It’s Good to Be Together

Every night before we break off into our villages and get ready for bed we end the night with a simple ritual.

We invite everyone at camp to form a circle, cross their right arms over their left, and touch the finger of the people next to them. Next, we will say, “It’s good to be together.” three times and twist out of the circle. Sometimes we scream, sometimes we whisper, sometimes we mix it up, but every night before bed we take a moment to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be together.

Rituals matter. They help us place a memory in time, focus attention on our values, and establish our culture.

Self-Direction, Trust, Relationships

Camp Fire.JPG

At Stomping Ground, one of our core values is self-direction. We’ve worked hard to develop  programming, put in place logistics, and create a culture where campers and staff are in control of how they spend their time. Campers can ultimately choose how they spend each moment of their day, and when the mood strikes them, they can almost always hang out in Downtown Stomping Ground, where they can get up to their own thing. We want to be sure that campers are not only spending time how they choose, but that they do not feel negatively judged for doing so.

This trust based model is built on relationships. Laura wrote a great piece earlier this year explaining how we look at freedom and support at camp. She says,

“At camp we are constantly trying to find the balance between providing kids with our feedback and reaction to their decisions without stepping on toes or controlling them. We understand that we, as a staff, have had more time on the planet and therefore may have run into similar situations as the ones campers might be struggling with. We want to listen and provide our concern where it is appropriate. This is the unconditional love and support piece. In practice it looks like active listening - taking an appropriately long amount of time to step into the campers shoes and see their struggle from where they stand.”

Because of this we spend a lot of energy and time working with our staff on the why and how of relationship building. Kate explains more of that here.

The Dreamcatcher Community


At the beginning of each week, we present our giant dreamcatcher, which represents the camp community. We spray bleach, paint, glitter, etc on the dreamcatcher and explain that camp will have ups and downs. That if we support each other, like the knots in the dreamcatcher, this can be the best week of our lives. Finally, at the end of the week we cut up the dreamcatcher and give each person at camp a bracelet from the dreamcatcher string. We encourage them to take a piece of camp with them into the rest of the world.

We believe that living in self-directed communities practicing radical empathy helps each of us be our best selves. That being fully present in our community helps each of us grow. We’ve found that when we trust kids and staff and are transparent about not only what we believe, but why we believe it, they respond with excitement, joy, and understanding. We practice these rituals to help reinforce that the people we are with and the relationships we build are at the core of what we do. That all the shaving cream wars, mud puddles, late nights, and giggling rely on each of us building each other up not tearing each other down.


Jack Schott Stomping Ground.jpg

(585) 451-5141

9 Reasons to Not Send Your Child to Stomping Ground

Spreading the word about our summer camp has been a tricky business in some ways, because while we firmly believe in our mission, we also recognize that camp (and perhaps our camp in particular) might not be for everyone. Coming out and saying “Hey! Here are a bunch of reasons you shouldn’t consider our camp!” is a little strange, though, because our future depends on finding families and young people willing to entrust us with the total care of them or their children for a week or more.

This article, hopefully, will help to give you a clearer picture of what you can expect from camp. It might tip the scales in favor of you not sending your child to camp. But we figure that being honest about our camp experience and our shortcomings will help build trust with people who want to be a part of our camp community. If our honest assessment of what happens here has you thinking twice about coming, well, we figure that’s okay too. If you have any questions or want further clarification, you should of course give us a call at 585-451-5141.

So, without further ado, 9 reasons you shouldn’t send your child to camp this summer.

1. They are unwilling to talk through conflict.

We are definitely not the camp for you if you believe that people should avoid conflict at all costs. At Stomping Ground, we’re not about assigning blame and forcing people to say sorry, and we recognize that this doesn’t line up with some youth-development and parenting strategies. We believe that conflict is an underutilized learning experience, and that hearing and empathizing with another person or persons is a more productive way to restore justice and heal harm. If you think that there is enough quarreling and bickering, and not enough listening in the world at large, then we hope you’ll join us in rethinking conflict resolution. Let’s rewrite what it means to disagree, to hurt, and practice leaning in and learning to see another person’s perspective

More information on how we reimagine conflict resolution at camp

2. Your child has an unwillingness to be supervised.

Our three agreements

Extensive work has been done on how over-scheduled and over-monitored the children of today are, and if you’ve read anything we’ve shared on our philosophy, you can probably imagine that we agree with most of it. When kids come to Stomping Ground, though, one of our staff has eyes on them at all times. Kids who are used to having a lot of autonomy sometimes struggle with this - so why do we do it? There are two reasons. First, it’s the law. We simply can not have kids come to camp and leave them fully to their own devices without being shut down by the local health department. So, we don’t. Second, though, is that it actually is a safety concern. We can’t perfectly know every child as well as the caregivers who send them to us, and while I’m sure many of the kids who come to summer camp would be totally fine exploring our grounds alone, some percentage won’t be, and we can’t know who those children might be before it’s too late. Between our lake, the expansive grounds, and good old fashioned poison ivy, it’s best for everyone if we know where our campers are at all times.

3. They would be unhappy without access to the internet.

While we have the freest technology policy of any camp I’m aware of, the reality is that our facility is located in the middle of the woods in the Catskills, and 4G just isn’t a thing. We find that even the most tech-savvy of our campers adjust to this pretty quickly, but I’m sure there are some kids out there for whom this is too intimidating a proposition, so we like to be straightforward about it.

4.  Bugs, dirt, grass, drive them up a wall.

Camp can be a messy place. Kids who like to stay impeccably clean and indoors might not consider Stomping Ground the ideal summer destination. Kids that come here often squish mud between their toes, get grass stains on their pants, and leave with knots in their hair. Campers often go on salamander hunts, collect and examine bugs, hike through creeks and climb trees. We follow up all outdoor adventures with tick checks and a chance to take a shower, but being outside is a fundamental part of the experience here. We believe there’s a certain beauty in the carefree way children can dirty themselves, and are happy to facilitate it.

5. They aren't interested in making new friends.

Camp is all about finding your comfort zone and then sticking your toe out on the other side. Campers are in a new location, with new people, and new ideas, which presents a unique chance to make new friends. People who come to Stomping Ground often find a number of people who will attempt to engage them, get to know them, and befriend them. We recognize that this level of social interaction isn’t for everyone.  What we have found, though, is that summer camp leaves campers and staff with a lasting impression of greater self worth that often stems from the great friends and connections made throughout the session. There are so many opportunities for campers and staff to connect on similar interests, find new interests, and see the world from others eyes. Camp friends often last a lifetime, just ask any of our staff members!

6. They want to know exactly what is going on at all times.

We help kids stay apprised of the daily schedule as much or more than any camp I am aware of, but nonetheless, being at camp will mean unexpected things will come up from time to time. We have programmed offerings available to our summer campers basically all day every day, but our free-flowing environment also allows for a great deal of spontaneity that can make things feel a little chaotic for our more structure-loving young-people.

7. Our bathrooms are more rustic than what your kids are used to, in all likelihood.

While we’re always trying to improve our facilities and offerings, the reality is that our bathrooms still have plenty of room to improve. This isn’t an intentional decision - we don’t think there’s a lot of value in using bathrooms that are less comfortable than the ones campers are used to - but as of right now that’s what we’re living with. Some campers are very selective about where they feel comfortable going to the bathroom, so we like to be as upfront about this one as possible.

8. Your kids don’t have the technical life skills necessary to spend a week at camp.

Being at camp means, among other things, taking care of one’s own hygiene. While we have structures in place to help kids remember to take the necessary steps to taking care of themselves, campers will need to be able to change their own clothes, brush their own teeth, and keep themselves clean.

9. You or your child are hoping really hoping they’ll learn some specific skills

Stomping Ground is not a sports camp. It’s not a wilderness camp, an arts camp, or a science camp. Instead of focusing in on and diving deeper on any one particular endeavor, we provide a wide array of activities and opportunities for a diverse camp experience, and perhaps more importantly, individual growth. During their time at Stomping Ground, campers can take part in more traditional activities like archery, soccer, pottery, and swimming. They can also sign up for more outrageous activities such as mud monsters, tea with the queen, make your own backpack, and slip and slide kickball. So if you’re looking for a camp where your kid will spend all day, every day focusing on learning one skill, we’re not the camp for you. We will provide vast opportunities for your child to pick and choose to from in order to create their ideal schedule, and hopefully, they’ll learn some specific lessons about who they are and what they are capable of.


Well, that’s all for now. I’m sure there are others we’re leaving out, but our mission is to paint as honest a picture as possible for you so you can make an informed decision. Watching our camp family continue to grow at such a rapid pace has helped us discover our own shortcomings better than we could have hoped, but it’s also helped solidify what we do believe, and who we want to be. If you like what you’ve read here, then chances are good you’ll enjoy being a part of our summer camp family.

Again, if you want to discuss any of these things further don’t hesitate to reach out to Laura, our Camp Director, at 585-489-8880


Queer and Transgender at Summer Camp

How Camp Stomping Ground Loved Me Wholly
by Elijah Thornburg

I love camp. My idea of the right way to spend summer is frolicking through forests, singing silly songs, jumping in lakes, carefully weaving bracelets, watching the stars move slowly across the night sky, roasting marshmallows around campfires, and getting to know all kinds of new friends who I will love and cherish for the rest of my life. I have grown up reveling in the joy of camp, and wanting to share it with everyone I could. 

I am also queer and transgender. Although I was assigned female at birth, I wear mostly masculine clothes, have facial hair and a flat chest, and use he/him pronouns. I am currently very much in love with a woman, but know that I could theoretically share love with a person of any gender. I have never fit into clean-cut boxes of gender or sexuality, and I never want to. That said, it can sometimes be really frightening to openly express the ways that I am different from the norm; I often have to spend time thinking about how I am going to dress, talk, and act, just to ensure my own basic physical and emotional safety. 

When I arrived for the first day of staff training at Camp Stomping Ground last summer, I was nervous. I knew that I had always been a great camper, I was ready and excited to be a great counselor, and I knew the directors were extremely supportive, but I was scared of what my fellow counselors would think when they learned that I am transgender. As the other counselors arrived and we all started getting to know each other, I was overwhelmed by the love I felt. Everyone was so kind, so warm, so fun and friendly and easy to talk to. Within just a few days, I was starting to feel at home. I felt safe, and respected, and understood. 

In the middle of a conversation we were having with the full staff about how best to support campers from a wide range of diverse experiences, I came out as transgender so that I could talk from a more credible position about how to support gender-diverse campers. A few people definitely seemed surprised, but not a single person in the room seemed uncomfortable or upset. Instead, they smiled, nodded along, and listened to what I had to say about how to best support campers. Afterward, I got a lot of hugs, and several people thanked me for sharing a vulnerable part of my truth with them. I had only met this group of people a few days beforehand; I was amazed at how easily they all welcomed me into their camp family regardless of gender identity. 


By the time campers arrived, I had settled comfortably into what felt like my new camp home. I knew I was safe, I knew I was allowed and encouraged to be whoever I was, and I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like or how I talked or if I was acting too feminine to be taken seriously as a “real guy;” I could just relax into myself and dedicate all of my energy to being the best counselor I could be. There wasn’t a moment that passed all summer where I felt uncomfortable about my gender or queer identity with another staff member. 

Once camp really started, I learned quickly that my transgender and queer identities were going to be completely irrelevant to almost all campers. I was in a tent with the youngest boys, and I’m pretty sure they would not have really noticed or minded if I had been a unicorn, let alone just a trans person. I also had only one camper ask me a question about anything to do with romantic partners; he wanted to know if I was married. I told him that I was not, and he immediately dropped the subject when he heard his friends outside playing with sticks. What mattered to my campers was not what gender I was, what my body looked like, or who I was in an adult relationship with, but rather that I was always there to help them out, to talk to them, to play games with them, to remind them to change their underwear and brush their teeth, to read them stories and give them piggy-back rides, and to get them where they needed to go.

To someone who did not know I was trans, the only obvious indicator would be the top surgery scars on my chest. I was in charge of boating during waterfront time, and I often wore my swimsuit without a shirt, but if campers noticed the scars on my chest from my top surgery, none of them seemed to care. They talked to me and interacted with me just the same as any other time, and I easily befriended all the campers of every age and gender who liked to take out boats. The only time a camper seemed concerned, she asked me, “What are those cuts on your chest?” I said, “They’re scars from getting surgery to get some stuff removed,” and she just said “Oh” and proceeded to ask me if she could please take out the green kayak. 

One of the things I came to appreciate at Stomping Ground for the first time was that I did not have to always define myself by gender first. It was important to me that my co-counselors understand my gender identity so that I could build trusting peer relationships with them, but it was completely unimportant for most campers to know I was trans. It was liberating to have fun with campers and teach campers new skills and share amazing camp experiences with campers without having to worry about my gender or queer identity. In the few situations where it seemed like the best decision to disclose either of these things to a camper – for example, when a trans or queer camper was seeking support from someone who would understand – I felt completely safe and supported in doing so. I knew my co-counselors and directors would have my back. 

Stomping Ground is dedicated to radical empathy, self-direction, and possibility. What better pillars are there to inspire the inclusion of queer and transgender campers and counselors? I believe there is a lot of value in minorities having spaces to themselves, and I have a lot of love for the camps out there dedicated specifically to LGBTQ+ people (shout out to Camp Brave Trails! If that’s what you’re looking for, head there next). I also believe that it is very powerful and positive for queer and trans campers and counselors to be part of a community that is not minority-specific, but that is intentionally and actively supportive of the whole individual. At Stomping Ground, everyone is expected to be kind, to be open-minded, to be gentle. Everyone is expected to be honest, to listen, and to include each other. The expectation creates the reality. Each camper and counselor is seen as a whole and complex person, with a unique combination of backgrounds, identities, interests, and needs. 


As much as I love Stomping Ground, it is not perfect. The most notable challenge for campers and counselors who are trans in particular is that living spaces and some bathroom and shower spaces are still gender-specific. Campers and counselors are divided into cabins and tents by gender, and the bathrooms and showers most easily accessible from most activities and villages are divided by gender. That said, it is up to the individual to decide which gendered space they belong and feel most comfortable in, and they will be supported in their decision. Campers and counselors can expect that staff will do their very best to use their correct pronouns and to help campers do so as well. There are gender-neutral bathrooms and showers available for anyone at camp who doesn’t feel comfortable in either gendered area. If a camper or counselor wishes not to disclose information about their identity, they will never be required or expected to, and whoever on staff might know will hold confidence; similarly, if they wish to share something about their identity, they will never be prevented from doing so. 

If you are queer and/or transgender and considering being a camper or staff member at Camp Stomping Ground, I can assure you from personal experience that you will be welcomed, respected, and loved. I cannot promise that it will always be ideal, or that there will be no confusing or difficult moments, but I can promise that the lived mission of the camp wants you to be as radiant a part of the community as anyone, that the staff will defend and support you, and that the campers tend to follow suit in being exceptionally kind and welcoming. If you have any questions or concerns that I could address, please do not hesitate to contact me at; I’d be thrilled to tell you more about my own experience, provide any advice that I can, and wholeheartedly assure you that Stomping Ground is an extraordinary place. 

Elijah Thornburg
Staff 2016;


The Psychology of Building Connections

Over the past three years (when I wasn’t at camp making schedules, fighting zombies, or pretending to be Albus Dumbledore), I spent my time studying school counseling. I learned about different counseling theories, skills that professionals use, and interventions that may be helpful. In class, I was learning to apply all of these concepts to the school setting, but when I would hear words like active listening, empathy, and person-centered, my mind immediately drifted to camp. I’ll admit, my mind drifts to camp throughout most of the day because I just love it so much, but I think it makes a lot of sense that I relate counseling to camp. It makes sense because both are based on one simple concept: building connections.

So the question becomes, how do we build connections? Carl Rogers, a well-known theorist and one of my favorites, proposed that there are three core conditions (well there are actually six, but these three are the important ones) that facilitate a strong connection between the counselor and client: empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness. I believe Rogers’ assertion, and I’d be willing to extend it beyond counselor and client, to people in general. In my time at camp, I’ve seen that when these three conditions are in place, opportunities for building connections arise within the daily happenings of Stomping Ground. 

Let’s go through each of the conditions, and find out what they really mean and how Stomping Ground seeks to provide a space in which they exist. 


If you follow Stomping Ground’s blog, you’ve probably read a few different posts about empathy in its most radical form. Empathy, at its core, is understanding how someone else is feeling. Empathy can be cognitive, which is mentally understanding the emotions of another, or it can be affective, meaning you share in another’s feelings and have a congruent emotional response. 

Radical empathy is one of the three pillars on which Stomping Ground was founded, so it is easy to assume that empathy is fostered within the community, and I see it in two main aspects of camp: the circle system and play. The circle system, our tool for conflict resolution, is built on and relies on empathy. In a nutshell, members of the community agree to listen to and to try to understand each other’s perspective in order to resolve conflict, rather than to punitively assign blame. You can read more about what the circle system is and how it works here.     

Play is a key factor in building empathy skills (just ask Peter Gray). At Stomping Ground, kids are given the opportunity to practice empathy through playing, imaginary role-playing, and creating together, and they can then transfer those skills to real life occurrences. This happens in more structured activities such as morning options and all-camp night games, and in unstructured periods like village time, open waterfront, and open ballfield. 


Unconditional positive regard, according to Rogers, is accepting others as they are, without judgment. Stomping Ground teaches this to the staff and models it for the campers. The staff are taught to hear another’s perspective on a situation without placing their own judgment on it. Let me give you an example. If a camper says they are really mad because they lost at GaGa, then they are feeling really mad. It’s not the listener’s job to decide whether or not the person should be mad, how long they should be mad for, or how to fix it. Instead, the listener hears and understands the person’s feelings and offers to be present with the person in that moment (this is where the empathy comes into play!). As I said, the staff are trained in providing unconditional positive regard and then model it for the campers in everyday situations. 


Rogers considers genuineness, often referred to as congruence, to be the most important of the core conditions for building connection. As you saw in the last paragraph, these conditions are not exclusive of one another, and genuineness is what ties them together. Empathy and unconditional positive regard are irrelevant if they are not genuine. In fact, sometimes genuineness is all that’s needed. When I began my internship in counseling, I was terrified. What if I don’t know what to say to be empathic? What if I don’t know what to do to show unconditional positive regard? My supervisor told me the answer was simple: be genuine. If I genuinely wanted to help, support, care for, and connect with the person in front of me, things would fall into place. Stomping Ground facilitates genuineness by simply allowing each and every person there to exist as they are. No one is forced to be or to do anything. When people are free to opt into a decision on their own accord, genuineness flows naturally.

Camp Stomping Ground provides people with the space and opportunity to form some of the strongest connections possible. And I know this because I have seen happen. I’ve seen it in the makerspace, on the soccer field, and in the dining hall. I have watched older kids stand up for younger kids, campers confront staff, and large groups listen to one person’s point of view. All of this with empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness leading the way. This is where the magic happens and this is when connections are built. 


Becoming a Not-For-Profit

In the fall of 2014, Laura and I partnered with Scott, James, and Syl, to start camp. We knew we weren’t going to make money that first year and wanted to get started as quickly and simply as possible. We formed an LLC and got to work. Things have changed a lot since then. We have successfully run two summers of camp with summer number three looking like it will be the biggest and best one yet.

Over the past two years we have given away over $20,000 in scholarships, helping more than 50 kids come to camp that never would have had that opportunity.  This summer we hope to do even more!

So far these scholarships have been almost entirely unfunded, meaning we have just taken them as a financial loss. Having entirely unfunded scholarships is not sustainable, and will not enable our camp to thrive. We need your help to grow and make Stomping Ground accessible to all campers and families.

This fall we worked with Brenda, Steve, and Jamie at Woods Oviatt Gillman to become a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. (Thanks y'all! You are the best!) Becoming a 501c3 will allow us to host events to support our camper families, connect with passionate people who believe in Stomping Ground, and ultimately provide scholarships to many more campers and improve the camp experience for all. This past month we submitted our application and we are now a pending 501c3. Unfortunately, the tax man is worse than the cable guy. It may take anywhere between 3 and 18 months for our nonprofit status to finally be confirmed. WHAT!?

Is your donation tax deductible?

Great question. The short answer is maybe. Any donation you give now will be tax deductible as soon as we are confirmed as a not for profit. We have every intention of jumping through any hoops that may come up and our good friends at Woods Oviatt Gillman assure us that we will be all set, but we can’t make promises for the tax man. When we receive the final word we will send you all the information that will qualify your donation as tax-deductible.

Where does your money go?

Every penny you give us will go into bringing campers to camp and making their experiences more impactful, memorable, and magical.

How do I donate?

You can donate online here, send a check to the address below, or give me a call if you have any questions.

Stomping Ground HQ
23 Traymore Rd
Rochester NY 14609

Jack Schott

Kids see plenty of messed up stuff in the world and your gift gives them a chance to see how amazing and generous the world can be. Your gift helps inspire the next generation of changemakers to reimagine a radically more empathetic world.



(585) 451-5141

Introducing Our Creative Residency

Camp is my passion. There is no doubt that I love connecting with kids and staff and collaborating every summer to make the unique and life-changing experience of camp.  However, I have another major life passion. Making Art. I went to college at SUNY Purchase to study visual art. I spent those four years learning technical skills and the history associated with painting and drawing. I learned how to build and break visual compositions and to play with the context and meaning behind the colors, shapes, and textures. I learned how to think critically and to problem solve. I learned how to collaborate with others and how to work hard and overcome mental blocks in my creative process. I loved art school. I will always make art. I need the tactile and sensory input to help me think and process the world around me. 

This summer at Stomping Ground, we are launching an artist in residency program. I am beyond excited about this opportunity. Creative people who have an art making practice, such as musicians, painters, writers, sculptors, photographers, novelists, and more will come to camp. 

Some Details

They will stay with us for as short as a week to as long as a month and use the space apart from the rest of their lives to make their work. The program is fully subsidized. We will provide 3 meals a day and access to a kitchen, as well as a place to stay and a space to create. In return, we ask that all art residents commit to giving back to the community, but exactly how that gift transpires is up to each creative resident and approved by Stomping Ground staff. 

Dreaming Big

My dream is that campers will interact and engage with art residents, and have access to see their creative processes. I hope that artists inspire campers to dream big and reimagine what is possible. I believe that campers will reinvigorate other artists like they do for me.

Why a residency makes sense for Stomping Ground

Stomping Ground’s mission is: to create an inclusive community of self-directed individuals, practicing radical empathy and reimagining what is possible. Bringing artists into our community will help us more effectively meet that mission. Artists embody the essence of what it means to be a self-directed learner, constantly learning and gathering the skills necessary to complete a project, or get to the next level of mastery in their field. Artists are inherently empathetic; art is often the visual representation of a person’s or a group’s collective experience, an empathetic reflection of the world around us. And lastly, artists’ ability to reframe, reorganize, redistribute, and wrestle with big ideas is how we, as a world, reimagine what is possible.

We are specifically looking for artists who feel they have something to contribute to and to share with a diverse and curious group of campers and staff. We hope that the artists who join us will want to spend time at main camp building a theater set with campers after breakfast, or writing a play with campers during water front, or collaborating with the youngest village to present a performance piece during lunch. 

I can only imagine the life changing connections and lightbulb moments that we will all experience seeing artists at work. 

Do you fit this description? Know someone that does? Apply below or pass this along. We are hoping for 3-4 artists this first summer.


(585) 489-8880

What is Radical Empathy?

We use the phrase “Radical Empathy” a lot, so we figured it was time to explain what we mean by it. Let's dig in to empathy first. 

Defining Empathy

The dictionary definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Psychologists take it one step further separating the understanding and sharing in to cognitive and emotional empathy:

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy (understanding the feelings of others) is the largely conscious drive to recognize accurately and understand another’s emotional state. Sometimes we call this kind of empathy “perspective taking.”

Emotional Empathy


Emotional empathy, (sharing the feelings of others) also called affective empathy or primitive empathy, is the subjective state resulting from emotional contagion. It is our automatic drive to respond appropriately to another’s emotions. This kind of empathy happens automatically, and often unconsciously. It has also been referred to as the vicarious sharing of emotions. Source

This ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and take their perspective has been praised as a hugely important skill for the future of humanity by politicians, educators, business leaders, and more. The decline of empathy in correlation with the decline of play has been chronicled by researchers. By and large people love the idea of empathy.

Impossible But Worth it

But the real ability to totally understand where another person is coming from and feel what they are feeling is impossible. I will never totally understand you, because I will never have lived your life. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. Trying to better understand others is core to building more authentic, deeper connections. And admitting, to ourselves and others, that we will never completely see the world through their eyes is the first step toward being able to remove judgment and shame. This quest to remove judgment and better understand another person’s worldview is one of the most powerful community builders we have.

Now what about radical?


Radical is defined as:

  1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.
  2. thorough going or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.
  3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
  4. favoring, supporting, or representing extreme forms of religious fundamentalism: radical Muslims.
  5. forming a basis or foundation.
  6. existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.

Radical has been used to describe other movements or ideas like being radical feminism or political radicalism. In these cases it means extreme or revolutionary.

Other uses of the radical

Radical feminism is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts. Radical feminists seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions, rather than through a purely political process. (source)

The term political radicalism (or simply, in political science, radicalism) denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways. (source)


How we define radical empathy:

Radical Empathy is actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others. To fundamentally change our perspectives from judgmental to accepting, in an attempt to more authentically connect with ourselves and others. Our radically empathetic community places this at the root of everything we do.

Downtown Stomping Ground

At most other camps kids go from one activity to the next jumping through pre-designed hoops to make sure they experience new things. By removing judgement from how camper’s spend their time, we are able to create structured offerings that kids can opt into, things like archery, boating, Christmas in July, and more, but also create Downtown Stomping Ground (DTSG as the kids call it), where kids can make their own fun. In DTSG we have hammocks, arts and craft supplies, balls, board games, and more loose parts. DTSG is often where kids make the best memories and is core to them feeling comfortable at camp, but can only work when we create a culture and values around the fact that it is ok to do exactly what you want. That we have removed the judgement and pressure to be “productive.”

We have seen amazing things happen in DTSG. Things like kids that from the outside would never appear to be connected becoming best friends over a game of Catan, brand new camp changing games being invented, and hundreds of inside jokes that spark deep and lasting friendships. Downtown Stomping Ground is just one example of how removing judgement and striving to take different perspectives leads to innovation and a much better camp experience for campers and staff. You can read about our Circle System, another perspective shifting example here.  

Basic Empathy Isn't Enough We Need More

In essence what we are saying is that basic empathy isn't enough. What the world needs and we try to create at camp is radical empathy. That acknowledging our inability to totally understand where everyone is coming from but working our asses off to try, will lead to a stronger more compassionate and more joyful community. We try to make every decision and action at Stomping Ground from this radically empathetic place. We aren’t perfect and we often fall short, but radical empathy is our north star.

Jack Schott Stomping Ground.jpg

(585) 451-5141

Are Freedom and Support Mutually Exclusive?

I have a friend named Lily who used to work at Camp Stella Maris with me. Lily now lives in Berlin, Germany, as a freelance writer. I think Lily is super insightful, and when she was home home briefly around the holidays I was able to pick her brain on the current political climate as well as bounce many ideas off of her about what we are up to at Stomping Ground. 

Our philosophy in a nutshell

I was explaining to Lily how we focus on childhood freedom and choice at camp. How we believe that people learn how to make decisions my making them and not by always following directions. I told her how we strive to create a space where kids have a chance to decide for themselves what seems appealing to them, and how we place immense trust in their decisions regardless of how we feel about them at first. 

When Lily heard this she asked if the kids ever felt alone or abandoned. I was immediately taken aback. I want the exact opposite for kids at camp. After asking some follow up questions, I think she was essentially asking if respecting kids autonomy meant that we did not step in to support kids when they needed or wanted advice and love. I think this is a really interesting question, and potentially a question that many of our new staff and new parents might have. 

"I think she was essentially asking if respecting kids autonomy meant that we did not step in to support kids when they needed or wanted advice and love."

For me the most interesting part of this question is that the idea is that you can either have one or the other but not both - the idea that freedom and autonomy are the opposite of unconditional support and love.

I understand where this comes from. Natural consequences—the ones that end up providing the checks and balances of a free and autonomous environment—sometimes feel cold and un-empathetic to me. I hear how it could be interpreted to mean, “You made your bed, now you have to lie in in,” you know? 

However, this idea that you can either have freedom and autonomy OR love and support, is essentially a false choice. 

I believe that an effective learning environment is one which invites failure and mistakes with genuine empathy and the promise of unconditional love and support. 

At camp we are constantly trying to find the balance between providing kids with our feedback and reaction to their decisions without stepping on toes or controlling them. We understand that we, as a staff, have had more time on the planet and therefore may have run into similar situations as the ones campers might be struggling with. We want to listen and provide our concern where it is appropriate. This is the unconditional love and support piece. In practice it looks like active listening - taking an appropriately long amount of time to step into the campers shoes and see their struggle from where they stand.

 We strive to create an environment that is respectful of kids' thoughts, decisions, and learning process. We strive to make it clear that no matter what they still belong in our community and we care about their happiness. The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung calls this unconditional positive regard, or basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does. At camp we find that this simple idea can completely change the outlook on a tough conversation. Instead of searching for blame, we begin to recognize something deeper and more core to our humanity. We begin to trust that our intentions and the intentions of others are good and to learn how to make decisions that benefit our community as a whole. 

(585) 489-8880

Why Work at Summer Camp?

And Convincing Your Parents That Working at Camp is Good for Your Career

One of the trickiest things about running summer camp is finding the quality of staff you need to run an excellent camp program. The reasons for this are somewhat obvious - we need great people to work at camp, and great people often have lots of options during the summer time!

We certainly respect this, but as people who have made a career out of being involved in camp work, we want to make a case for why working at camp this summer will not only be the most fulfilling option you could choose, but a very practical one as well.

And, hey, if this helps you convince your parents (or other concerned parties) that working at camp is a good idea, even better.

Why working at camp is the best decision you can make this summer

1) We can write you a better reference letter than anyone else.

Trying to get into a certain college or grad program? Applying for your dream job? You’re going to need references. Working at Stomping Ground means working closely with our director team, and it means we’re going to get to know you better than any other employer you’ve ever had. We’ll see you at your best (and your worst!), see how you respond to pressure, see how you manage time, see how compassionate you are, see how much initiative you take, and any number of other characteristics that future employers will want to know about you.

Future employers are going to want to know about YOU, and after writing dozens of recommendation letters for former camp staff from the past, we can confidently say we can do this as well as anyone.

2) Remember those important traits we’ll know about you? Well, you’ll get better at them.


It’s impossible to know what the economic landscape will look like 5 years from now, much less 20. Getting ready for the workplace these days means developing yourself. What no one tells you when you’re young is that most careers require extensive on-the-job training, and that very few specific skills you learn in high school or college will translate directly into the workplace. You know what will translate? Thinking creatively, adapting on the fly, taking initiative, learning how to better understand others, becoming individually responsible, and learning how to manage your time more effectively.

We have seen incredible growth in our staff members in all of these areas, and it’s no accident. In most internships and summer jobs, young adults are relegated to work below their capabilities because they simply aren’t trusted to take on greater responsibilities. If you want challenging work that will expand your worldview, camp is a great place to start.

3) You’ll just be more interesting in future interviews.

Most of the careers you’ll want to pursue will require an extensive interview process. As someone who’s interviewed countless people, I can tell you that the interviewees that stand out have a huge advantage. Generic answers about strengths and weaknesses just aren’t good enough anymore - you need to be able to speak to WHY you’re on this planet, and what you hope to do with your time here. If you have a great story to share, even better.

This summer you will inevitably encounter something you’ve never seen before. You’ll bask in the wisdom of some child who’s beyond her years. You’ll see how a single spark of creativity leads to an epic adventure for a dozen people. You’ll meet some courageous person who has dealt with more in this life than you ever thought possible. You’ll be tested, excited, tired, worn out, filled up, thrilled - you’ll have belly laughs, possibly cry, be someone’s shoulder to cry on, and come through when we need you most.

I remember asking an interviewee what their big takeaways were from their prior internship. They said, “It was good. Um….” If you work at camp this summer? Yeah, that won’t be you.

4) Your time will be spent meaningfully.


It’s all well and good to speak practically about the cold and calculated benefits you’ll get from working at camp, but it’s simply so much more than that.

As I think back on my many years in summer camping, I can say that I have specific stories and memories from every single week I’ve spent at summer camp. At this point that’s more than 100 weeks of fun, mud, laughter, friendship, and tears. Now try and think back on the last 100 weeks of your life. How many can you recall huge moments from?

Camp days are long, but the time flies by. THESE are the types of lives we want to lead, not the kind where we take a job at age 22, sleepwalk for 43 years, and retire someday. You want this kind of life for yourself. Your parents want this kind of life for you. Get a running start on the life you want for yourself this summer. If you get in the habit of living meaningfully, you’ll be a lot less likely to settle for less later.

5) You’ll like yourself more.


As humans, we’ve evolved to help one another. We’re the most successful species on the planet specifically because of our cooperative nature. Our ability to nurture the youngest among us, to show them the ropes, to give them space to be themselves, and to fiercely love them for exactly who they are is what makes us so incredible.

If you don’t know the feeling of making the difference in the life of a child, you need to. And I don’t mean helping them with their homework, or teaching them how to play soccer. I mean helping them learn to love what they see when they look in the mirror. Kids will remember you well into their adulthood. They’ll tell stories about you to their spouses, remember your kindness when they get down on themselves, and try to be a little bit more like you.

It’s a rare person who makes a difference in the life of a child and doesn’t stand a little taller afterwards.

6) You’ll make lifelong friends.

You just will. You can’t do work this important and not find people who get you. You’ll meet other young adults who understand that life is more than just dollars and cents. You’ll have more in common with them than the people you happened to grow up near, than people who happened to choose the same college as you, or who like the same sports team.

Camp is more than just a summer job. It has the chance to change your life. To define your life, even. Now when it’s all said and done it might wind up being one summer among many, a thing you did once, and left behind for other pastures. But if your experience is like mine, it might be the best decision you ever made. Don’t you owe it to yourself to find out?

Interested in working at Stomping Ground this summer?
Call/Text/Email Jack or click below



Building a Culture of Choice with Kids

Creating a culture of choice can be hard. Most people, especially young people, aren’t used to getting to choose how to spend their time, whom to spend time with, and what it means to take responsibility for those choices. It takes time, energy, and skill to artfully navigate in a world in which you are in control of your own choices. At Stomping Ground, we are constantly developing new systems to help first-time campers transition into a new community. Our goal is to create a community of self-directed individuals that live together and treat each other with racial empathy, so that we can all be inspired to help the world be far more empathetic.

There is a lot that goes into this process. Here are some of the cornerstones:

Empathy and Connection

It's Good to be Together Camp Stomping Ground

At our overnight summer camp, we work hard to create an environment where kindness, compassion, and openness thrive. This starts by each of our staff finding ways to build individual relationships with kids and helping facilitate those connections amongst campers. It also is reflected in our camp rituals. 

At the beginning of each week, we bring up our giant dreamcatcher, which represents the camp community. We spray bleach, paint, glitter, etc on the dreamcatcher and explain that camp will have ups and downs. That if we support each other, like the knots in the dreamcatcher, this can be the best week of our lives. 

At the end of each night at camp, to remind ourselves of this community, we form a camp-wide circle and say, “It’s Good to Be Together” three times. This acts as a simple and engaging reminder for all of us, that more than anything camp is about the people. 

Finally, at the end of the week we cut up the dreamcatcher and give each person at camp a bracelet from the dreamcatcher string and encourage them to take a piece of camp with them into the rest of the world. 

These rituals are simple and may not seem like much, but we have had countless campers reference back to the dreamcatcher as a way of explaining why camp is special. These ceremonies and personal relationships are the building blocks of our empathetic culture.

Simple Ways to Have Your Voice Heard

Dreamcatcher Camp Stomping Ground

We believe that children are at their best when they can trust that their opinions, safety, and well-being are being taken seriously by the other people in the community. Kids are most comfortable knowing there is a system in place to resolve conflict. At Stomping Ground, we use our version of a restorative peace circle. We call it the Circle System. 

We believe that children are at their best when they can trust that their opinions, safety, and well-being are being taken seriously by the other people in the community. Establishing that trust and giving campers control flips the paradigm on bullying and teasing. Instead of campers being afraid to be a tattle tail, they are empowered to stick up for themselves and to begin the process of healing harm, mitigating future harm, and building community. You can read more about the circle system here.

Engaged Adult Role Models That Are Helpers Not Judges

Part of the secret sauce that makes all summer camps special is the staff. Almost no place else on the planet are there these really cool 18-25 year olds who all want to make a positive impact on kids’ lives. At Stomping Ground, we are incredibly intentional about helping our staff partner with kids to help each camper get what they want out of camp. Camp staff are in a unique position. For most kids, our staff are just cool slightly older friends that are there when they need a hand, are looking for a fun game, or just can’t reach the ketchup.

Our staff come from all over the country to reimagine a more perfect world at camp. They are musicians, college kids, AmeriCorp volunteers, EMTs, entrepreneurs, and more. The one thing they have in common is a commitment to changing the adult-child paradigm from “power-over” to “partner-with.” Plus, they are so fun.

Exciting Consensual Offerings and Events

Helpers not judges at camp

One of the ways to ease into a very free community is to have a number of structured offerings for kids. During a day at Stomping Ground, kids have a chance to explore our intentionally crafted and exciting activities. These activities are things like archery, dodgeball, felting, swimming, Christmas in July, boating, dance, shaving cream wars, color parties, and more. They can also choose to get up to their own stuff in Downtown Stomping Ground (DTSG). DTSG is the center of camp. We have hammocks, games, arts and craft supplies, legos, and more. These loose parts create the perfect environment for kids to design their own games, hangout, read, or just chill.

The key to our structure is that kids looking for stimuli and activities from staff can opt into counselor-lead activities, and kids looking to make up their own activities can do that as well. This culture of consent and structured offerings has proven to be a great bridge for kids not used to having this level of choice in their daily lives. We are able to create an autonomous environment that is comfortable and safe by combining the power of individual relationships and systems thinking. Our systems constantly evolve to better suit the needs of campers and our staff are motivated to find new and authentic ways build honest connections with every child.

I would love to talk more about how this plays out at camp. Give me a call or send me an email.

(585) 451-5141

5 Free and Easy Ways to Help Spread the Word About Stomping Ground (and other Non-Profits and Small Businesses!)

help not for profits

People trust their friends. We spend a lot of time trying to get more exposure so more kids have a chance to experience Stomping Ground, but the best way for to get more kids to camp is for parents to hear about it from a friend. We trust our friends and when they say great things about a restaurant, camp, school, etc we check it out. What you may not realize is how much impact you have with your social media presence to help your favorite not for profits and local businesses. Here are 5 simple things you can do to help us out. Thanks in advance for all your help!


What shows up in your newsfeed is determined by Facebook’s algorithm, Edgerank. When Edgerank sees that more people are interacting with a post - liking, commenting, and sharing - they put it in more people’s newsfeeds. So if you see a post that resonates with you, please like and share it. It really helps!


You wouldn’t believe how many campers have found camp because of parents saying nice things about us in parent groups on Facebook. By posting in a group you are posting to a targeted group of people and they typically all get a notification. This helps the message to actually get read and drastically improves the chance that someone will take action. If you are a member of parent groups on Facebook and love camp, please let them know.


Google determines what shows up on search terms based on what they think is most useful. What they determine to be most useful is based on a million criteria, but one of them is links back to the site. If you have a blog or other website, writing a quick blurb about them and linking back to the site helps tell Google that the site is valuable.


Even better than telling mass groups of people online, choosing some friends you think might love camp and telling them stories from the summer or why you send your child to camp is the single best way to spread the word.


One of the first things people look for when choosing camps is what other people have said about the experience. If you loved your camp experience writing a quick review helps more people get an understanding of what they are getting into. You can review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook.

If you love Stomping Ground please take a minute and write quick review and tell a friend.

Thanks for all your support.

(585) 451-5141

Staff Day of Caring - Thank You

Dear Stomping Ground Staff, 

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the support and dedication you continue to give Jack and I. The team at Camp Stomping Ground is one of a kind. Over this holiday break, when I pitched the idea that we should head to some local organizations and volunteer for a few hours, you jumped on the idea. 

Those of you who live in other cities across the states, or those staff that we have not even hired yet for this summer, here is an update of how we are keeping the camp spirit alive, even in the dead of winter.



Greenovation is an organization that promotes waste diversion in the Rochester area through the selling of previously owned objects or materials, creative reuse, donating, and community education. They have a big warehouse/ storefront on East Main Street in Downtown Rochester. We headed there on a Saturday morning to help with some metal scrapping in their recycling center. Kim, the executive director, met us there to give us a brief tour and to show us what we would be doing. She told us about why Greenovation was started and how she got involved. The goal of the whole project, she explained, is to recycle everything down so that there is zero waste. We were fascinated by the extent to which everyday objects like telephones or screen doors could be broken down and sorted by material before being sold as tin, aluminum, steel, copper, etc. We spent about 2 hours forming our own assembly line as we sorted through piles of junk! George had the pliers and would cut off the cords to electronics and other household items. Darron was the brute force often smashing apart plastic to get to the good stuff inside. Jack took the lead handing the team stuff from the original pile. Alexis, Jenna, Kate and I did a lot of catching loose parts and finding the appropriate containers for them. All of this was done under the careful guidance of Scotty, who worked for Greenovation and seemed to know everything there was to know about metal scrapping. By the end of our time there, we had warmed up and started shedding our hats, jackets and outer layers! We left feeling accomplished but in awe of the work that still needed to be done! 

Crisis Nursery of Greater Rochester

Next we traveled across town to the Center for Youth’s Crisis Nursery. The Crisis Nursery is the only program of its kind in New York State. The program is dedicated to providing safe, professional, temporary care to children during family crises. The Nursery is free to families during emergencies, and services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The center is mostly staffed by volunteers who are on call incase a family needs help. There are also a handful of extremely dedicated full time support staff who oversee the schedule and help to keep the home organized. Our Stomping Ground staff were floored with the love and compassion this place had to offer. We talked with one of the full time staff who gave us a tour of the house and showed us the attic where we were to help sort through recently donated supplies from the holiday season. When they finished answering our questions about the space and how it serves the community, we were all fired up to pitch in however we could help. We ended up finishing the tasks they had set aside for us and took on the challenge of reorganizing the entire attic where they store donated diapers, bed linens, blankets, toys, gently used clothes and shoes. After a few hours, we were thrilled to show the staff what we had done. Terry, one of the long time volunteers, was in tears when she saw the result. After big hugs and well wishes, we piled back into the cars and headed home. 

It is hard to explain the pride I have for all of the staff at Camp Stomping Ground. Your un-ending compassion and energy is not only what makes camp the meaningful place that it is during the summer, but what keeps me excited to dream bigger about what is possible throughout the year. 

Thanks Staff! 
Much love, 

(585) 489-8880

Summer Camp from a Mom's Perspective

I received the following as an email last week. I cried. Then I yelled for Jack. Then I cried some more. Mary, a camper parent, posted this in a parent Facebook group and explains Stomping Ground more eloquently and beautifully then I ever have. Thank you Mary for letting us have Sam for a few weeks each summer and helping spread the Stomping Ground story! -Laura

I received the following as an email last week. I cried. Then I yelled for Jack. Then I cried some more. Mary, a camper parent, posted this in a parent Facebook group and explains Stomping Ground more eloquently and beautifully then I ever have. Thank you Mary for letting us have Sam for a few weeks each summer and helping spread the Stomping Ground story!

For the past two years, I have had the pure delight of spreading the word about Camp Stomping Ground, a truly exceptional summer camp run by a passionate team of visionary thinkers with decades of experience leading, advising, and training many traditional summer camps all over the world.  Seeing what works well, and what's still missing at even excellent traditional camps, Stomping Ground directors Laura Kriegel and Jack Schott decided to create a camp that incorporates the best things traditional overnight camps offer--fun land and water-based activities around a lake, opportunities for friendship and team-building exercises, arts and crafts, fun and thoughtful games, theater arts, baking, etc, while incorporating truly revolutionary principles like self-direction, inclusion, cooperation, and radical empathy.

Stomping Ground's focus is on more than enjoying nature, building friendships, and developing autonomy; they aim to provide the kind of experience that transforms kids' vision of what is possible, and to empower them to be a force for good in a changing, challenging world.  They do this by providing lots of support for kids as they learn to listen to their own voice while developing empathy, comfort with diversity, conflict resolution skills, and emotional regulation/social skills.  

The staff to camper ratio is very small, which allows their highly-trained and well-supported staff to provide a space for every child to feel supported, validated, and respected--all while having tons of fun and making new friends, which, again, they actually facilitate and support, rather than simply providing the opportunities and letting kids find their own way, which is how many camps operate.  Hiring diverse staff who have demonstrated experience in child-centered approaches, and then training them extensively in cooperation vs. coercion-based leadership approaches is one of the things that makes Stomping Ground different, along with their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and affordability, which is reflected in their voluntary sliding scale fee structure, which starts at just $499 per week--a fraction of what similar sleepaway camps in the Catskills charge!  They are also committed to working with people who can't afford the minimum to enable kids to come who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend, which speaks volumes of their commitment to economic diversity and making this incredible opportunity available to as many families as possible. 

From personal experience, though, Stomping Ground has been an incredible gift to our family.  The kid I picked up after that first week at camp was a different kid than the one I had dropped off.  My sensitive, sometimes-socially-anxious and insecure-but-feisty-and-fun, picky-eating son was confident, relaxed, and joyful after a week away trying new things and basking in such a child-centered culture. The Staff and Directors spent the week paying close attention to and delighting in my son and he was transformed by the experience. He made meaningful connections with a lot of new people and made a few good friends, and he literally tripled his food repertoire. Sun-Nut Butter, who knew?!  He decided then and there that he would be returning the next year, but for TWO weeks, and he regaled us all the way home with highlights of his week, which included an epic spaghetti battle, all-camp night games, gaga, foam swords and LARP, fishing, making his own bow, and mattress races on the lake. The substantial time that Laura and Jack had spent personally talking with me and Sam over the phone and visiting us at our house to get acquainted months and weeks before camp really helped us feel connected, as did the follow up phone calls to process and help them plan for next year--they bent over backwards to meet all of our specific requests and suggestions. 

New this year, they have added round trip van transportation from Chestnut Hill to their camp in Deposit, NY, which is in the Catskills, just outside Binghamton, NY.  When my son heard this, he informed us he wants to ride with the other kids in the van--he's looking forward to the 3 hours of singing, games, and ice-breaking activities they will do. I was surprised, but not really, given how much trust he has developed with the Stomping Ground staff who will be accompanying the kids on the ride. 

I am happy to answer any questions you may have about my family's experiences with Stomping Ground, and you can get a great sense of who they are by checking out their   website:, but if you are at all curious, please come out to their local Meet and Greet/Open House event on Sunday, January 29th at Earth Bread and Brewery between 11:30 and 1:30.  You and your kids can get acquainted with the directors and many of the key staff while enjoying free pizza and refreshments, and also meet some of the other local families who will be going this summer.  The directors will also be at the SCH Summer Camp Fair the day before, so feel free to check them out there, if Sunday is not an option for you.  Info about the Camp Fair is available in a separate post and also at

Best of luck in your camp search, 
Mary A. Harris,
Proud mom of Sam, Camp Stomping Ground camper 


Questions? Give Laura call.

(585) 489-8880

Making the Summer of 2017 the Best One Yet!

Laura has spent the last few months trying to talk with or visit all of our camper families, looking for feedback and hearing awesome stories. We heard so many great stories about friendships made, campers handling conflict more restoratively after camp, incredible memories of wonder and awe, and so many more positive responses. We are currently way ahead of our projected registrations for next summer, and by all measures seem to have had the best summer yet. With that in mind we want to make 2017 even better for all campers.

To that end, we are focusing on three key areas for 2017: transportation to camp, hygiene, and opportunities for skill development and camp lead activities (that of course won’t be mandatory).


We serve a lot of families for whom it is not convenient to travel to the Catskills for summer camp, and would like to serve even more. While we don’t have concrete plans just yet, the most likely scenario will be to have two central pick-up stations - one in Chestnut Hill, PA and one near a New Jersey Transit station just outside of NYC. We would arrive with vans and bring campers up to camp and drop them off again after each session. We are committed to figuring out a better way to make Stomping Ground accessible for our current and future NYC and Philadelphia families and will keep everyone updated as the details are finalized.


At Stomping Ground, we recognize that our campers and families have different goals around campers’ hygiene at camp. Last summer we provided all campers opportunities to shower and brush their teeth everyday, and some did not hold themselves to the same standard of hygiene that their parents had hoped for. Balancing being a culture of consent and trust with the understandable desires of campers’ parents for them to maintain a certain level of cleanliness has been tricky, but we have a new plan for 2017.

This summer we are doing two things to help support kids in making healthier hygiene choices.

Village Leaders

We are hiring an extra staff member in each village. The role of these village leaders will be to further ensure that we have an extra, intentional set of eyes on each person that comes to camp. They will being looking out to make sure kids are having a great time, not being left out, and are making healthy hygiene choices. The village leaders will keep an eye out for if certain campers are choosing not to shower, change their clothes, etc and be prepared to have conversations with campers about those situations. They will function more like the village mom or dad while the counselors can be like fun older siblings. They will also be empowered to consult with camp directors and camper families to ensure that hygiene-based decisions are in accordance with each family’s goals.

Simpler Routines and More Direct Conversations

We will have more established routines within each village and more specific support early in each session to help campers realize when good times to shower, brush their teeth, and change clothes are. If campers are choosing not to shower, for instance, we will chat with them about why they are making that choice and then give parents a call if they continue to choose not to. This was the policy last year, but follow-through on this policy could have been much better. With the added support of the village leaders and more focused attention on hygiene we will be able to ensure that all campers maintain levels of hygiene consistent with their and their family’s goals.


We changed the schedule every week last summer to better serve the community. We noticed during the first week that campers seemed to want more free choice options and less waterfront time. We added a fourth option period and shortened waterfront. That seemed to work. During the second week, I talked with a number of campers looking for more opportunities to develop skills and smaller communities. They loved options like fire building, bamboo bow making, and pottery. So for week three we added a number of weeklong options like survival skills, photography, and baking. These turned into many of the campers’ favorite moments of camp. It confirmed our belief that given the right environment, people want to learn and develop new skills.

This summer we are going to double down on this belief. We are working to develop a number of new weeklong options like LARP, backpacking (hopefully capped with a day long hike and camp out), painting, and more.

Camp Lead Options

Along with providing camper more opportunities for more skills development, we are working on a better system for campers to share their passion and lead more activities. Last summer campers would talk with Kate, our Master of Fun and Games, and she would put their camper-led activities on the schedule. For a number of reasons this didn't catch on as we hoped. This year we will help campers on the first day to understand the system, and help and encourage to them provide offerings for other campers. All camper-led and weeklong options will remain optional. We will continue to provide silly and serious one day options every day, and of course, Downtown Stomping Ground isn’t going anywhere.

I can’t wait to make 2017 the best summer yet!

If you have any questions please give me a call or email. 

(585) 451-5141

Why Summer Camp - Stomping Ground Manifesto

Re-imagining a more perfect world at camp.

Summer camp should be a place where we can create the world we want our kids to live in and help inspire them to re-imagine what is possible when they leave. At Stomping Ground that means creating a culture based on authentic friendships, treating people the way they want to be treated, dreaming enormous dreams, singing by the campfire, playing gaga, and so much more.


They see bullies and liars bullying and lying their way to power. They see angry adults on TV yelling about who knows what, instead of working through differences and finding common ground. Growing up in a media crazed world it would be easy to assume this broken world is the only way groups of people can live. As much as want to, we can’t wave a magic wand and make all that go away.


At Stomping Ground we get the opportunity to show the world that people from diverse backgrounds can come together, build authentic life long friendships, have an incredible amount of fun, and make lasting memories, all while living in a community where everyone’s voice is heard. They are free to make their own decisions. Conflict is worked through in a restorative way, and people are treated the way they want to be treated


We believe that if kids have a chance to live for a few weeks each summer with a diverse assortment of new and old friends in a small community based on trust, empathy, and compassion, that we can all work together to re-imagine a wide world based on trust, empathy, and compassion. 

We believe if kids get a chance to live in a diverse community of people treating each other with respect, and they get to see that it not only doesn’t suck, but just the opposite is true. That the community of respect is actually so much more fun and fulfilling than so many of those tough places they see on TV, at school, or in other aspects of their lives. Then maybe, just maybe, we can inspire a generation of young people re-creating the world they live in. Re-creating their world one tiny decision at a time. Stomping Ground exists to develop emergent communities of self-directed individuals practicing radical empathy and re-imagining a world where more is possible.


Check out our summer camp options or just give me a call. 

(585) 489-8880

A Simple Process for Restorative Conflict Resolution at Summer Camp

“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they will react. But if you say, we want peace, we want stability, we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.”
- Nelson Mandela

I remember working at a camp where two eight-ish year old boys were furious with each other. I was the assistant director and a counselor brought the boys to me to “figure it out”. Like most organizations that work with kids, we had a zero tolerance bullying policy, a policy against hitting each other, a policy against… you name it. There were a lot of policies and the people that made the policies are great people. People who care about kids and want the best for them. 

So these boys, let’s call them Eric and Reese, were very upset. There had been an altercation in the bath house in which Eric claimed Reese had pushed him and Reese denied it, saying, “Eric SHOWED ME HIS…” There were a lot of details and many of those details didn't line up. I didn’t know what to do. I didn't have good strategies, tactics, or a philosophy that made sense to me in this situation. All I knew was that the kids were mad, the counselor had no idea what to do, and my boss expected me to fix it. 

So we went for a walk. 

When it was just the boys and me, they calmed down. We threw some rocks, — there was a policy against that too — talked about other stuff, and saw some parts of camp they didn’t know existed. Finally, without any prompting, Eric apologized to Reese for showing him his …, Reese apologized to Eric for pushing him, and I thought I was a genius. Eric and Reese were now deeply engrossed in a friendly discussion about who the coolest Avenger is.

Patting myself on the back, I walked them back to their cabin and headed down to the office to tell everyone how smart I was. Turns out, I am an idiot. Back in the office, our director had heard about the pushing and the exposure. He says the kids have to go home. We have a zero tolerance policy for bullying and hitting. 

WHAT!? I can’t believe it. I argue and argue and get no where. Eric and Reese get sent home. They “needed to learn a lesson”. What lesson!? That rules are all that matter? To never trust adults because they will kick you out if you are honest and open?

They are confused, I am confused, and the policy continues. Lesson learned. 

Here is the lesson kids learn in most situations with adults: You can avoid punishment by denying wrongdoing, keeping your head down, or simply saying sorry. 

Instead of asking them to change, let’s change the system. Instead of having a system designed to cover our asses, lets build a system that encourages Eric and Reese have that conversation and as long as people feel safe, let’s trust them when they are ready to move on. 


The Stomping Ground Circle System 

Laura Kriegel has developed what we call the Circle System. It isn’t quite perfect, but moves us by quantum leaps in the direction we want to go. 

The goal of the Circle System is to heal harm, to mitigate future harm, and to build community. The Circle System is a super simple idea that basically says, let’s talk about it and brainstorm together how to get what we are wanting. 

The hard part is we have to build trust within the community that the grownups involved won’t mess it up. This will help ensure that kids voices will be heard, listened to, and respected. It takes the power away from policy and puts it into the hands of the people involved in the conflict. 

Below is a video that describes how the system is structured. 

Call/Text/Email Laura to learn more

You can read more about what has inspired our Circle Process
Laura’s Time at The Circle School - A Democratic School
Compassion and Mindfulness at Summer Camp

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What I Learned at The Circle School

I recently went out to dinner with some friends; it was a fun evening in a quiet but colorful Louisiana inspired restaurant. During dinner, one of my friends turned to me and said, “so what was a typical day like at The Circle school?” My answer took up the remainder of the dinner conversation. It was as if someone turned on a fire hydrant and could not figure out how to turn it off. I could not stop sharing stories, debating philosophy, and reliving how inspired I was to be part of a community that truly trusts kids and their natural capacity to learn. I left the restaurant and whispered to Jack, “Did I talk too much?” He smiled and put his arm around me, which I took to mean yes, but that it wasn’t a bad thing.

This past month, I got to intern as a staff member at The Circle School in Harrisburg, Pa. The Circle School is a democratic school that offers students a chance to be part of a community of peers living and learning together. The school has 70 students and 5 staff. There is , no curriculum, no grades, no tests, and students are not segregated by age.  Students and staff are given equal responsibility in running the school.

I was there to see what I could glean from this intentional community in which students are empowered and self-determined. I had hopes to learn more about how culture is formed, and how conflicts are solved when adult control is not the default authority.


If you are familiar with democratic schools feel free to skip this paragraph.
Students and staff create the law book that consists of community standards, rules and regulations that each member of the school is responsible for holding others accountable to. The Legislative body of the school is called the School Meeting, which is held every Wednesday. It is run by an elected official who is usually a student. During the meeting, laws might get passed, amended, repealed or otherwise scrutinized. Committee members and chairs of various school corporations also report their weekly business to school meeting. The school also has a judicial system. If a member of School Meeting feels that someone has broken or violated a rule, they might write that person up using a complaint form. The Judicial Committee (JC) then hears the complaints. The Judicial Committee is made up of one student under 10, one student older than 10, a staff, a scribe, and a chair (both the scribe and the chair are elected positions). The JC is responsible for investigating and charging School Meeting members with the law that they broke and assigning a consequence that is aimed at helping to remind the student or staff what the rules and standards of the community are.

More about The Circle School


Kids learn by talking, playing, fighting, laughing, and being bored. Every day at The Circle School is different. There are scheduled meetings, student initiated classes and events that might take place. However, most of the day for the majority of students is spent in pursuit of whatever lets them feel happy and fulfilled in the moment. This might be practicing instruments in the music room, playing video games in the sun space, playing cards in the upstairs kitchen, playing 4 square outside etc. There is so much to do that more often you hear from students that they are very busy rather than bored. Sometimes, however, students do say “I’m bored,” to which the response is often, “What do you want to do?”. In this moment real learning and critical thinking about what you like and what you want to invest your time in takes place. What happened next was amazing to watch. Often students got up to stuff like producing a short film, initiating a new corporation, inventing and playing an intricate board game, watching enough YouTube videos to learn how to make a website, baking brownies to fundraise for a zip line, or other equally rich self directed activities. This is project-based learning in the truest sense.

One of the things that was surprising to me was the kinds of risky play that kids engaged in. I have read article upon article about the importance of risky play and how it leads to self awareness and resilience. I was also aware that at schools like this one, tree climbing and other risky stuff was common; however, it wasn’t until I watched a 10-year-old girl shimmy herself high into a pine tree, and felt my stomach lurch, that I recognized the extent of risky play that happens and also its value. I observed that students at The Circle School were often more confident, not only in their social and emotional skills but also in their decisions and actions. Students are used to taking full responsibility for the ideas and decisions they make, which they learn by slowly finding the edge of their comfort zone and pushing it a little further. This process leads to self-determined and self-actualized kids. It was so refreshing, and freeing to be around people who recognize and assume responsibility for themselves.


One of the things that I was curious about when I got to the school was how conflicts were solved. The justice branch of the school is modeled after our society’s justice system, a system that I think is beyond broken. I was concerned that a culture of blame and shame would therefore rule at school as well. I was concerned that students would abuse or thwart a system by constantly calling each other out or trying to hide their actions as to not get caught. What I found instead was that for the most part, students took pride in the laws and used the JC system as a tool to hold each other to the previously agreed upon standards. Sure there were times when students held contempt for JC or felt worried about a what a JC might decide, but most members of the school trusted the system and placed natural authority on its power to decide what is fair and just. For some, being sent to the JC was how they found out about a particular rule, for others it was a friendly reminder.

I think it makes a huge difference that everyone in the school, 4-year-olds to 18-year-olds, take a turn sitting on the JC for a week at a time. There was so much empathy for the other side because everyone in the room had literally been in the other person’s position before. My favorite consequences were the ones that the defendants thought up themselves, such as ways to help remind them to sign in when they got to school, clean up messes in the art room, or keep their cool in an argument. In the beginning of my time at the school, I had lots of questions about this process for staff. I did not understand the apparent lack of resentment or why students could not just talk it out and solve whatever their conflict was in the moment. Jim, one of the founders of the school and long time staff member said that there is an incredible sense of power and ownership that a student feels when they are given the control to see that others follow the rules. He noted that some of the younger students especially are extremely rule conscious; for them this is the first time they have been given such power and control.


Another one of my big takeaways was that I desperately needed to slow down and trust the system. On my third day there, JD, a long time staff member, pulled me aside and said, “It is ok just to watch.” He said he could tell that I felt anxious and concerned that I was not doing enough. I am used to running around like a chicken with my head cut off at camp, constantly conscious of what is un-raveling. It took me a while to relax and trust the system that they have in place. The Circle School community has been around for 32 years, and in that time they have had a chance to find and patch thousands of holes in their process. However, more impressive than their established rules is the complete trust that the staff and the students hold for the system. They trust that if something breaks, the community will come together and decide how to proceed. There is so much trust in the system and trust in each other and the collective wisdom of the people there. So as we move forward as an emerging summer camp, I am feeling extra conscious about how to create systems that empower our community members, systems that create foundations of trust.

In my final days in Harrisburg, I spent a lot of time reflecting and feeling grateful to the families that welcomed me into their homes. I stayed with 4 different host families over the course of my stay, each with a different story and relationship to The Circle School. I loved getting to know each of them, each place colored my perspective differently. I was treated with such warmth and love just for my interest and association with the school. I think that speaks volumes for the strength of their community. I felt honored that each family would share their stories and be vulnerable with me.

I left The Circle School feeling assured in my beliefs and passions. I am aware now, more than ever, of the work that needs to be done to provide an alternative to the conventional, outdated school system that most young people and teachers struggle with. I also know that there are passionate and intelligent people who believe more is possible and are creating these alternatives. I am aware that the most powerful and meaningful tool we as educators and youth advocates have is trust. I am grateful to wake up every morning driven to create more spaces where kids are trusted and empowered.

A Short Video I Made After My Time There

Laura Kriegel
Camp Director, Chief Heart Officer

****I would love to hear what you think and am always looking to talk more about these ideas. If you stay up late thinking about this stuff too, send me an email.

TED Talks We Love

Here are some TED talks that I find inspiring and have helped shape Stomping Ground from day 1. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

I remember the first time I was introduced to the idea of a TED talk. Jack actually sent me a link with the Ken Robinson “changing Education Paradigms” talk. This talk has changed the lives of thousands and continues to inspire and reframe the intention of education for people everyday

This next talk has inspired a conversation around vulnerability and shame. Berne Brown’s own raw vulnerability is inspiring. I recently sat down with my parents and re-watched these videos with them. I was in awe as we sat together and all felt swept up in Berne’s ability to connect us all on a deeply human level.


My good friend and roommate from college Ellie Perendy Introduced me to this video my Jill Bolton called a Stroke of insight. The video’s internal message has stuck with me ever since. Jill Bolton, a brain researcher, has a stroke. She gets a chance to watch her own brain go through this life altering experience. Jill witnesses her left brain and then her right brain control her thinking. What I took away from this video is the profound capacity we have as humans to connect and engage with the world around us in an inclusive and expansive way.

Jack is a huge fan of this TED talk. Another classic, Simon Sinek's “Start with Why” This talk and its core message has guided Jack and I through the process of creating Stomping Ground and is informing how we structure Staff orientation 2016. Simon is fascinated with how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change. “Start with why” advocates that people don't buy into what you do they buy into why you do it.

This last talk is by Bryan Stevenson. I think that Bryan is a brilliant story teller. I love how he passionately moves people to consider different perspectives and views on questions concerning race and privilege in the country. I am rejuvenated by his radical empathy and compassion for people. I am inspired by his vision for a more perfect world. 


Laura Kriegel
Camp Director, Chief Heart Officer


Drum roll please! Let me introduce to you our Chef for the summer Nicki Marenus. We are thrilled to have Nicki Marenus on the Stomping Ground team, she is definitely a part of our family. During the fall winter and spring months Nicki is a chef at a local college where she is passionate about cooking wholesome healthy food for on the go college kids. We were lucky enough to find her this past year and we hit it off immediately! 

The kitchen is central to the happiness and vitality of camp. Nicki shares our passion for food cooked from scratch with real, wholesome ingredients. She also understands that food provides more than just nutrition to so many kids, good food can be comforting and emotionally satisfying as well.

Nicki food will provide the energy that kids need and the comfort they are craving. The other night Jack and I were atNicki’s house for dinner and to talk over some of the details for this summer. She cooked us some delicious, mac and cheese! I can't wait till you try it this summer!

Nicki believes that fresh food is important because your body feels better after you eat it, she knows that providing food with high nutritional value will help keep kids playing all day long.

Nicki says that her passion for food come from her family. She says “As a kid, the my favorite memories are from the dinner table, at Sunday dinner, surrounded by family, food, and love. I like that to be the way I cook, full of passion and love.

Nicki is excited to join us this summer to in part fulfill her childhood dream to go to camp! She says she feels lucky to take part in a such a wholesome program, surrounded by happy kids, getting to do what she loves.

What are you looking forward to eating at camp this summer!?


Meeting Peter Gray

 Jack and I have enjoyed reaching out and meeting people as a way of informing ourselves and advancing our learning along the way. We started by practically stumbling into camp directors and their camps in the the year we spent on the road. In the past few months we have had the fortune to meet and now partner with Dr. Peter Gray.

Peter Gray is an evolutionary psychologist. He is a professor at Boston College and the author of the book and popular Psychology Today blogs titled “Free to Learn”. Peter has been an inspiration to us since we started to dive into the “why” of summer camp. His work on free play or child directed play has informed the founding concepts behind Stomping Ground.

About a month ago Jack and I had a chance to visit Peter Gray in his home in Norfolk, Massachusetts, for lunch. We were beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with him and hear more of his insights into childhood today.

Peter talks a lot about the importance of unstructured, free play. Speaking from an evolutionary perspective, play is essential to the process of learning. We learn how to learn through play. Testing, experimenting, creating, and informing our curiosity. In today’s culture there is so much emphasis on academic rigor and measuring up and getting ready for the future. Unfortunately I think this often comes at the expense of social and physical and mental health.

Peter points to numerous studies that indicate that the rise in depression and anxiety in children is correlated with the decrease in free, unstructured play.

Jack and I were warmly welcomed into Peter's home and enjoyed some lentil soup and cranberry bread and cheese for lunch. We then sat around his wood fire stove and talked about the power of summer camp and what we can do to help our campers and our staff get back to the roots of play and why that is important. We talked about the shortcomings of school and how we as a culture and society have landed so far down the path of prescribed cookie cutter activities for kids. We talked about the fear that drives parents to hover and design childhood for their kids. It was an incredibly riveting conversation as we were still there almost 4 hours later.

I feel so grateful to be part of a movement as wholehearted and genuine as getting free play back into the lives of children.


PS Spots are running out for this summer. We would love you to join us. Give me a call or swing over to the registration page to reserve your spot.