All Kids Are Special: Why Inclusion Matters

All Kids Are Special: Why Inclusion Matters & How We Do It

Every single one of us has a purpose, and every single one of us belongs. This is a guiding principle for SpringHill. Inclusion matters. We do whatever it takes to include every child – the impact means the world to each of them.

I have seen this firsthand each week of every summer. One particular example is that of a young man by the name of Marcus. I first noticed him one session scooting around in a wheelchair having a blast. Later that summer, I was back at that camp in almost the exact same setting, and curiously, I saw Marcus again, cruising around like he had been doing earlier in the summer. Now, our experiences are a two-week program, so he shouldn’t have been there. But he was back.

I walked up to him. “Marcus, I see you’re back. Why are you here, doing this all over again?” His answer encapsulates the essence of our experiences. He said, “When I’m at SpringHill, it’s the only time I feel like a normal kid.”

That is the SpringHill experience – embracing all kids, taking them for who they are and how they’re created, including them. We don’t separate those with disabilities or special needs into subgroups. We include them in the community, and Marcus felt a part of this small community of campers and staff. The fact that he was in a wheelchair wasn’t a hindrance; it was a benefit. He took advantage of it, and he just loved being part of a team and a part of the community as a whole.

Marcus reflected on the joy that comes with being part of our community. It’s one of my favorite mental pictures when I think of SpringHill: Marcus growing up through SpringHill, serving, giving back, and being embraced by the community. And in that embrace, he understood the love of Christ because of what he experienced in that community, and what he learned in serving.

We believe that all children, all people, are created in the image of God, and thus deserve the to be treated and served as one. Thus – no matter their situation or disability – are welcomed and encouraged to come. We figure out how make their experience be the best it can be by creating a tailored plan of care for your child, including one-on-one attention. We have nursing and medical staff on hand to address all their needs. And as with all our kids, our staff members are all fully trained to make sure that all dietary and physical needs are met.

We are all God’s children – our camps reflect this. SpringHill exists to create experiences where Christ can transform the lives of young people. These experiences include embracing all kinds of kids, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done, or where they’ve come from. We hope you’ll give your child – no matter their personal challenges – the opportunity to experience SpringHill and to be embraced for who they are. Learn more by visiting, springhillexperience.com

Summer Camp

4 Ways to Mentally Prepare Your Kids for the Best Week of Summer

It’s May!  The best week of your child’s summer is just about here.  To help them prepare for an amazing week, consider having a conversation with them about the following four ways to prepare for, and maximize, their time at SpringHill this summer:

  1. Be open to adventure and new experiences. Campers will face challenges and adventures right alongside cabin mates and their leaders. After all, we don’t go through this life alone; we get to go on this adventure together! From the heart-pumping zipline, to kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddle boarding, where campers learn how to navigate their way through the summer camp waters, and from The Gusher, a new twist on the waterslide, to our fifty-foot climbing wall, SpringHill summer experiences spurs children to grow and mature, to gain independence. When kids come prepared to try new things and be open to adventures, they experience greater self-confidence and inner-strength.
  2. Be prepared to find God in unexpected ways. There are lots of different ways to learn something. At SpringHill, we want kids to learn about Jesus, but we also want them to experience the truth of the Gospel through doing something they will remember for the rest of their lives. Kids hear about Jesus throughout their week, they see Jesus through our leaders, and they experience Jesus by doing things that require courage, community, trust, and faith. Even after two decades at SpringHill, I still marvel at how the young people find Christ not only in quiet contemplation and Bible study but just as likely on the zipline, or talking quietly at the evening campfire about God’s presence in their day. We believe those are the things that kids will be able to refer back to time and time again on their spiritual journey, and we believe that’s what makes the difference. Experience is everything at SpringHill, and we know it’s what kids take back home with them after a week with us.
  3. Look to your leader as a source of support and friendship. Our leaders are the ones who make all the difference at SpringHill. Far more than anyone else in our ministry, they embody The SpringHill Way. They are specially trained to impart God-centered values without being preachy or judgmental or overly pious, for young children and teens are still forming their ideas about faith. We designed SpringHill to have fairly low ratios of leaders to kids, both for our day camps and our overnight camps. Even when we do retreats, we have that same kind of requirement. The beauty of this design is that throughout the week, when kids and counselors are doing things together, maybe on the zipline or riding horses or participating in water activities, they’re all doing these things together. Those shared experiences become a key part of community building.
  4. Unplug and connect with peers in the best way possible. SpringHill campers have the opportunity to hone their social skills. Perhaps more than at many less personable camps, SpringHill engages kids in conversation with leaders as well as fellow campers. They’re not having discussions about what’s on Instagram or TV. SpringHill offers children an environment where they are encouraged to interact and talk to other children and their counselors. This helps build interpersonal skills and takes children away from the computer screen and into real, face-to-face interaction with others. While at SpringHill, our campers will make friends and build relationships, many of them blossoming into lifelong friends. The young people build relationships on solid foundations of trust and camaraderie through small-group time, camp activities, quality time around campfires and meals, and in one-on-one chats with counselors or between campers.

We can’t wait to have your child with us this summer to encounter life-changing experiences.  Learn more about all the camps we offer by visiting, springhillcamps.com

Core Values

Core Values: How to Identify & Use them to Guide Your Actions

In the quiet moments of the day, do you ever reflect on what’s important to you and why? Have you stopped to think about why your priorities are what they are?  Each of us is driven by different motivations based on what we value.  God created each one of us to be unique for a reason, which is what makes getting to know one another so interesting and fun.

Identity is one of the most important things we will ever discover. Have you really thought about who you are? What drives you? What motivates you? What makes you different from everyone else? We all have goals in life, yet do we know how to achieve them? Are you guided by just your desires, or do you have a set of core values steering you?

At SpringHill we needed to figure out who we were before we could help anyone find out who they are.  We made a priority early on to figure out what our core values were and to make sure our decisions reflected those values, always. After careful consideration and reflection, we discovered a unique set of four core values:

  1. Contagious joy: creating life-transforming experiences by combining faith and fun, innovation and the hope of the Gospel.
  2. Relational focus: working in the context of personal, loving, and caring relationships.
  3. Adventurous faith: leaving room for God to work, being open to taking risks, knowing that He can do immeasurably more than we can imagine.
  4. Holy discontent: always striving to grow in Christ through professional curiosity, continuous improvement, and professional and personal sanctification.

Interestingly, we don’t just apply these core values to our campers’ experiences but also to ourselves as well. These four values provide understanding around why we do things the way we do, what we call The SpringHill Way. And these values truly are our core. They aren’t something I brought to SpringHill personally; they’ve been with us since the very beginning.

When it comes to creating SpringHill experiences, we only align ourselves with people who can live those values, truly. What that measure does is allow us to end up with a team of people, not only our team of staff and the people we hire in the summer but also donors and board members and volunteers who line up with those four core values. So that’s our secret sauce. And it really is the tangible expression of those values that we hold dear, and those beliefs that we hold in our hearts to be true.

Take the time to figure out your core values and what you want to accomplish in life.  When you do, the ability to achieve those goals will only improve and you will find success!

How I Lead SpringHill by Submitting to God’s Wisdom

When I was younger (and a bit naïve), I believed I could fulfill my personal mission of serving others, especially young people, through ownership in successful businesses thereby donating tons of money and free time to changing the world. But as any good entrepreneur knows, start-ups require every ounce of your time, energy, talent, and financial resources. At the end of the day, I simply had nothing left to give.

At the time, my good friend, Mark Olson was President of SpringHill. Both of us were married, both of us had four kids, and our families spent a lot of time together. Mark and his father had created not just a place but an experience at SpringHill, an experience that was both innovative and extremely popular. The ministry had finally grown to the point where it was decided to open a second camp in southern Indiana. Mark wanted freedom to travel to Indiana and spearhead the effort, but the SpringHill board was reluctant to have him do this if he didn’t provide a replacement for himself at our camp in Michigan. That’s when he asked me to take over as the Michigan SpringHill Director. Needless to say, I was both humbled and thrilled. Business with a purpose, the two things I loved.

Then tragedy struck.

Mark became ill and would pass several months later due to an aggressive form of leukemia.  Not only had I lost a dear friend, but SpringHill had lost its leader, its heart. Our team worked to make sure the magic and impact of SpringHill would live on, but we would need to understand what the future looked like without Mark.  Little did I know; the board had devised a succession plan long before Mark was ever sick. And I was in the middle of that succession plan.

Zero to sixty: I had gone from being the Michigan Camp Director to being the President of SpringHill in three short, fast years. It was then that I realized the opportunity before me to truly be a leader who leads as a servant. To pick up the reigns and serve a greater purpose despite my insecurity of not being Mark Olson, or even an Olson.

I knew I had a love of learning, teaching, coaching, and nurturing the spirits of others to help them become better leaders and followers of Christ, eager to share His word – but, was I ready for this?

How often do we feel like Moses, being asked to accomplish something that seems entirely too big for us to achieve?  How many of us respond to those calls as Moses did, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, New International Version).

I too asked God, “Why do you have me in this job? I’m no Mark Olson.” But something occurred to me not long after that must have been the reassurance Moses received when he had verbalized his concern: “And God said, “I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:12, New International Version).

God has a plan for each and every one of us, above and beyond what we could possibly anticipate.  Each of us has a calling to become an influential servant leader if we chose to let go of our fear and insecurity.  God uniquely equips us to accomplish the tasks that He’s called us to, we need only have the faith to press on.

As leaders, we must always remember we’re never quite ready for the assignments that come our way (whether we know this or not), but in humility, we must submit to God’s wisdom, seek the input from trusted advisors, and lead from a posture of listener and learner.

Mantra

You’ve Made Your Resolutions. Now, What’s Your Personal Mantra This Year?

The gifts are unwrapped and decorations are being put away.  The radio station that was once playing Christmas music all day, every day, is back to the soft rock playlist.  Holiday dinners are over and lights on homes are slowly disappearing.  Just like that, we find ourselves in a New Year.

The new year welcomes the tradition of setting new goals and identifying new priorities for the upcoming months.  Many of us sit down and contemplate resolutions to improve and be better in a number of areas.  Some of these resolutions are likely the same as those that have been committed to before; others may be different.

Consider your resolutions for a moment and what they say about you and what you are prioritizing in your life right now.  Based on that reflection you can determine what your personal mantra is for the year. Not sure where to start?  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I exist? What purpose do I fulfill, and what difference do I want to make in the world? This is a question we at Spring Hill ask ourselves frequently and feel that is just as applicable as individuals. For us, searching for these answers has led to the recognition and dedication to our purpose – or mission statement.  So, our answer to these questions is ultimately, “To glorify God by creating life-impacting experiences where young people can come to know Jesus Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.”

 

  • What’s most important to me? What am I most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for?

At SpringHill we answer this question with an acronym we have for our core values: ARCH, which stands for adventurous faith, relationally focused, contagious joy, and holy discontent. These core values define the kind of organization we are, how we accomplish it, and why it is important to us.

Ponder these questions for yourself and how they align with the resolutions you hope to accomplish.  Try identifying what your core values are and as a result, discover your mission statement or personal mantra for 2019.  When you do, your goals will be a manifestation of these values – helping you be intentional and specific about how you approach those resolutions and experiences.

For our organization, our goals and objectives span the entire year but are most actionable during the summer months.  At the end of those months, after a summer of executing against those goals, there’s a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  You too can experience this satisfaction with yourself next year as you take stock of how you achieved objectives that supported your personal mission statement.  What does God have in store for you this year?

Jesus Christ

The Gospel Made Known: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ in Our Lives

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

When you read this scripture, do you happen to sing it to yourself?  This, along with many other prophetic verses from Isaiah are beautifully sung to music written by Handel each Christmas season to celebrate the birth, life, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This music along with so many others capture the reverence, joy and love that stirs within us as we reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.

It’s a magical time of year that inspires kindness, service, gratitude and love. It’s also a time of year that can cause stress, anxiety and loneliness when we focus too much on the secular traditions of the season. The solution to this is to remember the “reason of the season” – the birth of Jesus Christ and what that event meant for mankind.

To help keep our priorities, focus, and intentions aligned with the real meaning of Christmas, let me suggest three ideas to integrate within your celebrations this year:

  • Turn to Scripture – Take the time to read the account of Jesus’ birth in the gospel of Luke as well as his life and ministry in the other gospels. Remind yourself of these accounts and discuss them with your family.  Many enjoy reenacting the nativity with their friends and families to make the events of that evening more realistic to little ones. Talk about why His life was important, the principles He taught, and the miracles He performed.
  • Reflect on Your Relationship with Jesus – When we contemplate our blessings and our personal relationship with Christ, it will automatically make the holiday more meaningful as we make it about our gratitude for Him and not solely about the gifts under the Christmas tree. One way my wife, Denise, and I helped our children remember who to be focused on is by reminding them that it is Jesus’ birthday that we celebrate, with a birthday cake and all. It helped them remember what Christmas was all about and to celebrate Him with as much enthusiasm as crafting a wish list for Santa.
  • Do It Unto the Least of These – In Matthew we are taught the importance and significance of service toward one another. In Matthew 25:40, Christ teaches, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” When we take the time to serve and love one another, we are, in essence, serving and loving God.  Take the opportunity to serve – even in small ways; you will discover God’s love for you and for those you serve.

Let us approach this Christmas season with purpose and joy.  Let us truly exclaim “Joy to the World!” and “Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!” as we sing beloved Christmas hymns and songs throughout the holiday.  Let us be inspired to apply His gospel in our lives each and every day!

Unplugging

The Great Outdoors: How Unplugging and Descreening Can Change Your Life

For many, the holidays are a time of joy, family time, and festivities; but for others, the holidays can be a source of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses due to certain holiday stressors. As the holiday season approaches, we can take this opportunity to shed light on my favorite way to relieve stress and be truly present for the holiday season by unplugging and experiencing the great outdoors.

Mental illness ends up affecting up to 80% of the population at some point in our lifetime according to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. That’s a pretty staggering number when you consider each of these people as individuals. No doubt every one of us has either experienced or know someone close to us who has suffered from some form of mental illness. With the pressures and expectations many of us and our young people are experiencing, mental health awareness is more important than ever.

Adding to the normal stressors of the holidays, today’s prevalence of technology and social media hasn’t helped.  Don’t get me wrong, technology can be a good thing – it allows us to connect to others more easily than ever before, it provides access to more information than we could have ever dreamed and helps different areas of our lives progress and develop in positive ways.  However, as with anything – what can offer blessings, can present some curses as well.

With each of us becoming more and more reliant on technological devices and the applications on them, it’s no wonder behaviors have changed…not all of them for the good.  Any amount of research on social media and the impact on one’s mental health will uncover countless studies that all point to similar findings: too much social media negatively impacts our self-esteem human connection, memory, sleep, attention span, and mental health.

What’s an Antidote?   

Everyone’s health and circumstances are uniquely theirs.  However, there is one common antidote that can help: unplugging and spending time in the outdoors.  For over 20 years, I’ve witnessed the transformation of many lives, as people from all kinds of backgrounds and circumstances spend time in God’s creation at SpringHill.  Granted, there are a number of critical factors involved in these transformations – the presence and recognition of God’s love being the most significant.  However, the location and environment of SpringHill Experiences are not an accident.  Being outside, amongst nature and the beauty of the outdoors, is a healing component to our souls.

In fact, the previously mentioned consequences due to social media can be reversed and improved by increased time spent outside!  Time outdoors connects us with something greater than ourselves.  An A Huffington Post article written several years back cited multiple findings that proved the following seven things about spending time in the outdoors:

  • Getting outside makes exercise easier
  • It can spur weight loss
  • Nature increases brain function
  • It increases our vitamin D intake
  • Helps the aging process
  • Wonderful for stress-reduction
  • Makes us happy

The health benefits are apparent, and we also know that this is no accident. We were meant for connection with God, and what better way than to spend time in his creation?

Decreased Screen Time + Increased Outdoor Time = A Healthier, More Joyful You

The facts are out there: getting out from behind our screens and into nature does wonders for both our physical and spiritual selves.  It’s why cell phones are off limits during our campers’ time at SpringHill. There’s no constant checking of social media to distract them from Christ’s message. Instead, kids find faith in having fun in the outdoors and building friendships. And, it works – they wouldn’t have it any other way.

By enjoying the beautiful environment around them, without technological distractions, they are encouraged to interact and talk to other kids and their counselors. This helps build interpersonal skills and takes them away from the computer screen and into real, face-to-face interaction with others – not to mention increasing their ability to appreciate God’s creations that are all around them.

I’ve seen it for myself. The power of unplugging and, instead, exploring, racing, tumbling, connecting with real people, and taking in the beauty all around us.  It is our hope that disconnecting with technology and connecting with nature and loved ones will not only help manage the stress of the holidays—but manage the stress of everyday life.

Further reading

To me, there are few more important topics than this, and so I wanted to make a few recommendations for those of you interested in deeper insights regarding technology, its effects, and our innate need to connect with nature.

  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, by Richard Lou
  • The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, by Richard Lou

Happy Holidays! I know the weather often presents a challenge connecting with nature this time of year, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the summer at SpringHill. I’d love to talk to your group about how we create the SpringHill Experience.

summer

Closing Thoughts on a Great Summer and What’s Next?

Wow, what a summer we had this year. With fall in full swing and new extracurriculars having inevitably taken over, each of us is feeling the pull of competing obligations and priorities.  Have we already forgotten what happened at SpringHill?

I hope not – I sure haven’t.  From the middle of May, until the final SpringHill Experience is finished in the middle of August, I feel as though I’m shouldering a great weight: the responsibility for the lives of all these people. But at the same time, I’ve also just lived four months off the inspiration and energy that comes from working with such an amazing, embracing, talented, committed, and diverse SpringHill community: professional staff who worked hard the prior eight months to have us ready for summer and then served tirelessly almost every day, all day, for four straight months.

Last year, when our summer ended, we said goodbye to nearly 27,000 children and teens and 950 young adult leaders in over 130 SpringHill locations throughout nine states. Yes, at SpringHill, we pack 80 percent of our direct missional work into four months.

Like anything that is hard work and requires much of us, it’s both fulfilling and difficult to have it come to an end…temporarily.  As happens when finishing a long race, or accomplishing a significant goal, or coming off an adrenaline high, finishing a SpringHill summer means coming off the mountain. It means adapting to a new season of planning and steady work, looking ahead to what’s next.

So, what is next?  Where do we all – campers, leaders, etc. – go from here?

As we tell kids at SpringHill, you can’t stay on the mountain forever; you have to go back home. For us too, SpringHill summers don’t last forever. We have to go back home (or to the office) and begin hosting retreats and getting ready for another summer. There’s new work to be done, places to go, people to meet.

My hope is that we will all reflect on the life-changing experiences that occurred this past summer – those that happened to us personally and those that we witnessed.  I hope that we can reflect on two separate groups of questions that have been asked of SpringHill as an organization, but could be asked of ourselves as individuals having had the SpringHill experience:

  1. Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is, typically, expressed in a purpose or mission statement. At SpringHill, we answer this question with our mission: “To glorify God by creating life-impacting experiences where young people can come to know Jesus Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.”

 

  1. What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? At SpringHill, we answer this question with an acronym we have for our core values: ARCH, which stands for adventurous faith, relationally focused, contagious joy, and holy discontent. These core values define the kind of organization we are, as well as how we work with each other and all our stakeholder groups: kids, families, allies, donors, and staff.

Now that it’s Fall, I hope we can each reflect on why we exist and what is most important to us with new perspectives and inspiration.  I hope those quiet – and not so quiet – moments of personal faith-building help answer those questions with clarity that carry all of us through the rest of this year and onto another amazing SpringHill summer.

If you’re interested in creating similar experiences for your youth group or faith group, check out one of my workshops.