Q&A with Purchase Day Camp Director Jim Kelly

Features Editor Laurie Yarnell chats with Purchase Day Camp Director Jim Kelly about building memories, lost bathing suits, and Barracuda campers and parents.



Photo by John Rizzo

What is a child’s worst fear about camp?
That he won’t have any friends.

And his parents’?
Aside from safety—their kids have to come home the same way they left—parents also worry that their child won’t have any friends. To allay those fears, we work hard on developing the group identity—we are ‘The Barracudas,’ and everyone’s included and no one is on the outs.

How long have you been working at Purchase Day Camp?
I started in 1977 when I was fourteen years old as a recreational leader and worked my way up through the ranks. This is my fourteenth summer as director.

How have campers changed during that time?
Their maturity level has changed dramatically—the fifth-grade kids we see now are equivalent to the second graders of thirty-five years ago in terms of independence. The kids are much less independent overall and more dependent on their parents, camp staff, and their friends.

And their parents?
Parents today don’t let their kids fail. That’s one of the things we try and do—to let them not succeed. When you fail, you try again. The life skill isn’t climbing the rock wall. It’s perseverance—and learning that trying again is the way to achieve success.

Give us an example of no-fault parenting.
When a child didn’t want to be called out in a game of kickball, he hit the activity leader. We talked to him about ‘when you are out, you’re out’; those are the rules. When we called his parents, they asked, ‘Well, what did that counselor do to make him behave that way?’ There’s always an excuse. That kids do these kinds of things is okay, but we need to teach them that it’s not right and how to
handle disappointment.

What makes camp worthwhile?
We are aware that people pay a lot of money for camp in general, but, aside from some arts-and-crafts or cooking projects, there’s nothing tangible to show for it. Rather, camp is an experience—and it’s the relationships, feelings, and memories that make it worthwhile.

What concerns you about today’s campers?
We’re seeing greater levels of stress. Expectations are so high for kids today.

Who are the parents you remember and why?
It’s unfortunate, but you tend to remember the parents who are more in your face. Each season, you’re going to have about ten parents unhappy, no matter what. But that means another three hundred and ninety or so of them are happy and their kids are having a great time.

Which unhappy parent sticks out in your mind?
We had a parent of a kindergartner who lost a bathing suit and she went ballistic with the team leader, bringing her to tears. When we asked the mom what the suit looked like so we could try and find it, she said she didn’t know, and further, that it wasn’t labeled because she didn’t have time to do that. So we asked for her permission to write her kid’s name in all of his clothing.