Gather 'round the campfire ... and grow
STOCKHOLM, Wis. — Camp Pepin is well known as a destination for summer campers. But a new camp director is looking to use his 25 years of experience to raise the camp to new heights.
Steve Heiny started his new position under the auspices of Red Wing Family YMCA in December. It may be his first time working in Wisconsin, but he spent 12 years as an executive director for summer camps in Detroit and Indianapolis.
"I was going to be a teacher, but I did this in the summer until I found a 'real' job and I've stayed ever since," Heiny said.
He has clearly enjoyed the one-time summer job that has now turned into a career.
"I believe we have more of an impact on kids in summer camp than I would've in school. Kids can get what they need at camp," Heiny said.
Camp Pepin is a popular destination, with kids commonly coming from Red Wing, Lake City, Rochester, Minn., and La Crosse, Wis. The 600 campers are coming into a very welcoming place.
"The environment is great, not just the beauty of the lake but the environment of kids. It's a community of kids for kids, and I've been doing this long enough to see kids grow over the years," Heiny said.
Kelsey Lappegaard is in her third year as a counselor after nine years as a camper. The Red Wing High School graduate said the camp has always felt like home to her.
"It's a super important part of learning to step out of everyone else's expectations and find out who you are and what you want to do. Camp Pepin is a very non-judgmental place to be," Lappegaard said.
This aspect of growth and development is key to the YMCA's vision, but also to Heiny's enjoyment of what the camp offers.
"We give them opportunities to stretch their wings and try things they've never tried before. One thing parents can't do for their kids is be independent for them. But they can send them to a place where they pick their own clothes, pick their classes and be part of a team," Heiny said.
Heiny also said that summer camp can help kids forage through things to set them up to do well in college. He thinks that most kids don't succeed in college because they couldn't handle the independence the first time they're out on their own. Places like Camp Pepin allow children to slowly develop through that process.
Lappegaard has seen dramatic improvement in kids after a few summers at Camp Pepin.
"There's always the problem kids that you remember. But now this being my third year, they're not problem kids anymore but excellent children. It's really cool to watch that," Lappegaard said.
Heiny hasn't come into his new position looking to make drastic changes, but instead implement small improvements from past experiences.
"Their are best practices that camps have across the country from what's proven and works. There's positive things happening here and there's room to grow and progress," Heiny said.
Lappegaard said she has enjoyed Heiny's initial effects.
"He brings a lot of ideas and a take charge attitude. It can be intimidating to come into a place where there are traditions, but he's done very well in embracing what we have and turning it up a few notches," she said.
Heiny doesn't only enjoy the growth of his campers, but also the improvement he sees in his counselors.
"It's a great first job. Nothing matures a 19-year-old more than taking care of 12-year-olds," Heiny said.
Capitalizing on Mother Nature
Even though the camp is located on the shores of Lake Pepin, one of the biggest areas of improvement Heiny described was getting a boat and utilizing the body of water in their backyard.
"We don't use the lake nearly as much as we can. We're just getting into sailing, because it's a fantastic lake and a great resource," Heiny said.
Lake Pepin, as an extremely wide spot on the Mississippi River, offers some of the best sailing in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
While summer is the busiest and most exciting time at Camp Pepin, still stresses that this is a year-round operation.
"Some people forget that we're here the rest of the year. We rent out cabins and have a lot of different groups. We're not just a summer camp, but an outdoor center," Heiny said.
Heiny's position as director has allowed him to see all of the little aspects of the entire camp operation. With only a few months in his new location, Heiny said he hopes he will continue to see the growth of his campers and counselors in his future years at Camp Pepin.
Summer camp continues for five more weeks, with plenty of opportunities to still sign up. Visit www.redwingymca.org/camps/camp_pepin for more details.