June 27, 2013
By Rosanne Selfon, Harlam Camp Council Chair
Camp Harlam kicked off its 55th season in the rolling Pocono hills today. Over 500 kids and 250 staff and faculty members joined together to bring ruach (spirit) to the entire community and start building the lifelong friendships this summer that can last forever.
Our camp and its entire staff are led by Aaron Selkow, our Director. At different times over the last 30 hours, I have had the pleasure of watching, listening, and learning what a camp director really does in the precious moments before the season really begins…and you wouldn’t imagine some of the stuff that fills his hours!
Most of our Professional Staff team members have been working together for the 2+ years since Aaron arrived, with some great additions along the way. They know each other’s quirks and “shtick”, and so does Aaron (who admits to having quite a few funny idiosyncrasies of his own!). Somehow, they deal with differences of opinions; they find ways for minds to meet when they diverge; they mentor each other using their complimentary skills, experience and perspective to strengthen the whole team. They unite to work towards solutions and make decisions together. And Aaron – who reminds me of the Ring Leader at the center of a three-ring circus – moves deliberately from one issue, one crisis, one challenging parent, one child in need to another. He shifts from one situation to the next without sneaking a look at his watch. He realizes he may be late for an appointment, but the particular conversation with the one person merits his time and support. Sometimes it will all have to wait when someone needs him emotionally.
As I quietly sat in his air-conditioned office (give an engineering award to whoever first designed blessed air conditioners!) or rode with him on a golf cart or ate half a meal in the dining hall with him (since he doesn’t seem to sit down long enough to eat a full one!), I tried to pay attention. I tried to realize all the facets of camp life a director must handle.
There are parents who need special attention for themselves and/or for their kids. There are caring camp supporters who notice a need for new baseball equipment and feel empowered and inspired to write a check. There are dozens of two-week faculty members (from our amazing regional URJ synagogues) who engage with him, making sure he knows who their congregation’s kids are that will be at Harlam. He takes calls and two-way radio shouts about dozen of things related to the facility and the new projects completed before our campers arrive this summer, and then checks on a supply order the Health Center didn’t receive. He coaches the first-year Food Service Director once more as he realizes this experienced professional has no clue what feeding over 750 people pizza all at once at our first lunch will really be like.
It’s amazing to watch him interact with his staff. When he sees potential, he reaches out and mentors strategically. Aaron lets them grow and make their own mistakes as long as they try to learn from their errors. Aaron knows their names (and when he may not, he makes it seem that way!). He guns that golf cart (at the top speed of 5 MPH!) from unit to unit to see if the staff members are executing the first day arrival plan to welcome families and engage them in the way that makes Harlam special. All the time, his walkie-talkie buzzes continually, communicating with many leaders of the various parts of camp life. Alex, Beth, Brett, Brian, Howard, Larry, Rachel and Vicki (the members of the year-round Pro Staff) all have specific tasks but everyone also lends a hand on the first day (and every day!) as needed.
Then he realizes that all the cute, newly-painted mailboxes from our Tikkun O-Camp day were not affixed permanently on cabin porches…put that on the “must do” list! The list never ceases; items come and go but little disappears.
And then there is a long, caring conversation with a young staff member facing a personal crisis. Another three calls from parents. Then there is the head lice checking company (who did a great job today) finishing up with all of the checks for the day, when Aaron decided he’d have them stay longer for some additional help. Yet another decision that yielded positive budget validation as the day unfolded. More meetings are scheduled, more notes are taken, more glances are given, more high-fives offered to others. The day begins to close, but only then does he begin to check his messages and catch up on e-mail. The prior night he worked until 3:00 AM (I can attest to that, because I was staying in “my room” at his house!). That doesn’t seem unusual. This is not a job for the faint of heart or those who lack endurance. This is a job with intrinsic benefits, adoration and an occasional pat on the back when things go right. More often it’s the hyper-focus on what’s not. And today was just “day one” with the campers.
My hat is off to all our camp directors who build great teams and stand on the front lines with their staff. May strength and health be your partners all summer long.