Open Letter to the Board of Directors, YMCA Camp Jorn

I mentioned in my previous post, the camp where I worked in my very early adulthood, has recently made a terrible mistake. The Board of Directors has requested that Dennis Lipp, the director of Camp Jorn for 23 years, to pursue other opportunities.  They have also declined to explain to the Camp Jorn community why this has happened, other than this brief statement, posted on facebook August 26th:

  • The Board of Directors has asked our Executive Director, Dennis Lipp, to consider other employment opportunities. This action was taken for the best interests of Camp Jorn YMCA and Dennis. Further information will be released shortly.

They have been deleting the many posts showing support for Dennis and requesting more information about this change, so I’ve decided to post my letter here, where it can be viewed by whoever would like to see it, I’ve also sent this to all of the Board Members, Liz Ulhlein, and a couple of letters to the editor in local newspapers.  There isn’t much I can do about this situation from so far away, but my heart is aching for the effect this will have on a place that meant so much to me.    If any of you have other suggestions, please let me know.

The letter is as follows:

Dear Members of the Camp Jorn Board of Directors,

When I think back to all the lessons I learned while working at Camp Jorn in the late 90s this is the most indispensable: we all make mistakes, and we all have a choice in how we respond to them. Let me explain how I learned this lesson, why it has been so vital in my life, and why it should be a lesson for the Board of Directors on the eve of the decision to ask Dennis Lipp to pursue other opportunities.

When I was 18. I was a mess. I’d grown up in an abusive home and I’d had very few positive adult role models. I had no idea how to be an adult.  When Dennis offered me a job as a counselor at Camp Jorn, I almost cried.  I worked at Camp Jorn for at least part of the next four summers.  Each summer I learned, each summer I changed.  Camp, in so many ways, gave me a home for the first time in my life.

At the end of my second summer I made a mistake. No one was hurt, no campers were nearby, but I was complicit and as the oldest in the group, I was responsible. My lack of attention could have led to more serious consequences.   Dennis didn’t make any decisions before he talked to me; in fact, he listened more than he spoke. I learned so much from the role that Dennis played in this interaction, more than I realized at the time.  His leadership and guidance, the obvious thought he put into handling the situation correctly, these are all tools I use now, both in my own life, and as an educator. He also trusted me to learn from my mistake, to react like the adult that I was still learning how to be.

I don’t think I ever told Dennis how much that trust meant to me; how much those interactions changed me.  That trust and belief made me stronger, and gave me the belief in my own possibilities.  Those early learning experiences have made me the Researcher, Biologist, and Educator I am today. Women with PhDs in science are still the minority; still more rare are those who come from my broken background. While, many turning points have led me to the success I have today, the first of those came from Camp Jorn, and I credit Dennis with giving me that opportunity.  I teach college students, the same age I was when I was under the tutelage of Dennis, and I can only hope that the example I set for them is as strong and positive as the one Dennis set for me that day so long ago.

Board members, I’d like to take a step back, use what I’ve learned from my interactions with Dennis, and tell you that I’m willing to listen.  It is possible that you think that these actions are what is best for Camp Jorn, and indeed for Dennis.

However, based on the information that I have available to me, I can say with certainty, that you have made two mistakes, and I hope you will choose to respond to them well.

1) The first is a mistake of openness and honesty.  The world of social media is fast.  I live in Costa Rica, and heard about this on the day it happened.  You don’t have the luxury of waiting to let the Camp Jorn community know why this decision was made.  Rumors fly fast and judgments are made in an hour.  We all think of Dennis as family.  There is no question that if it comes to supporting Dennis vs. supporting Camp Jorn, we will all support Dennis, with our money, with our recommendations, and with our time, particularly when we are left in the dark. I urge you to speak out.  Honesty and accessibility of information will go far in helping those of us who feel so frustrated.  You will lose much if you lose all of us.

2) The second is a mistake of being quick to judge.  I’d advise you to look at your actions.  Being hasty, making decisions before you know all of the information: these are things that all of us do from time to time. Based on the little information that you have given me, I think you’ve made a mistake.  I cannot imagine a situation in which Dennis Lipp is not what is best for Camp Jorn, and I cannot imagine a situation in which a single board meeting, without any current staff or any of the community present, is enough to decide to let Dennis go after 23 years of faithful service to all of us.

I will try to be patient, and follow the example of my mentor, Dennis Lipp.  I will wait for an explanation before solidifying my plans, and I will hope above all else that you are able to take these mistakes and respond in the way that is best for Camp Jorn and for Dennis Lipp.

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~ by Meghan on August 28, 2013.

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