camp so that we can assure that all the adult leaders who come to camp are truly members of the BSA.......wasn't that the reason we have lost all the past lawsuits.......we didn't take our own policies serious enough?  Let's put these numbers to good use.

It is important to remember; although you may be a number.....we will always treat you as a person.

February Ruminations

It is funny that when I post routinely I am accused of putting out meaningless drivel from time to time yet if I slow down the number of blogs I get comments asking why I am not keeping it up to date.  Sometimes you just can't win.

I usually take the one break I have during the day to update either the website or the blog.  When I am not at work I am usually busy doing other things that do not afford me the time to sit down and type out my thoughts.  At least at work I can focus my quick break on trying to get something out that is a little more relevant.  I had stated before that things have been busy at work which has not afforded me much time, but I am also back teaching once again and that has taken up what little time I had before.  I enjoy teaching, it is something that I missed when I moved to this particular job and so I am glad to have the opportunity to do this once again.  Unfortunately it is just not the time which is consumed by actually teaching but having to take the time and read so that I can stay on top of my game.  It is difficult when you are asked a question by your student and you know the answer, but you cannot present it in an academic manner.....instead what almost comes out of your mouth is, "because it just is."  Not a very intelligent answer.  So I spend a good part of the day brushing up on my basics so that I can give a more academic, cognitive answer.  Either that or I tell my student that he brought up a good question, now go look it up and present it to me.  That is easier.

Not much has happened since I last posted here; the new Trading Post is slowly being completed.  Insulation and dry wall should be in by the end of this week and by next work party we should be looking at putting in cabinets, shelves, counter tops and items like that.  The store room behind the SMG is also slowly being completed with a new ammo room being formed as well as insulation going in there as well.  We should be getting rid of the old rope storage shed (the one that has the emergency bell attached to it).  This will allow us to expand the parking lot even more.  The SMG parade field is being regraded so the slope is a little less and new seed has been planted.  On the other side of camp, the MBC project is moving ahead slowly and hopefully will be complete by the end of May......"hopefully" being the key word.  Interviews will continue next month and by that time we should have the core group of the staff hired by the end of March.  Of course, there is always a few changes here and there.....but what else is new.....

Keeping Up With The Jones

A few days ago I posted under the title of "Thrifty" the progressive work that has been done at camp and the benefit of professional services performed at cost.  Gary Smith had commented on the work done prior to the the more formal AWPs that we have today which was known then as the West Seattle Work parties.  These were a group of scouters that were predominantly from West Seattle (though not all) who came up during the off season to help construct log booms and floats for the beach as well as perform general maintenance around camp.  Even major projects were undertaken by them such as the removal of the second story tower on the dining hall.  Many of these individuals had a strong love for camp and are today a group of unsung heroes when it came to volunteerism.  One of their legacies can be found in the current boat house that was built with their donations.  I find it interesting that West Seattle has played a major role in the history of camp.  The first building constructed at camp was the Silver Marmot Grill (Booth Hall) and was built by West Seattle High School carpentry teachers.  The first camp director was also from West Seattle, so this area of town has been a big part of the CP history.

Throughout the years, there have been a lot of building projects at camp.  Looking at our historical photos, there were cabins every where and they all looked professionally built.  Back in those days, the wood for buildings came from camp and milled at camp.  The buildings for the most part were very simple but then again, they were for summer use.  As the years passed there was need for changes; there was a push to return to tent camping, then a push for cabins once again, then a push for a mixture of it is a push for single use facilities such as bathrooms and sleeping quarters so that the camp can handle different age groups and different sexes.  There is nothing simple just can't build a shower house with 20 shower heads along a wall in an open bay.  Complicating this is the fact that there are more rules and regulations that govern how something should be built.  There are environmental concerns, building concerns, ADA concerns all of which have different requirements, codes and of course, permits.  Don't get me wrong, these are all important but these are also expensive when you pay for a permit AND you pay for someone to come out and certify that you complied with that permit.  Don't think they did that back in 1919, though it is interesting to note that we have had septic tank permits since the 1940s. 

Through the years, Camp Parsons has had wonderful volunteer support.  However the quality of work was based on the expertise of the volunteer.  I can tell you that when I was younger there were several things "fixed" by volunteer help that really did not stand the test of time (or construction practices for that matter).  I remember lifting things that teenage scouts probably should not have been lifting, digging ditches three feet deep that ran a thousand feet and many other things that today we don't do as we have lifted the standard a little higher and have found that equipment like an excavator or backhoe can do the same work quicker, safer and more efficiently.  Where there was not much money for maintenance and building in the past, there is more now and it is being applied in a thrifty manner as I mentioned before.  The reason why we are more efficient with our funds is that we have experienced, professional construction individuals that are running our work parties.  Bob and Ken are both contractors......they do this for a living and both of them have brought that expertise with them and have cultivated our volunteers to do what they do best......painters paint, electricians set up the electrical, and so on.  Sure other volunteers help, but it is no longer left up to a lawyer or an accountant. who has swung a hammer twice in his life to go and do some carpentry, making it up as he goes.  I remember many times when either Ken or Bob would come back and check on a project and if wasn't done right, they would tear it down and build it the "right" way.  This is what I have seen develop over the past decades.  Even today, there are somethings that are better to be sub-contracted out (like drywall) so it is done quickly and done well.

So I never meant to take away from the good work of those individuals in the past but I don't think that even those stalwart men could have taken on the campfire bowl, met jr and the SMG re-model in the time frame that they were done, nor would they have had ready access to heavy equipment that our cultivated volunteers bring with them routinely.  I have no doubt that in twenty years from now I would say that the projects we undertake then would not be possible with what we have today.....but then again, that is progress.

Here We Go Again

The first salvo of the 2012 season was fired this weekend as we began our two month process of interviews of potential staff for this upcoming season.  Oh sure, the planning for each season begins long before we close the gates on the last season, but nothing is "real" until you have scouts sit down in front of you and tell you why they want to work on the Camp Parsons staff.  Although the actual interview is relatively short it is extremely informative to us and actually very educational to our applicants as this may be their first job interview ever.  That is what I say to parents who have asked me why they had to drive all the way to the scout office for something that takes a fraction of the time of the trip.  They have to understand that this is an important educational event for their child and it is also very important for us to physically see the scout and observe how they hold themselves, answer questions and their general appearance with regards to grooming.  This way, the scout knows the expectations of a staff member and it is no surprise to them when we begin enforcing the uniform policy.  For a sub segment, it is a chance to show that they have matured from last year, particularly for those individuals who participated in our CIT program and did not do too well on their evaluations.

I think that is one thing we need to emphasize more with our CITs when they come for their "training" week at camp.  Everything they do will be evaluated; being on time, staying clean, wearing the appropriate uniform, putting the scouts first, being part of team and on and on.  Too many times these 14 and 15 year olds will behave, well, like 14 and 15 year olds.  Although we give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to poor judgement from time to time, personalities/traits and work ethic do stand out over the course of the week.  It is one of the reasons why we depend on those evaluations as they are a compilation of senior staff input of a young CIT's performance.  If a CIT has a stellar evaluation then we will hire them immediately when they interview for a full time staff position the following year and if they don't apply, we pursue them.  On the other hand, we have been impressed with some of the interviews by former CITs who did not score as well and we have found compelling reasons to give them a chance and hire them on to the staff.  So yes, interviews are very important to the scouts as well as to us.

If I ever do finish the book that I have been talking about writing for the past two decades, there will be a chapter on the hiring and interview process.  There are some staff members that I vividly remember their first interview as I stand next to them as they get married ten years later.  I also remember many scouts who I thought were going to pass out on me because they were that nervous when sitting before Ken and myself for their interview.  You could actually see their bodies shake and then of course when they shake your hand at the end of the interview it is dripping with sweat.  Then there was this one scout we interviewed years and years ago who sat down in front of Bob Enzler and myself very confidently and when asked "Why do you want to be on the Camp Parsons staff" launched into a rambling soliloquy that lasted 20 minutes without him ever stopping to even take a breath.  About five minutes into it we had gone from camping near a creek, to being in the creek to why a creek is called a babbling brook and then somehow got into the topic of space travel and never stopped from there until I said "Thanks for coming in".  I had my hand over my mouth like I was listening intently when in fact I was fighting the urge to start laughing out loud.  He wasn't a bad kid....just strange.  Needless to say we passed on hiring him.

Once again I am very impressed with the caliber of young men who came and interviewed with us this past Friday and Saturday and I know we have much more to go through.  They all presented themselves very well..........well except for one returning staff member who had the audacity to stand in front of me with a heavy growth of peach fuzz which I think he was trying to call a beard.....I am sure he will come around though.  We do have a lot of returning staff members so I am already looking forward to a great season.


It has been awhile since I posted as my work life really has taken center stage here these past few months and I haven't had anything witty to say.  However I was able to escape for a short period of time this past weekend and attend the AWP as we made the final push to get the new TP completed.  It was a beautiful weekend with sun the entire time.  A little chilly in the morning but by mid-day you were taking off your jacket, sweatshirt or what ever as it was getting warm.  I arrived in time Friday to help Greg and Ken begin the task of relocating the electrical wire from the old program office to the new trading post.  Either the earth has moved or moles are playing an evil trick on us but I found it fascinating that as we un-earthed the wire, it had a wandering path to include going under several large roots.  I don't remember putting that wire down on a meandering path as well as underneath roots.....then again, those things do have a tendency to grow.  What started as a project with the Kabota finished as a job for the excavator.  Once we had that big bucket pulling up earth, the wire was relocated within the hour.  Of course now, there is one section that was put underneath roots.....far better than removing that monstrosity of a stump that stood before us.  By the end of Saturday, there was power in the trading post and everything save for a small part of the ridge cap is complete and ready for inspection followed by insulation, dry wall, shelves and then a bunch of eager scouts ready to spend money.

It seemed like it took forever to get this project complete.  We started in spring in 2011 after a long wait for our permits and it took some time to get all the little things done.  Then I started thinking of the time line.  This structure was built completely by volunteers over the course of 10 weekends.  Sure, there were some things sub-contracted, such as the concrete floor and the plumbing but these were one day jobs.  The insulation and dry wall will also be sub-contracted but again, this will be a two day job.  So, essentially this 1200 square foot year round facility with a heat pump, bathroom and rodent free storage was completed in 30 days for a round figure of $100,000.  That roughly comes out to $83 a square foot.  Now, I am no contractor but I know there are a few construction people who read this blog from time to time who probably think this is a good deal as it is my understanding that projects like this go for anything from $100-$200 a square foot.  This is only one project out of many we have had over the past two decades that was built predominately by professional, volunteer about being good stewards of our about being thrifty.

I don't think the council, the executive board or the Boy Scouts of America know what a great deal they have going.  Thanks to the good leadership and work of Walt Krack, Bob Enzler and Ken McEdward along with scores of loyal volunteers that keep showing up one weekend each month to make a dream a reality, we have provided outstanding facilities for scouts to come and enjoy and make lifelong memories.

I think projects like this go to show anyone who donates their time or money to Camp Parsons knows exactly where their donation goes and that it is being used to its maximal effect.  The money doesn't go into a mysterious hole to be doled out amongst a number of projects, some of which may have nothing to do with the camp facility or the program but it goes directly to where the donor wants.  I hope those individuals who are looking at the dining hall project understand that fact.  Although that project will be predominantly (and appropriately) contracted, there will be a large part that will be undertaken by our AWP group.  We will have that facility at the best possible price; after all, thrifty is not synonymous with cheap.