Dear 2040: Damien Ruffner wonders about the future

By Damien Ruffner, Program Coordinator: Camps & Afterschool

October 2, 2015

Damien RuffnerDear Future Program Coordinator: Camps & Afterschool,

I hope this letter finds you well. As I sit here wondering what 2040 will look like at the Schuylkill Center, I can’t help but wonder if even the position will exist in that year. I have been here exactly three years as I write this and my title has changed three times in as many years. So I imagine it will continue to grow and evolve as the programing we offer moves forward.

I’m not sure if compensation time will still be in the handbook in 25 years, but I hope it is. Because this position requires a lot of it! I’ve worked 10 hour days, 14 hour days, I’ve slept here at the center, and I’ve worked overnights with kids for 3 or 5 days at a time. The position requires so much energy and dedication. But in my opinion it is clearly the best position to have here. No one does more fun stuff than I get to do. Kayaking, canoeing, parasailing, standup paddle boarding, camping at the most beautiful spots the mid-Atlantic region has to offer. And all of this doesn’t come close to the best part of my job, the kids. I am in the unique position where I not only get to see kids grow, I get to help in the process. Shaping the young minds of the future is such a satisfying thing for me. I’ve been here 3 full years now and have seen some small kids grow into young adult and mature right before my eyes. And my heart swells every time I think of each and every one of them. I hope you love this place as much as I do. I hope you love the early mornings. Mornings when you’re the first one here, working a 10 hour day-off camp and closing the building after everyone has left. Those are the days I’ll remember the most. Those are the days where your dedication and determination will be the only thing you have to rely on. But even with those long days, you get so much more out of the center than you put into it. Working a 10 or 12 hour day would be torture if it was in a hospital, or some corporate office. But here, on these 340 acres, it’s paradise. I hope you take advantage of the outdoor space. Take walks alone. Sit and just be in the presence of nature.

Another perk of my position is I get to work with such a wide range of the community. On a Monday, I might work with a group of Kindergarten students for a “first look at a pond” lesson. Tuesday I’ll work with an AP biology class on water quality and ethical water use. Wednesday I’ll work with a wide range age group from the Philadelphia School teaching about seeds. Then on Thursday and Friday, I’ll run day off camps for 5-12 year olds and take field trips to local outdoor and educational spaces. And finally on Friday night, run a stargazing event for 100+ adults looking to learn a little bit more about our world (And other worlds). It may seem overwhelming at first to think of such a diverse group that you have to reach. But it comes in waves. I started with just one group: our afterschool program, the Monkey-Tail gang. Then as things became more comfortable, more was added to my plate.

I get to be outside every single day. Not most days, not some days, all of them. I think about some positions here and they might spend the entire day indoors. And I feel for those people. If the position evolves to a point where you are stuck inside daily, I beg you to take a step outside every day. I see little point in working in such a magical place without experiencing it daily yourself. Reset with the natural world around you.

Good luck with all of your programming. I can’t imagine the types of programming you’ll offer in 25 years, But I’ll come back and visit. Maybe even my own kids will be a part of it? Who knows?

Damien Ruffner
Program Coordinator: Camps & Afterschool

Editor’s Note: Dear 2040 is a series of blog posts containing some of the letters included in our 50th anniversary time capsule, buried in October 2015.  Throughout the rest of 2015 we’ll be posting some of those letters, sharing what our leaders, thinkers, artists, and Schuylkill Center staff are thinking about the year 2040.  You can read all the posts here.