The Enliven! Blog

Helping Harness Human Capacity


Last week I had a number of experiences with the concept of “ownership”. The first of these experiences took place while taking part in board meetings of a national camping organization. There I learned that about 90 of the over 300 children’s camps in Ontario are owned privately. Although I had known there were a few private camps in that province, the fact that so many were owned privately was a shock to me. My experience has been with not for profit camps. I was less surprised to learn of the level of leadership and initiative provided to the camping movement as a whole by private camp owners.

Another aspect of ownership in the camp world has to do with nicknames! My camp background skipped this tradition, but I observed peers who were using nicknames for each other and even for their elders. There is something slightly exclusive about a nickname – after all, who owns the story as to the reason for that name? On the other hand, a nickname is a testament to the love and affection felt by the people who share the secret of the name.

Other stories about ownership in the wider camp setting were in the news recently. Ownership issues caused a clash of wills and actions when a multi site camping organization was forced by financial realities to close and sell some its sites, much to the chagrin and protest of local volunteers. Passions ran high and tempers flared as ownership was questioned, threatened and even revoked.

I also observed ownership in a positive sense in recent conversations with a number of small, often remote camps. The picture that was painted for me from several different locations was of a happy, harmonious, hard working board which supported the camp mission generously with their time and effort. There have been many other times when I have observed the dedication of a group of volunteers who tie up the camp in their heartstrings, and go to great lengths to see it prosper.

One aspect of ownership in the camp setting which has often given me first a chuckle, and then a bit of heartburn, is the ownership young camp staff express. There is no more traditional person than a 17- year old camp staff who, having painstakingly learned the ways of the camp, is now presented with an innovation or change. The words “ that’s not the way we do it here” or “that will never work” sound strange at first from a young person. When one hears these words in the context of the deep ownership of that person for their treasured camp experience, they don’t sound strange anymore.

Ownership is a wonderful thing, and it is a threat as well. I think camp operators and other leaders should promote healthy ownership. This means finding passionate people to join their cause; inviting board members and stakeholders to give generously of time, effort and money; learning and honouring the story of the camp and its champions; and involving people of a broad range of ages and backgrounds in the process of generating vision for the camp. At the same time, let camp operators beware of the dangers of owning so tightly that new ideas are spurned, that new faces are given the cold shoulder, and that persons who draw healthy boundaries around their volunteer commitments are disdained.

In the end, ownership is a spiritual question. A passion to serve, whether at camp or elsewhere, is a gift from God, placed into our hands for action. We use it best when we hold it lightly, giving it back at the end of the day to the One who gave it to us.

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