Friday, February 10, 2012

Happy February!!!

Dear Farm Family and Friends,
            As the snow piles melt and it gets up to the 40’s, I get inspired that spring is indeed on its way. When I walk every morning, the birds are actually singing and the ice is cracking off the bank to fall into the stream.  The local sap house is gearing up to start gathering the liquid gold which will become maple syrup for our pancakes.  It all makes me so eager to get out there and start riding and driving carriages again.  I simply cannot wait for springtime and your arrival!!!
            I am so thrilled to be feeling top of the wave again.  What a difference it is to wake up every morning and be rearin’ to go.  I am back to my old self again.  As we begin our 41st year of camp, our 37th year of riding lessons and the lodge, our 22nd year of Horse Power, and our 11th year of the Horse Power Instructor Training School, I love every day as much as I did back in those beginning times.  I adore watching all the activity that goes on during each season here at the farm.  Seeing so many people loving the animals, the land and being together makes my world shine bright. It is a real blessing to be part of this farm family.
            Speaking of team, what a great one we have for 2012. We are already nearly full for summer time camp staff.  Our Horse Power Instructional team is dynamite.  Our Barn Team is committed and hard working. Our Office Team is passionate about the business side of the farm.  Our Farm Management crew is so talented and smart, taking such good care of the buildings and property.  What a group of loving, caring, competent and professional people we have at Touchstone Farm.  Our mission is clearly alive in their hearts.
            Perhaps most exciting of all is that we are ramping up a new and dedicated team of Touchstone Farm riding and carriage driving instructors.  We have given this part of our program top priority.  This is definitely a building year for our general lesson program. We are eager to serve children and adults for both riding and driving.  We will be announcing some great deals to draw people into our new programs.  Watch for your emails to see what is around the corner this spring.  We have worked really hard to find something to offer all our local horse enthusiasts!
Emily and Zoe
            The transition to Touchstone Farm is now complete. It is proving to be a superior move.  What a pleasure to have one budget, one bank account and one set of customers.  Our vision of streamlining the organization has come true.  We want to thank all of you who were a part of this reorganization.  Your work, combined with the work of our board and staff, is making the farm come alive this year while paving the way for many years to come.  I am genuinely moved with   the progress and support that has been so generously given.

            We just went last weekend to visit some of the local barns which send us kids for Pony Farm summer camp.  We wanted to meet the folks and horses that the campers talk about so often during the summer months.  It was so great to see the wonderful teachers and fellow horse lovers during our trip.  We plan to visit more barns this month because it was such fun.
            The highlight of one of our visits was that two girls, Emily Goldman and Lauren Micou,  asked us for a special moment.  During our time together, they proudly showed us the results of their joint efforts to fundraise for Touchstone and its many programs. With a jar of Hershey’s kisses in their local library and a big poster, they had raised over $50.  They were mighty proud of themselves, as well they should be.  Having kids care about helping other kids moves me to my core.  We all join to heartily thank you, Emily and Lauren!!!
            Some other exciting news is that we have recently received a terrific grant from a family foundation. This grant is to help us upgrade the farm so that we can offer better riding and driving experiences for all our students, young and old.  We are so excited because we are going to be able to resurface all the riding and driving rings, including the indoor arena, with perfect footing.  We will also be taking out the existing sand footing and put it into the paddocks, making them mud free.  No more shoes lost in the mud when catching a horse!  We will then have brand new fencing installed for all the rings.  The grant will also allow us to rebuild  the fencing for the paddocks.  Imagine all bright, shiny new fences and rings…It is fantastic indeed.
Getting a new roof on the barn!
            In addition to these great improvements for our horses and riders, we will also be able to grade all the entrances and roadways in the farm.  This means no pot holes.  All of our cars will be glad for that!  Best of all, we have already been able to fix the part of the barn roof that was failing.  Knowing that the stately barn is preserved for the next 30 years from any water damage helps me to sleep better at night.
            I can’t wait for you to come see all these super changes. We are really on a roll these days. Between great staff, new horses, rings and roadways, wonderful health and exciting future events, we are flourishing. Now, all we need is to have YOU come to visit.  Don’t be a stranger.  We will welcome you into the farm gates with open arms and a big smile.
                                                Stay in touch…Warmly,

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Creating Advantage in College

Creating Advantage in College

Summer camp gives children meaningful advantages in college.

When I started my career as a camp director in 1993, my mother (the "Silver Fox") shared the following thought with me: "summer camp is like college, but just a little bit early".
Being a strong believer in my mother's wisdom, I found myself thinking about this statement fairly often. Summer camp had been a huge part of my personal development as a young man, and had even found its way into my college and graduate school applications. Yet the idea that "camp was like college" did not seem to make sense to me at the time.

Over the past 16 years, I have found that this idea is actually a profound one.
Three years ago, we were talking with a friend whose daughter was in her first year at college. Both mother and daughter had struggled mightily with the separation. "During the first semester, we would talk everyday, sometimes 5 or 6 times. She was so sad and uncomfortable away from home. It really affected her grades and social life. She is better in her second semester, and she only calls once or twice a day. I still worry about her though."
This conversation reminded me of a speech I heard by Dr Wendy Mogel a few years ago. Dr Mogel is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and educator who wrote the best-seller parenting book "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee". She shared a story about a good friend of hers whose daughter was a freshman at college at Sarah Lawrence.

Unlike my friend, this woman's daughter thrived in her first semester in college. She earned exceptional marks (making the Dean's List) and she became president of the freshman class. During Parents weekend, her mother met the mother of a senior who was president of the entire student body and was weighing various job offers. The two mothers were sharing stories about their daughter's college experience when the mother of the senior shared an unexpected thought:
"I bet your daughter went to overnight summer camp."
"She did, but what makes you say that?"
"I am not surprised. I have noticed that my daughter's friends who had strong freshman years all went to overnight camp at some point. The ones that really struggled did not."
The contrast of these two freshman experiences (our friends and Wendy's) compelled me to think about why this might be true. Here is what I came up with.
Going to college presents many challenges, three of which jump out at me:
  1. Increased academic rigor (college work is simply harder than high school work)
  2. Being away from home and your traditional support system (family, friends, familiar places)
  3. Dealing with large amounts of uncertainty (what will classes require, how will I fit in socially, can I deal with this new roommate)
Of course, overnight camp does little to deal with the first challenge of academic rigor, but it helps substantially with both of the other challenges.
Camp helps students adjust to being away-from-home by giving them practice being away-from-home. Campers coming to camp (often as young as Kindergarten or 1st grade) get to experience being separated from home successfully. Certainly, most campers have some homesickness, but the supportive camp community and the fun activities help ease them through this initial challenge. Homesickness is natural. Children will miss their parents.

Further, we live in a society that sometimes suggests to children that they are only safe within eyeshot of their parents. Yet, we parents want our children to grow in confidence and independence so that they can live productive, fulfilling and joyous lives. Camp enables children to experience successful independence. Like college, they are away-from-home. Unlike college, they are in a community committed to their physical and emotional safety.

Camp also helps campers deal with uncertainty. The first week of camp is full of uncertainty: Who are these counselors? What are these traditions? Where do I go? Who will be my friends? Will I be successful? Just like college, there is schedule-related uncertainty (where to go and when) and social uncertainty (who, among this group of relative strangers, will be my friend).

The camper gets to experience overcoming this uncertainty. I like to think of it as strengthening the "resilience muscle." Having done so, the next experience of uncertainty is easier to handle. The camper who comes to camp for several years gets multiple opportunities to strengthen his or her resilience muscle. By the time they go to college, they are much more confident and resilient.

So the former summer camper arriving at college as a Freshman can focus his or her energy on the challenges of academic rigor, but not worry about being away from home and the uncertainty of a new environment. Other students face all three challenges. Seen this way, it is not hard to understand how camp can help later with college.

Last summer, a long-time camp mom shared her thoughts about her oldest son going out-of-state to college. I asked her how she felt. "I'm going to miss him."
"Are you worried about his first semester?"
"No way. He has already gone to camp for 9 years, so I know he will be fine. He is so excited to face this challenge. Camp has also helped me - I have had practice being separated from him. He is going to shine at school!"

Later that evening, my wife and I agreed on three things: First, this was one of the nicest endorsements of camp we had heard. Second, we are so happy to think that the campers who have become such an important part of our lives will have an advantage in college. Finally, the "Silver Fox," once again, was right.

Friday, February 3, 2012