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Camps re-evaluating priorities, exploring new ways of operating

Digging out and replacing decades-old septic pipes at Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference has became a metaphor for Wade Zick, managing director, for the broader work needed at both Pilgrim Firs and N-Sid-Sen.

Over several weeks during the winter, Pilgrim Firs replaced a failed septic line for a cabin.  That helped staff understand both the scope of the work and the costs for replacing the failing decades-old concrete septic lines around camp.

“This kind of project is not glamorous and yet is vitally important work that we do to make sure people can use the restrooms and that our sanitation is up to code,” he said.

On the camp programs and life, he said, “We need to dig into our most common practices of how camps are led and replace systems that are failing from under the surface.

“We have been engaged in that digging and replacing work at Pilgrim Firs and N-Sid-Sen,” he said.
Some of the digging requires asking about core mission priorities, funding priorities of staffing versus maintenance, looking at policies that inform a host of ways the camps operate and creating a sustainable vision to move into the future.

“That is a lot of digging to unearth the things that we need to replace,” Wade said.  “We need to be clear that the work of unearthing will at times lead to things that don’t ‘smell’ as good – that is part of the risk.
Some of that work has already been done in shifting summer youth camps to N-Sid- Sen, so the camps no longer internally compete against each other for campers and staff,” he said.
Pilgrim Firs has started to focus on the arts community for future growth and partners in this work, he said.

“We have had visioning conversations with core constituent groups that are both reflective of the UCC and other user groups,” he said.

Pilgrim Firs has also started to prioritize future growth over maintaining traditions—while also having a priority of addressing the deferred maintenance issues to have a future.

As expected, some of the work has led to frustrated people, Wade commented.

“We have been inconsistent in our messaging and communication as this is often unclear work as we are trying to learn new behaviors and try new ways of being camp,” he said.  “We have bumped up against traditions that were deeply rooted and resistance to change can be profoundly difficult. All of that is to be expected and all of that is with the desired outcome for a camp that has a more sustainable and healthy future.”

A book Wade tries to read yearly is “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” by Edwin Friedman.

The author points out that systems can become stuck needing a spirit of creativity and a willingness to learn through failure. He states that “for a fundamental reorientation to occur, that spirit of adventure which optimizes serendipity and which enables new perceptions beyond the control of our thinking processes must happen first.”

Both Pilgrim Firs and N-Sid-Sen are trying new ways of doing things “because we must, to both survive and to thrive. The time has arrived for us to behave and work differently. Understandably this work can look messy and does not always make people happy,” Wade said. 

“That needs to be okay. In order to move from our places from stuck-ness we will have to try new behaviors, prioritize differently and be willing to fail on occasion. We have deferred this work for too long and frankly the systems underneath are no longer all working or on the verge of collapse – much like our septic system,” he said.

“My hope is that you join us in this work. What does that mean?
• Try some new ways of being camp with us.
• Take risks with us that might produce failures along the way.
• Send financial support to buffer the transitions—or help pay for the new septic lines needed.
• Most important, however, be in a spirit of solidarity with us to change as our future depends on this work of the digging and replacing old systems, Wade said.

For information, call 360-876-2031, email, or visit


PNC-UCC News - copyright © April-May 2019


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