Monday, May 20, 2013

Andy Pritikin Interview, from U.S. 1 Magazine

Where were you born and raised?
Born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in Caldwell, NJ. Hence, my affinity for the Mets, Giants and Nets- Sorry Philly Phans!

What did your parents do professionally?
Mom is a nurse and eccentric world traveler (currently in the Australian outback), father is a CPA in NYC.

How did you end up going to camp?
One day my Dad came home from work and told me and my brothers that he had a new client- a Camp Owner, who owned a beautiful sleepaway camp up in the Bershires. My Dad was born and raised in Brooklyn, went to camp for ONE SUMMER, for ONE WEEK- and it was the greatest week of his childhood. He always promised himself that if there was any way he could send my brothers and me to Camp, he would. We were given a deal at one of the most high-end camps in the country, and it was the two greatest summers of my childhood- Waterskiing, playing tennis (two things I’d never done) and living in a bunk with a group of new friends- amazing experiences.  Plus the spirit and community of Camp- something I had never imagined.  I’m a strong believer that it helped me out in my transition at college, and helped make me the person I am today.

What was your career path and how did you become a professional camp operator?
I was a professional musician, won on Star Search, was on the radio/TV- and was working as an instrumental music teacher (band director) in Wall Township and South Orange/Maplewood- while gigging until 2am with my band in NYC.  It was quite an exciting (and exhausting) life.  When my band broke up in around 1995, I cut my dreadlocks off (seriously) and considered getting my administrative degree, and becoming a principal. At the same time, I was working during the summers at a Camp in North Jersey that was part of a group of eight of the most successful, high-end camps in the NY/NJ Tri-State area. These people convinced me to leave my tenured teaching job, and at 27 years old, work alongside some legendary-to-be Camp operators and leaders of the American Camp Association. I had just bought a house in North Jersey, and my wife was pregnant with my daughter- but I took the plunge, and never looked back.  I was the director of North Shore Day Camp in Glen Cove, NY for 4 summers, and started Liberty Lake Day Camp in 2002, which is just down the road in Mansfield Township, NJ. At the same time, I ascended up the ladder of the American Camp Association, as a Board Member for the past 15 years, and the Professional Development Chair- overseeing the many conferences we have throughout the off-season, including the largest gathering of camp professionals in the world- The Tri-State Camp Conference in Atlantic City, every March. Starting in 2014, I will be the President of the NY/NJ Affiliate.

Would you elaborate on your work as a musician, how that developed, and if that work supports you off season?  And is the camp a year-round occupation?
Besides performing with Absolut Drama on Star Search on 1991, local radio and TV, and playing most every medium sized venue in the late 80s and early 90s in and around NYC, my Jazz group, Brilliant Coroners, had been together since the early 90s, and played throughout NYC, including the Blue Note (which I personally rank higher than my Star Search appearance.)  I was also in an amazing Pink Floyd cover band called Interstellar Overdrive, which performed 3 hour epic Pink Floyd shows, with lasers, floating pigs, etc. I officially retired from performing about 6 years ago- as my Camp career, and my family took over my life- including starting a second Camp up in the Boston area two years ago. I have a piano and a studio at home, but my big musical thing is what goes on at Liberty Lake- We are truly the “Camp of Rock”, as we employ a stable of great musicians, teach all the rock instruments, singing and even Rap. We have rock band classes, and the kids get to perform every Friday at our Lakeside Amphitheater in front of 600+ campers and 200 staff. There’s nothing like watching a band of 12 kids get up in front of everyone and perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or such- with many of the kids learning how to play just that summer!  Every Friday assembly ends with a rousing rendition of “The Liberty Lake Song”, which you can find on YouTube- which brings the house down. 20 years as a performing musician- and that song is probably the best song I ever wrote!

While you run a day camp, you mentioned the importance of overnight camps. Are you considering expanding your operations to overnight?
Yes, I am- I feel that there is a great market right now for SHORT SEASON (1-3 weeks) Resident Camps.  While I went away for the entire summer as a child- there are only a handful of camps left that do that, as this generation of “cool parents” actually WANT to spend time with their kids- plus 50% of parents are divorced/separated and want to be with their kids during their allotted weeks/weekends.

How many staff members do you employ during the year? High season and off season?
During the summer we have 200 employees. In the off-season, we have 5 full timers, and 4 part-timers. Remember that we have to register 1000 campers, hire 200 staff, book 100 picnics/special events, take care of 60 acres of property, run the NJ Renaissance Faire- This is no small operation. One thing about staff and camping- Summer Camps are a HUGE employer of youths and teachers during the summer months. And as we are currently experiencing the worst percentage of “youth unemployment” (ages 16-24) since they started keeping records 60 years ago. While the recession has made operating a Camp more challenging- Hiring quality staff has been better than ever, with a huge pool of applicants- enabling us to truly raise the bar of expectations.

What is the toughest part of running a camp?

Most of my non-camp director friends tell me “I wish I could have your job”- Outside playing with the kids, giving inspirational speeches to the staff, etc. But once they hear about the responsibilities and stress that I have to manage, they quickly change their mind. The wide range of behavioral issues of campers (and their parents), managing modern days teens and 20-somethings, school buses, pools, lakes, regulatory agencies, township zoning/planning boards, rain storms, heat waves- I could tell you stories that would make your head spin. Our former security guard was a high ranking military officer in the South Pacific during the Korean War, and he used to shake his head at me during the summer and say, “I wouldn't do your job for all the tea in China!”  For me, the positives outweigh the stress and challenges. I get to see little kids grow up into contributing members of society, I meet hundreds of great new people every year, and I am seen by my camp families in a way that people often view their pastor or their rabbi- as a youth development professional, and a partner in their children’s upbringing. It’s a tremendous opportunity to contribute to so many lives, each and every year- which I take it extremely seriously, and my Camp families know and appreciate that.