Who heck are Jack and Laura?
The Short Story...
Laura leads with connection through vulnerability. She is the heart and soul of the projects we take on. She cares deeply for the happiness and fulfillment of children and is constantly searching for and finding more effective ways to live in communities based on trust. She is our creative drive, always thinking bigger and dreaming up new ideas.
Jack struggles with rules, being told no, and sitting still. He is our technical support, finding ways to make the impossible possible and turn emotional instincts into logical processes. Never one to shy away from a problem, he is constantly searching for new truths and better ways to tell stories in the current contexts.
The Long Story...
Jack went to school for Industrial Engineering, the study of processes, at the University of Pittsburgh and Laura for Painting and Drawing at SUNY Purchase. After graduating we had no idea what to do or how to “spend the rest of our lives”, so we ran away. In classic millennial fashion, we packed up Laura’s 2000 Honda Civic and hit the road. We wanted to see the country, find ourselves, have an adventure… I think mostly we wanted to be together and didn’t know how. I had never been west of the Mississippi and we thought let’s take three months and have a road trip.
Camping Coast to Coast
So there we were, a packed up Honda Civic, no money, a hazy trip planned, and we have an idea. All throughout college we had worked at Camp Stella Maris outside of Rochester New York. We loved our time there and had interacted with a few other camps. We thought...
“Summer camps have beds... We need to sleep… How can we make this work?”
We started cold emailing camp directors, offering to volunteer in exchange for a place to crash. Surprisingly camp directors from all over the country not only responded, but took us up on our offer. It was amazing. We documented our journey and shared the best parts of each camp with other directors. It turns out no one had really done this before, and our three month trip turned into a two and half year research project visiting over 200 camps and 47 states. We end up speaking at dozens of summer camp conferences (yes there are conferences for everything) and building a little business doing freelance work for camps.
In 2015 we bootstrapped a little not for profit sleepaway camp dedicated to radical empathy. We built a website, found a facility to rent, and started recruiting campers and staff. That first summer, 2015, we ran for one week and had 64 campers. It was awesome, and it was hard. We learned a lot, and the biggest thing we learned was that Stomping Ground, our camp, will always be about mistakes. Making them, owning them, and working through them.
Stomping Ground has become our love. The thing we go to bed thinking about and wake up excited to work on. It has grown from that little side hustle to a pretty big operation. This summer we will serve about 500 campers over 6 weeks and hire more that 45 staff. Interested in working with us?
Mistakes have become a cornerstone of camp. As adults we love to talk about how it’s good for kids to make mistakes and learn from them, but rarely do we let kids see the mistakes we make. That first summer we thought things would be perfect. Quickly we learned otherwise. The food was always late, staff got lost leading kids to activities, we messed up the schedule, made plans we couldn’t keep, and a million other mistakes. It was messy.
It forced us to be honest.
We often had to look our campers in the eye and admit we messed up. At the time this felt like failure.
NOW IT FEELS LIKE FREEDOM.
Stomping Ground isn’t perfect.
It’s hard to admit that we aren’t perfect, but it allows us all to find new and interesting ways to partner together. Being able to make mistakes in a safe supportive community allows all of us to try new things, learn, and find authentic connection.
None of us are perfect. No one really knows the answers. By deciding what we want and going for it we learn. We learn how to get more of what we want, but we also learn if what we thought we wanted is what we are really hoping for.
Brene Brown, research and author, once said “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn't feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” By accepting and owning our mistakes we hope to start the path to the feelings of worthiness within our community.
We choose this story to describe who we are because it characterizes what we care about. That admitting we aren't perfect isn't defeat it is freedom, but it is also the beginning. We are enormously lucky, have worked hecking hard, and have a lot more we hope to accomplish. I hope this story humanizes us, inspires action, and allows for empathy.
Jack and Laura