One of the smartest and most meaningful traditions we ever began was that of the Alumni Letter. Every night during Leadership Training in June, at the end of campfire, we would read a letter from a staff member who was with us the summer before (and usually for many years before that) and who was not able to work at camp with us that summer.
It looked like this...after a long day of training, the staff would sit on the floor in front of the fireplace (the mosquitoes are too vicious in June in Muskoka to have a campfire outside). Travis and I would take our places on our story-telling bench in front of the fire. I would pull from behind the bench a special box that always held the Alumni Letter of the evening. The staff would unconsciously move a little closer, eager to hear the words of wisdom and love. We would read one letter each night, a letter that came from the hearts and souls of alumni we had asked to write them months before.
Some day in April, we would send out invitations to former staff members who would not be returning and ask them to write a letter to the staff of that year. We asked them to share their favourite memories, their best advice, the words they longed to say about camp and the importance of the work we do.
We had no idea at the time just how important these letters would become not only to the current staff who would hear them but also to those who wrote them. The authors took great care in the writing of their letters and often expressed to me how much work they put into them. They understood the importance of the task when it became their turn to write one.
Each night, I would smile to myself as I was reading, listening to the staff members whisper, trying to guess the author before it was over (we never told them until the end of the letter). There was laughter, there were often tears, and there was always the feeling that the alumni were with us, supporting us, helping to guide us, and passing us the torch.