Thursday, April 29, 2010

Camp Anokijig- Blissfully Old-Fashioned

This is a picture of one of Anokijig's tent sections from the 1950s.  Stroll into a tent section at Anokijig today and things won't look all that different.  During rest hour, campers who aren't napping will quietly swap stories, read books or play games, just like some of their parents and grandparents did when they were campers.  Much at Anokijig has changed over the years, but many things have stayed the same.

We like to talk about the fact that anything you can do at Anokijig, you probably can't do at home and anything you can do at home, you probably can't do at Anokijig.  As we hear news reports of Boy Scouts earning awards for video game proficiency and schools teaching texting abbreviations as part of their spelling curriculum, we're glad Anokijig hasn't changed too much.  Anokijig is a video game-free and text-free zone.  For many of our campers, the last week they spend at Anokijig may be the last week they ever spend "disconnected" from the modern technology that surrrounds and permeates every facet of our lives.

Our campers communicate with each other through words and actions, not e-mails, texts and tweets.  Their parents mail them letters, that they will read over and over again and some of the kids will even send a letter or postcard home.  For many of our campers, Anokijig is an oasis of simplicity in a very complex world and that's just the way we like it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

How To Pick The Right Summer Camp For Your Kid

Barbara Rowley recently wrote an article for Parenting Magazine on how to pick the right summer camp for your child.  As a former camper and staff member herself, Rowley knows the ins and outs of sleepaway summer camps fairly well and her insight can be very valuable to families considering a sleepaway camp for their child.

Some of her key points for selecting the best camp for your child include the following-

A History
While Rowley knows there are some great new camps out there, she knows some experts and families believe that camps that have been operating for decades, especially with the same staff, has significant meaning.  Camp Anokijig has been in operating since 1926 and our core group of staff members- Jim Scherer, Darin Holden, Don Hill & Scott Stewart all grew up as campers at Anokijig and have more than 100 combined years of adult working experience at Anokijig.  Rowley states that in today's world, a camp simply couldn't stay in business for generations if it were unsafe or suffered from poor leadership and management.

A Philosophy
Rowley thinks it's important to know the philosophy of a camp before sending your child there and she's absolutely correct!  If you are looking for a camp that focuses on sports, there are hundreds to choose from, but Anokijig isn't one of them.  The week many children spend at Anokijig will be the most active week of their year, but it won't be spent on our soccer field or baseball diamond, because we don't have either.  We do play earthball and no one plays scatterball like we do, but they aren't the focal point of our activities.  We like to tell folks anything your child can do at Anokijig, they probably can't do at home and anything they can do at home, they probably can't do at Anokijig. 

An Emphasis on Creating a Community
Rowley believes good camps think about how they place kids together to create the most inclusive experience for all.  Anokijig has more than a dozen different tent sections and cabins, which allows us plenty of flexibility for assigning bunk space for campers.  Three years may not seem like a long time to adults, but we know it is an eternity for kids.  The social experience of camping is important and we know the differences between nine year old campers and 12 year old campers, because we see them every year.  While there are plenty of opportunities for all campers to interact, we do our very best to make sure kids are comfortable with the bunkmates in their sections and part of that is grouping kids appropriately by age.  Our size still allows us the flexibility to accomodate many requests for bunkmates.

A Well-Trained Staff
Rowley feels it is important for camps to be adequately-staffed and we couldn't agree more.  She suggests low ratios of 10 to 1 for kids ages 8 to 14.  Even during Anokijig's busiest weeks, our capacity is about 315 campers.  If we were at Rowley's low ratio, we'd only have about 32 staff members to monitor all those children.  Our actual ratio is far better than Rowley's, as our cooks feed more than 400 people during our busy weeks.  Rowley also feels it's important for staff to be background-checked and have plenty of references as well.  As an ACA-accredited camp, we follow all of those procedures for staffing and have known many of our current staff members, since they were campers at Anokijig.  We also run two weeks of staff training before the first summer camper even arrives at Anokijig.

An Element of Choice
One of the great things about a summer camp experience, is that a child is free from their daily, pre-set schedules.  When they arrive at Anokijig, we evaluate their swimming ability and then ask them to select two skills, from a wide variety of program areas.  Examples could include archery, arts & crafts, woodworking, fishing, trail crafts, and sailing.  Anokijig campers will devote time each day to their two choices, but we also leave plenty of unstructured free time, allowing campers the opportunity to try out other program areas as well.  Rowley believes this structure (or lack thereof) will help your child to feel more independent, especially if they are making the choices for which activities they participate in.

A Communications Plan
Rowley believes a consistent policy on camper phone use is important, as well as making sure there are procedures in place for contacting parents about upcoming events or if their child becomes sick or injured.  Safety comes first at Anokijig and a good portion of our camper orientation focuses on safety and emergency procedures.  Although cell phones are not allowed at Anokijig (and most don't work anyway), we always have staff on duty at all hours of the day and always have the ability to contact parents whenever needed.  We do encourage our parents and campers to write letters to each other throughout the week, but we know that frequent phone conversations can actually make it harder for both parents and children to be away from each other.

A High Standard of Accreditation
Rowley encourages parents to ask camps if they are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), which conducts on-site visits and reviews programs, facilities, and hiring and safety policies.  Rowley claims only the most professionally run camps qualify and we're proud to tell parents we scored a perfect 100 on our most recent ACA inspection.

Choosing the right camp can be a challenge for parents, but the experiences their children will have can last a lifetime and are well worth the effort.  If you'd like to read Rowley's entire article, you can find it here-

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Brief History of Camp Anokijig

We've noticed a spike in traffic lately to the Anokijig Insider. We're not sure why that has happened, but we're glad you're here. It did occur to us that you might not know anything about who we are or what we do, as many of our blogs are written with the idea that most of our audience is already familiar with Camp Anokijig. With that in mind, we'd like to use this blog to give a brief history of Anokijig.

In the mid-1920s, the Racine YMCA decided they wanted a summer camp for the boys in Racine and they gave two men the task of finding a suitable location, within a reasonable drive of Racine, Wisconsin. The ideal location would be a large parcel of land, located on a body of water that had not been over-run with development. Wisconsin was a popular weekend destination for the Chicagoland area in the 1920s, so this was no easy task.

The two men searched the 1920s version of Google (the real estate listings in local papers) and set out to find the perfect spot for a camp. As they continued to fan out from Racine, they stopped for lunch one day about 70 miles north of Racine, in a town called Plymouth. They were having trouble locating a lake and shared their story with the locals at the restaurant. Upon hearing their story, it was recommended that they take a look at Little Elkhart Lake, a body of water so hidden, many locals didn't even know how to find it, they just knew it was somewhere north of town.

The two men parked their vehicle and hiked through more than a half mile of Kettle Moraine forestland, before emerging on a shoreline and taking their first glimpse of Little Elkhart Lake. A local farmer was building a small cabin on the shoreline, but no other buildings were visible from their position and the water sparkled crystal-clear, with trees surrounding the shoreline and the only sounds coming from the birds in the area and the wind blowing through the trees.

The two men struck a deal with the farmer to lease both the cabin and 40 acres along the shoreline for $50 per year and Camp Anokijig was born. The idea of camping took hold in Racine and the first 40 acres was soon purchased and Anokijig's home was made permanent. In the subsequent years, more land was added and Anokijig's total acreage now approaches 400, including 3/4 of the water frontage on Little Elkhart Lake.

Camp Anokijig hasn't just grown in size. Our summer camp program now operates in nine one-week sessions and we welcome more than 2,000 summer campers (boys & girls) every year from more than 20 different states and seven foreign countries.

Why is Camp Anokijig still appealing after more than 80 years? Because kids are still kids and as much as the rest of the world has changed, much of Anokijig still remains the same. We've added quite a few cabins over the years, but many of our campers still sleep in platform tents. Our ranch program now has more than 50 horses, but it's still all located on our property and ranch campers still earn scarves in our Ranch Program.

We don't have any ipods, computers or cable TV for campers to use, but they can still shoot arrows, paddle a canoe or learn how to catch a fish. In short, anything a kid can do at home, they probably can't do at Anokijig and anything they do while they're at Anokijig, they probably can't do at home. Amazingly enough, even in the digital era we live in now, there's something very appealing about that to kids.

Getting back to the Anokijig story, Anokijig was struggling in the late-1970s and early-1980s. The Racine YMCA was even considering selling the camp at that time, but a former camper and staff member, Jim Scherer, stepped forward and offered to try and turn things around. No previous Camp Director had ever lived at Anokijig year-round, but Scherer felt that being here all the time was the only way to make the camp successful. Scherer was soon joined by other former campers and part-time staffers, Darin Holden, Scott Stewart, and Don Hill. Together they turned Anokijig around in a relatively-short amount of time and soon had it operating in the black.

The Racine YMCA continued to own Camp Anokijig until 2005. At that point, Anokijig had been operationally-profitable for more than 20 years, but the Racine YMCA found themselves in between a rock and a hard place and decided Anokijig had to be sold. Once again, Scherer and his staff rallied camp supporters and a grass roots effort was formed to save Anokijig from development.

A non-profit corporation was formed, financing was secured and the Friends of Camp Anokijig placed a successful bid to purchase Anokijig from the Racine YMCA. 2010 marks the fifth season of operation as an independent, non-profit youth and family camp, but the camping experience is very much the same as it has been for the last eight decades. Anokijig offers a wonderful environment, with a staff dedicated to maximizing the camping experience for all of our visitors.

There are plenty of great stories about Anokijig on this blog, but we'd encourage you to visit Anokijig in person, as there really is no substitute for the real thing. Thanks for stopping by and catching a bit of the Anokijig spirit!

Jim McIlvaine
Vice President, Camp Anokijig

Friday, April 16, 2010

Camp Still Needs Saving

"Hey Jim, why is that decal still on your truck, I thought camp was saved already?" That's a question I get quite often and the simple answer is that Anokijig isn't saved just yet. While Anokijig's future looks a lot better than it did five years ago, we still have a long way to go.

One of the problems we face is that it's difficult to keep banging on the drum and sustain an ongoing sense of urgency to retire the debt incurred back in 2005 to "save" Camp Anokijig. Many of the pledges made by our fantastic supporters have now been satisfied, while other well-meaning folks just haven't been able to come through on their commitments for a variety of reasons, including the downturn in the economy.

As time continues to pass, the bullet Anokijig dodged begins to look larger and larger. When camp was originally put up for sale, the economy had not yet hit the skids. Contractors, developers and architects were all still eyeing up every piece of lakefront property they could find, whether it was currently for sale or not. Camps like Singing Hills seemed to be falling like dominoes and I've often wondered what fate would have befallen Anokijig, had the Friends of Anokijig not secured the loans necessary to outbid those developers? The best I can come up with is that the hilly terrain would've made it unsuitable for a traditional development and it probably would've ended up as a golf course.

With the way the economy headed south shortly after our sale was finalized, a developer probably would've had just enough money to tear down all our key buildings and build three holes of a golf course and a model home or condo, before going belly-up. That would've left the property available for a camp again, but no infrastructure to support it. The logs of Western Lodge and our other beautiful cabins would've been sold off. Large tracts of our woodland areas would've been clearcut for fairways. The boathouse would've been dismantled to make room for a putting green overlooking the lake. All the fencing for the horses would've been yanked out and the land re-surveyed for a project that would've never been completed.

Even if Anokijig were put up for sale one or two years later than it was, the financial climate during that span changed so much, it's possible we wouldn't have been able to secure the loans necessary to purchase Camp.

It's scary to even think about those possibilities and while they may seem like they are a million miles away from us today, we're not out of the woods yet. While I'm happy to report that Camp Anokijig's future looks strong and robust, there is no telling what the future will bring. Will the economy rebound or will it take another downturn? Will the financial crisis that hit the home housing market soon hit the commericial real estate market and affect Anokijig's loans? The future can be difficult to predict, but I know as good as we all feel about Anokijig's future, we'll all feel a lot better once our debt is finally retired for good. Only then will Anokijig's destiny truly be in our own hands and not tied to the success or failure of financial institutions or parent organizations.

Our staff is certainly doing their best to eliminate our debt by finding additional revenue streams (new campers) and new donors. In fact, we've hired a fantastic woman named Mary Krahn, who has done a wonderful job of reaching out to folks in the area and helping them learn all about the fantastic benefits Anokijig provides for thousands of children and families each year. Even though Anokijig's history goes all the way back to Ray Vance in 1926, most of that history didn't involve Anokijig asking anyone for help. Doing so now is a relatively-new concept for a camp that has been operationally-profitable for more than two decades in a row, but we are making progress.

In the past few years, Anokijig has for the first time received grants and donations from many fantastic organizations and companies, who had no previous history of giving (many of them are listed on the right-hand side of this blog). Their generosity has helped fill the financial gap created by expiring or unfufilled pledges. We've also witnessed an increase in our group rentals and several of our summer camp weeks still sell out and have waiting lists.

The future looks very bright for Anokijig, but not without your continued support. If you are able to renew a pledge or make a tax-deductible donation, please do so- Even if you cannot share treasure with us, we still value you your time and talent. If you can volunteer at Anokijig or one of our off-site events, let us know-

Lastly, if you haven't been to Anokijig in a while, please come back and visit us. We'd love to catch up with you, show you how much Anokijig has changed and how much has stayed just the way you remembered it, whether you're 30 years old or a camper from the 1930s.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Little Elkhart- What a Great Little Lake!

We've all heard by now about Anokijig's Little Elkhart Lake being rated one of Wisconsin's best lakes-

What we don't often talk about is how Little Elkhart Lake is one of the world's best lakes for camping. Unlike the previous rating, this one isn't done by an impartial judge, but we have visited other camps and we know a good body of water when we see one.

Little Elkhart is about 60 acres in size and while that may not seem very big, it's nearly the size of an ocean in the minds of some of our campers. Little Elkhart also has a great shape to it, with lots of little nooks and crannies for fishing and several distinct bays. It's also one of those rare inland lakes that has an island (Optimist Island) and we own it! This unique shape also limits personal watercraft traffic and promotes camper safety, because there's only a small area of the lake that is further than 150 feet from shoreline. It's big enough for campers to go out in a boat and feel like they've gone on an adventure, but not so big, that we can't keep a good eye on them at all times.

While Little Elkhart has areas where the water can get as deep as 30 feet or so, most of the lake water is only about four to eight feet deep. That means it warms up quickly in the summer time, while other larger lakes take longer to get comfortable for swimming. Our beach is also the best spot for enjoying the lake, because the sun sets on the far side of the lake, keeping our campers comfortably warm well into the late afternoon hours.

The surrounding lakes around Little Elkhart also make our lake ideal for a summer camp. Elkhart Lake and Crystal Lake are both just a few minutes away and both lakes are much larger. That's great news for us, because that means most of the pleasure boaters will choose those lakes before they come to ours and that keeps our lake traffic to a minimum. Some camps are on lakes so big, they have to restrict the movement of their campers on the water, due to safety concerns. That's not an issue for us on Little Elkhart.

Even if a pleasure boater decides to come to Little Elkhart, when we let 50 campers loose in canoes, kayaks, rowboats, sailboats, sailboards and paddleboats, we pretty much decide what activites take place on the lake. Locals know this and as a result, when boats do come to Little Elkhart, they are usually just fishermen, looking for a quiet place to drop a line and catch a few largemouth bass.

Just having a lake is an important feature for a summer camp and we're fortunate to have such a great one, especially given the fact that some camps can only offer a swimming pool. One of the most important life skills a child can acquire on a visit to Anokijig is a level of comfort and confidence in water. It still surprises us to meet kids every summer who have never swam in non-chlorinated water! To those children, a freshwater lake can be a very intimidating environment.

Even though our lake is exceptionally-clean and crystal-clear, some children have a fear of the unknown and they are concerned about what lurks beneath the surface. That fear can turn a competent pool swimmer into a panic-stricken young child, but it often disappears when they see dozens of other children having the time of their lives in Little Elkhart.

Every camper that comes to Anokijig is given a swim test and those that cannot swim are given free lessons. By the end of the week, most of these campers can swim and the few who cannot are at least much more comfortable in the water, which is also important. We can't emphasize enough the importance of children getting comfortable in the water, because this could someday save their lives! We teach a lot of great life lessons and skills at Anokijig, but one that can actually save a life is hard to trump!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Did You Know Camp Anokijig has a YouTube Channel?

Did you know Camp Anokijig has it's own YouTube channel?  Anokijig's YouTube channel has several of the great videos you may have seen on various sites, all in one place.  We'll also be adding videos throughout the year.  If you have a favorite Anokijig video on YouTube, let us know, so we can include it in our favorites.  To visit our YouTube channel, just follow this link

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Camp Anokijig Announces New Skill for Summer Camp 2010- Levitation

Following a semi-successful trial run during Week 5 of the 2009 camping season, Program Director Darin Holden has decided to include Levitation as one of the new skills to be offered during the 2010 summer camping season.

"We offered Levitation in Week 5 last summer and had a great response," says Holden. "We had an issue with one...maybe two campers, who had a little trouble controlling their levitation and ended up over in Appleton. It's a good thing the winds weren't blowing out of the West that day, or they might have ended up in Lake Michigan. Other than those isolated instances, we think it was a success and expect it to be very popular in 2010."

Space is expected to be limited, given the popularity of this new program, so campers are encouraged to register today-