Head Start


Presented by Gary Forster 


If your summer youth camp struggles to fill (and as a result doesn't contribute to your overall overhead) it's easy to say "we've tried everything," or worse, "that's just the way it is with youth camps."   Except Gary has studied a hundred camps that use specific strategies for success without compromising their mission.  It's an invigorating trip seeing real-life examples of "stuff that works" while learning the underlying reasons so many camps fail.


We'll thoroughly cover marketing,  but using today's reality instead of historic habits. (Gary's MBA is from Purdue University.) You'll take home specifics strategies that bring results while costing less. 


We'll dig into options for program and facility design that provide the outcomes you want because they support your staff and your campers'-parents  (Gary's undergraduate degree is in Architecture).  We need to do both:  get kids to camp, and then keep them coming back.


And if you want, you can share your own camp's specific challenges and collect ideas for action steps you can take starting now to make this coming summer your organizations best ever.  This is not hype, this stuff works.


Note:  Gary spent 26 years turning around two YMCA camps that retained their Christian focus while serving a diverse population of camp clients from those at the brink of bankruptcy to those with mile-long waiting lists.  He then served 9 years as the US YMCA's national camping specialist, collecting best practices from camps that run full and putting those lessons into place to vastly improve under-performing camps.  He's since consulted with Christian Camps (a popular speaker at US CCC and ACA events), Girl Scouts, and independent camps.  He currently lives in Bellingham WA and volunteers at The Firs retreat center and camps. 


Gary Forster has a passion for camping that has driven him to develop a unique set of skills. After leading successful camps for more than 25 years, Gary has spent the past 13 years visiting, analyzing, and coaching over 300 individual camps.  Some were successful camps committed to continuous improvement.  Others were struggling with needs in a wide range of essential areas: program, marketing, executive training, facilities, strategic planning and more.  Camp directors, boards, and key stakeholders can all gain a powerful perspective seeing their special camp through a new set of eyes, and vividly portrayed, proven solutions.  Gary doesn’t always tell people what they want to hear, but they always know that he’s their partner in moving to greater levels of success. 


Sign up for Gary’s Head Start and expand your thinking about camp. 


More About Gary:

  • ACA New England Peter Kerns Award 2010 for development of camp professionals

  • YMCA "Legends of Camping" Hall of Fame, 2010

  • Camping Specialist, YMCA of the USA, Chicago IL

  • ACA National Board Member

  • Vice President, Greater Hartford YMCA (Camps Jewell, Woodstock, & Chase) Executive Director, Camp Jewell YMCA, CT

  • Property Manager & Summer Director, Camp Tecumseh YMCA, IN

  • Master of Science, Management/Marketing, Krannert Graduate School of Management, Purdue University

  • Summer Camp Director, Flat Rock River YMCA Camp, IN

  • Bachelor of Architecture, Kent State University

  • Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts of America



Camp Tours

The Camp Tour Head Start is an inexpensive and fun way to explore other camp and conference facilities, be inspired, and gather ideas to improve your facility or program. This year we will be touring three locations on the Sunshine Coast.  Let’s face it – most of us don’t get out much!  Your campers and staff will all benefit from the time you invest in studying other leaders in the industry.  Regardless of how many years you have been in camping, there is always something to learn from poking about another facility. This year’s tour will include:​

  • Camp Elphinstone (2 km from the Langdale ferry terminal)

  • Barnabas Family Ministries (Keats Island)

  • Keats Camps (Keats Island)

At each camp the group will be given a guided tour of the facility. This is a highly interactive day -  see something you are curious  about?  Just ask your guide for the story! 

Arrive at Conference on Sunday night to depart on the tour first thing on Monday morning. The time in the 15 passenger van provides an excellent opportunity to connect with other camp professionals, gain new ideas, and make new friends. Price of this tour includes one night’s accommodation (at Stillwood), an evening snack, breakfast and a hot lunch at Barnabas.


Please note:  Registration is limited to 14 people due to the capacity of the 15 passenger van and the capacity of our two water taxies.  People are welcome to meet us at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal rather than start at Stillwood.  If you choose this option, please call Paul Bailey (250-850-7193) in advance so we can figure out logistics.  We will issue a $20 discount for those who drive to Horseshoe Bay Monday morning and look after their own transport to Stillwood.​




Sunday, February 2, 2020

​8:00 pm    Arrive at Stillwood Camp and Conference Centre.

Monday, February 3, 2020

7:00 am          Quick Breakfast at Stillwood
7:15 am          Depart Stillwood Camp and Conference Centre
9:45 am          BC Ferry to Langdale from Horseshoe Bay 
10:40 am       Camp Elphinstone (45 minute tour)

11:30 am       Drive to Gibsons / Water Taxi to Keats Island
12:00 pm       Barnabas (45 minute tour)
12:45 pm       Hot Lunch provided by Barnabas
1:30 pm          Keats Camp Tour (30 minute tour)
2:30 pm          Water Taxi to Gibsons Landing

3:15 pm          BC Ferry to Horseshoe Bay 

6:00 pm          Arrive at Stillwood to kick off the Conference. 

Register Online

Questions: If you have any trouble or questions regarding

Head Start, contact the organizers.