My colleague, Kathy Russ, returned from her lunchtime walk the other day full of cheer, this time having happened upon the gleeful sounds of children coming from a neighbor’s porch. She’d walked by a home and heard the sounds of two happy Clubbies, delightfully recounting their morning’s activities with much excitement and singing a Clubbie chant – “Hear me roar!” – at the top of their lungs.
Through the years the magic of Clubs in Montreat endures…which makes the following story a little awkward, I guess, because I remember well my first week of Clubs. Back in the summer of ’67 or so, on the first day of my Montreat vacation, my mother enrolled me in the Kindie program. On the appointed morning, she walked me from our house on Alabama Terrace to the Kindies building (now serving as a mighty fine post office). I recall the antique fire truck in the front yard and a swarm of kids crawling all over it. I remember an arts project where I pounded a piece of metal into an ashtray for my family of non-smokers. Mostly, though, I remember hating the whole thing. Whether on the second day or the third, I decided that enough was enough. Mid-morning, I turned my back to the Kindies and marched home. I told my mom I wasn’t going back, and she must have taken me seriously because I didn’t go back – for years.
I tell this story often, sometimes as testimony to parents whose children don’t like Clubs. I found it preferable for a good chunk of my childhood to hike Lookout and enjoy Robert Lake Park without counselors. I found it possible to make friends, discover short cuts to the pool, and find a partner at the square dance without Clubs. I did all of that and more.
Fortunately, my parents eventually convinced me to give Clubs another try, and the second time it stuck. I remember my counselors, the chants and songs they taught me, and the friends I made. I’m grateful for all of it. Every now and then, though, I’ll see some kids playing on their own, perhaps pitching a frisbee with their dad at Dowd Green, drawing up a dragon in chalk on the street, or rock hopping with a friend in Flat Creek. I like to imagine those children as inheritors of a different legacy – one of coming to love Montreat on their own schedule and on their own terms. Good for them.
One detail in the story above may seem unlikely to modern ears, but it’s true. One second, I was standing in the Kindies playground, the next I had released myself on my own recognizance and was walking home. As far as I remember, nobody noticed.
Times have changed, of course, and so have expectations and practices for the Clubs Program. For all the nostalgia about the freedom of our youth, today’s parents join the MRA in wanting their children safe and well-tended. One consequence of new standards has been the placing of limits on the size of Clubs groups (due to staff, space, and program constraints).
This summer, the demand for Clubs programming has been unusually high, inevitably leading to some difficult conversations with families. Here, in the busiest weeks of the season, I offer a few observations:
- I am sorry if you were unable to enroll your child this summer. I dearly wish that every child could have the experience in Clubs that I had (eventually). Our mission is to welcome ALL to Montreat as best we can, and it hurts to consider that some children who would participate in our programs cannot do so.
- While I remember a world in which the Clubs director once tasked three counselors to look after 80-100 PJs for six hours a day, that world is gone. Our evolving understanding of good child care and youth programming compels us to maximize the safety and experience of the participants, and group-size limits are a function of that.
- Our registrars and the Clubs and Recreation staff do everything they can to include as many children as they can. They “staff up,” juggle spaces and calendars, and get as creative as the law and common sense allow.
I want to thank everyone on the staff who is working through it and those affected families for their patience and understanding. We will continue to seek ways to manage as best we can. And remember: register as early as you can next spring!
President, Montreat Conference Center