Sylvia van Meerten
Trainer, Facilitator, Therapist, Mom
Sylvia van Meerten has worked in the camping industry for 20 years. She has been a camp counselor and director, and now works as an executive director and board member at camps in several different states. 6 years ago, she founded a neurodiversity camp, specializing in campers with autism, which she now co-owns with Scott Arizala. Sylvia is regularly asked to speak at camps and conferences about autism, leadership, hidden curriculum, and difficult management scenarios. In addition to her work in the camping industry, Sylvia holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and operates a counseling practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Most recently, Sylvia converted her camp and psychology experiences into a career in executive coaching and corporate facilitation. She facilitates for top executives through Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and enjoys helping business leaders of all levels to navigate high-pressure decisions. Sylvia is passionate about combining innovative camp programs and smart business practices to better serve communities across the world.
Sarah Kurtz McKinnon
Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Mom
Sarah Kurtz McKinnon graduated cum laude from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2008. Although she had a passion for writing, she had another passion as well: changing lives through the power of summer camp.
In 2009, Sarah earned the opportunity to become one of the youngest YMCA camp executives in the country, taking the helm of Ann Arbor YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian at the age of 23. She served as the director of Camp AGQ for nearly six years. During that time, the camp saw incredible growth, with a 40 percent increase in positive annual net for the program and nearly $1 million in capital construction improvements. Sarah’s dynamic and creative leadership approach took an already great camp to another level of excellence, receiving recognition at the national level for its success.
Sarah handed off Camp Al-Gon-Quian to her successor in 2015 to become a camp consultant and trainer.
Her goal was to help other camps and camp professionals reach their full potential. She also co-founded, with Jack Schott, The Summer Camp Society, a collaborative, community-based education program for emerging camp professionals. Sarah is regularly recruited to keynote camp and recreation conferences across the United States and actively writes about leadership in the camp and business settings. She co-authored a book for camp professionals with Steve Maguire, entitled Not the Way You Have Always Done It, and a case study she co-authored with Dr. Wayne Baker about organizational development was recently published by the Harvard Business Review.
In 2018, Sarah earned her Master’s in Business Administration from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, graduating with high honors. She now serves as an instructor for a MBA class in the Management and Organizations Department at Ross. Sarah volunteers as a board member for the Washtenaw Camp Placement Association, a local non-profit that sends kids to camp who otherwise would never have the opportunity.
Jack struggles with rules, sitting still, and following directions. Constantly searching for new ideas and unwilling to accept the status quo, he teamed up with Laura Kriegel to found Camping Coast to Coast in 2012. With an eye for adventure and searching for what made summer camp special, they spent two years visiting over 200 camps and 47 states, writing, presenting, and documenting along the way.
With just enough understanding to be dangerous, they founded Camp Stomping Ground in 2015.
With no outside funding, Jack and his team have grown Stomping Ground from 1 one-week session in 2015 to 6 weeks and over 700 campers in 2019. Stomping Ground has built a reputation as one of the most innovative and disruptive camps in the country, challenging conventional wisdom on what is possible through program design, staff recruiting, and creating inclusive environments. A sought after consultant and trainer, Jack works with camps across North America to develop innovative programs, train more intentional staff, and more effectively deliver their mission.
Consultant, Trainer, Camp Director, Innovator
Consultant, Trainer, Camp Director, BCBA
Erin Ross is a camp director and consultant from San Diego, California. Erin began her camp career with Camp Kesem at UC San Diego, a summer camp for children affected by a parent’s cancer, in 2008. Erin spent 3 years at YMCA Camp Marston’s Outdoor Education program as a program instructor and supervisor.
She developed a passion for working with unique populations at Dragonfly Forest, a Pennsylvania summer camp for children with autism and special medical conditions, where she worked for 5 years as an activity coordinator and program director. Erin has been a camp director at Camp Tall Tree, a Michigan camp for children with autism and their siblings, since 2014. It was her experience at Dragonfly Forest and Camp Tall Tree that led Erin to pursue a Master’s degree in autism and behavior analysis. When not running around in a costume or singing songs at summer camp, Erin works in Southeast Michigan as a board certified behavior analyst with children and adults with autism, and as a youth development consultant and trainer across the country.
Nelson Strickland is a camp director and youth development consultant from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Nelson has been involved in summer camp and youth development for over 15 years as a camper, counselor, unit leader, and camp director.
Consultant, Trainer, Camp Director
He found his passion for working with unique populations at Dragonfly Forest, a Pennsylvania summer camp for children with autism and special medical conditions, where he went from one of the first campers to one of the Camp Directors. Nelson has been a camp director at Camp Tall Tree, a Michigan camp for children with autism and their siblings, Camp Kesem at Rowan University, a nationally affiliated summer camp program for kids affected by a parent’s cancer, and L.G. Cook 4H Camp, a New Jersey 4H camp focused on outdoor living and environmental education. He is currently the Camp Director for the YMCA Camp Birkett, a Michigan day camp program, where he oversees the finances and admin, staffing, camper recruitment, facilities, and is a senior director in the YMCA leadership. He recently launched See The Color, a summer camp consulting company focused on African-Americans in the camping industry. As a consultant and trainer, his primary focus is on camper engagement, behavior management, special needs, large group programming, staff diversity, working with campers with chronic illnesses, and camp leadership. When Nelson is not running summer camps or helping others run quality youth programs, he enjoys dancing, DJing, and all things music (and, of course, shoe collecting).