Update: The site mentioned in this interview is no longer up. Which is unfortunate. All the links to the site have been removed from this post.
Not long ago there was a person leaving comments on some of my posts with links back to a site call Corduroy’s Button. Sometimes I like to check out the link(s). What I found was a blog, written by a woman who calls herself Miss Brenda, that was full of useful posts for recreation professionals. The posts were informative writings based on her experiences working in this industry. I love it when others take the time to share what they know and how they do things in the recreation and camp industry. Right now there are only a handful of us but I am hoping there will be more soon. I urge you to check out, and bookmark, her blog.
I wanted to find out more about Miss Brenda so I asked her if she would participate in an interview. She graciously agreed.
Moose: Hi, Brenda. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Tell us about yourself.
Miss Brenda: Well, I am anxious, for one. A blog interview! So much pressure. I searched my house for some…um…fermented grape juice to calm my nerves, but alas, I had to settle for the placebo effect of V8 Fusion on the rocks.
I started a little blog about two months ago to help record some of my programming thoughts and past plans, and it ran away with me. I am your average, work-a-holic, die hard football watching (Go Packers!), coffee loving, arts and crafting, vegetarian, Christian in her 20s. I studied social work in college and have worked with kids since middle school. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Moose: What recreation and camp experience do you have (day camps, resident camps, YMCAs, parks and recreation departments, churches)?
Miss Brenda: I would love to say that I have a ton of experience as a camp counselor and a camper, but I was only a counselor for one summer. Most of my experience is planning, leading and directing camp (or other, similar children’s programming). I worked as a counselor at a resident camp for a summer in college. The camp was a christian camp and focused on inner city kids who all came on scholarship. Later, I planned/lead 4-year-old day camp for a year at a YMCA, and I have planned and lead day camps at the Boys and Girls Club. I have other youth work experience teaching sunday school and youth group, nannying, mentoring and tutoring kids, assistant teaching preschool, working in refugee foster care and working at a youth shelter. I draw on these experiences a lot in how I relate to kids, staff and parents; how I present myself professionally; and how I approach safety, documentation and communication.
Moose: Which job did/do you prefer?
Miss Brenda: There were pros and cons of them all, but the experiences were all so different that it is hard to compare. Different organizational structure, different demographic, different rules and routines, different stage of my life, different roles that I held… Overall, my preference is day camp over resident camp because I am awful at setting boundaries between work and my personal life, and 11 hours a day is enough!
I now work at a Boys and Girls Club where I am the Program Director. I coordinate and plan the after-school program, camps and some special events, and in the rare case that one of those little lambs morphs into a raging beast and will not calm themselves, they usually get sent to me.
Moose: We all have our raging beast moments, don’t we? What are your favorite ages to work with?
Miss Brenda: Third-sixth grade boys who are hyperactive, emotionally volatile and get in trouble. You can only love someone as much as you know them. And you can only know someone as much as you spend time with them. Anyone who has worked with this age group of boys (especially as a point person for discipline) knows that you end up spending A LOT of time with them.
Runner up: Elementary kids with special needs or learning disabilities that effect their social functioning and ability to process new information.
Moose: I find that things are done differently in different parts of the country. For example, camp sessions on the West Coast are typically 1-2 weeks long as opposed to the East Coast where there are many more camps with 2-4 week long sessions. What part of the country are you from?
Miss Brenda: I live near the central coasts, ie, the Great Lakes. I have lived and worked with kids in 3 different midwestern states. Gotta love those Big Ten football tailgates, small town church potlucks and the vowel “o”.
Resident camp is usually in 1 week sessions, or 2 week sessions sometimes for specialty camps. Day camp is usually 1 week sessions as well, but in my experiences, with day camp, the same kids come for multiple sessions or even the whole summer.
Moose: Did you go to camp as a child and/or were you involved with youth programs through the parks and recreation department or a place like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club?
Miss Brenda: I went to resident bible camp for two weeks as a kid, and for a few years I went to my small town community center’s after school program. I was in sunday school and church youth groups growing up as well. Honestly, I didn’t like any of it very much. There were times that I didn’t even really like recess. I was painfully, PAINFULLY shy in public.
Moose: So that wasn’t the spark that ignited your passion for recreation?
Miss Brenda: Nope, not for recreation. But it was part of why I care about kids and people on the fringe. I was shy and awkward. I don’t think anyone meant to leave me out, but I left myself out by not being willing to put myself out there. By the time I got to high school, I had come out of my shell a bit and became the token “normal person friend” for pretty much anyone in my school who was considered a little less than cool. That same role has followed me (or perhaps pushed me) into social work and youth work.
For the Harry Potter fans like me, I am Helga Hufflepuff. I want to teach anyone who wants to be taught. I want to teach my kids, no matter what their skills or personality, to be loyal and hardworking and patient and kind. Even if they aren’t accepted at school, I want to be sure that the Club is a place where they are welcomed and loved just as they are.
Moose: Oh, a Harry Potter reference. Nice. Why did you start a blog?
Miss Brenda: I love working with kids and I enjoy writing. These are two of the few areas in my life where Extroverted Miss Brenda finally wins against Introverted Miss Brenda. So in part, I started it to meet Funny, Unabashed Miss Brenda’s desire to be let loose.
It was also to meet the needs of others. At times, I sit down and plan weeks and weeks of camp on end. For me, this means at least 6 activity or mini activity options each day, in addition to staff scheduling, making daily schedules, planning free time options and communicating with counselors. That, multiplied by weeks and weeks of camp equals A LOT of planning. I am a firm believer that anyone is creative enough to come up a plethora of what, at the Club, we call “high yield” activities (ones that meets multiple educational and entertainment goals) and can create and follow a great theme with those activities. It takes a long, long, long time though. With that much planning at once, a little help never hurts. I create most activities on my own or along with our counselors, but I try to add in a few pre-made games as well to save time and energy.
I have found that online sources rarely have many quality ideas and activities that work for a broad age range and can be done on a budget. I hope to help fill that need by sharing some things that I have done.
Moose: So what resources (books, websites, etc.), besides your blog, would you recommend to camp and recreation professionals?
Miss Brenda: Honestly, Google. Even just figuring out what to search is an exercise in focusing your task and objectives, and few sites are going to provide what you need every time.
Also, finding a few favorite blogs and websites to check regularly can be incredibly helpful in keeping yourself fresh. I view myself primarily as a teacher, so I frequent teacher blogs and education websites. For crazy, off the wall games, I head to youth group websites and blogs.
I find myself returning to the sites below over and over…
www.pbs.org (Both the parent and teacher sections are helpful- contains childhood development, lesson plans, games and discipline tips.)
www.kidactivities.net (Some activity inspiration.)
www.ultimatecampresource.com (The way this is organized frustrates me, because our camp is very theme based and this site is not. There are some great basic games and time fillers on here though.)
www.thesource4ym.com/games (Games, games and more games. This is where I go for ideas of how to get kids messy.)
www.pinterest.com (If you are not on pinterest, drop what ever you are doing this instant and go there now!! It is similar to twitter, but with pictures which makes it so much cooler. I browse the arts and crafts section and the education section for work ideas.)
Moose: Check out pinterest.com, got it. What is your favorite camp theme?
Miss Brenda: Anything that lets kids go crazy and pushes (or perhaps shatters) the boundaries of acceptable social behavior. With preschoolers it was “Mud Pie” where the goal was to get kids messy. At the Boys and Girls Club it has been “Controlled Chaos.” A community partner donates a dunk tank for a day, kids get messy on purpose, and we play crazy games that usually involve touching, smelling or tasting gross foods. Unfortunately, my favorite camp themes tend to also be the favorites of bugs and flies.
Moose: Controlled Chaos – Isn’t that another name for youth recreation? What is your favorite group game?
Miss Brenda: Ooo… This is a tough one. It depends almost completely on setting, age and time of day. I am a big fan of team scavenger hunts, relays and obstacle courses because they are fun, and as far as planning goes, can be adapted to just about any theme or objective. I also love any activities where kids have to create art in teams(a puppet show, a skit, a city out of recyclables, etc) since they develop creativity and character at once. The debriefing sessions after these activities tend to be epic. Overall though, my favorite game is probably kickball.
Moose: It’s hard to beat the classics. Next time you play kickball try using different types of balls (football, beachball, x-large playground ball, etc.). It’s fun to watch and play. What is your favorite camp song? skit?
Miss Brenda: For early elementary/preschool age kids: Herman the Worm (I like to insert their family member or friend’s names, or landmarks for the camp for what Herman ate). For mid-elementary age kids: Boom Chicka Boom…I think that this song wins all time best camp song ever – hands down. For late elementary age kids: I love having them make their own.
I love skits of any kind, but ones that make counselors look goofy are the best. Some of the best ones I can remember were goodbye skits for staff who were leaving. We had a staff be the arms for another who was leaving and help him “get ready” in the morning for a job interview. He ended up with colored hair, milk running down the front of him, and cucumbers on his eyes. Another good one was “A Year in Fast Forward” where we let our camp director who was leaving experience future club events like crazy hair day, a makeover for Girls Night, snow days (sprinkling or perhaps pouring flour over her), and the annual end-of-the-year pie in the face.
Moose: If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?
Miss Brenda: I secretly, or not so secretly, want to be Harry Potter. I know that isn’t a super power, but its all I’ve got.
Moose: Not Hermoine, huh? If you were given a 2 week all expense paid vacation where would you go?
Miss Brenda: It would be a toss up between northern South America (I hear Venezuela likes to have visitors from the US), or Spain/Morocco, or India, or Greece, perhaps Ireland…
Moose: Nobody ever says Canada or Russia. What’s up with that? Do you have a motto?
Miss Brenda: “Do no harm” – There are side effects to everything we do. I hope to think things through enough to be able to weigh the pros and cons of all options and then choose the most beneficial and least harmful one.
Moose: What is one quote you really like?
Miss Brenda: “…in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
Moose: What is your favorite book?
Miss Brenda: Anne of Green Gables. I am Anne Shirley.
Moose: What is your favorite movie?
Miss Brenda: When kids ask: Mulan. When grown ups ask: Oceans Eleven. The truth? Probably Mulan.
Moose: Your blog is very young but there are some great posts. How often do you plan on posting? Do you have enough material to continue posting on a regular basis?
Miss Brenda: Why thank you! I have a habit of finding life lessons and reflections on my work every 5 minutes or so. I also have an annoying compulsion to share. When I am 90 and no longer remember my name, I may still have things to say about youth work.
Moose: What does the future hold for Miss Brenda? Are there any plans for a podcast, newsletter, book, videos, trainings, etc?
Miss Brenda: Haha… My mother has wanted me to write a book since I was about age 8; she will be thrilled at this question. I don’t have any plans or leanings in this direction as of right now, but I am open to wherever God wants to lead me in the future. Someday I would like to be certified to teach the Enneagram (a personality theory) and lead training seminars in it.
Moose: Does everyone call you Miss Brenda or only the kids? What about the teens?
Miss Brenda: Miss is actually my first name and Brenda is my middle name. My mom wanted to make sure people treated me with respect. Just kidding. That was a joke.
Where I work now, kids are all expected to call every staff and volunteer by “Miss” or “Mr.” Teens often “forget,” and I usually act incredibly offended or tease them about it for the rest of the day… unless they are in trouble. In most of my volunteering and nannying experiences, and when working at YMCA camp and preschool, I called all kids by “Miss” and “Mr” and they returned the favor.
My roommates have actually taken to calling me Miss Brenda at times, and that is how I usually refer to myself when talking in third person to my roommate’s dog. Outside of work, it has become a joke. When Aaron Rodgers finally gets it together and asks me to marry him, I won’t make him call me Miss.
Moose: I’m sure he’ll appreciate that. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Miss Brenda: I just want to say thank you, Curt, for interviewing me! I love your site and am excited to keep learning from your blog posts.
My life mission is to get my name out there enough that Aaron Rodgers learns my name and mentions me in a post game interview. “I think we did pretty well today- a few dropped passes and we would like to clean up some of our other fundamentals. Our opponent played great. I just want to give a shout out to Miss Brenda at Corduroys Button and ask her to marry me.” *Championship Belt/Discount Double Check*
Thank you, Curt. Thank you for helping me fulfill this dream.
Moose: It’s my pleasure, Brenda. And thank you for answering my crazy questions. I wish you a ton of success on your blog and future plans, including your pursuit of Aaron Rodgers. 🙂
Show your support of camp and recreation bloggers by visiting and commenting on their sites. You can visit Miss Brenda’s site by clicking on Corduroy’s Button.
I added a video about Aaron Rodgers below for fun.