Q&A with Wanakee Executive Director James Tresner

Wanakee United Methodist Center Executive Director James Tresner, right, talking with folks at the Wanakee Wilderness 5K on Aug. 13, 2016.

August 29, 2016

Wanakee United Methodist Center Executive Director James Tresner was hired to lead the camp in Meredith, NH, in February 2016. We spoke to him after the Wanakee 5K on Aug. 13, about his first six months on the job.
Overall, how are things going?

Things are going really well, especially given that I’m 6 months in and bearing in mind the significant gap between my start date and the departure date of my predecessor. Our overnight camper numbers ticked up roughly 7 percent in 2016, and our fundraising has been really strong – this speaks to the powerful love of this place by so many. More people of all ages are getting to experience Wanakee, and that’s something that I think the Wanakee community should be really excited about, and also proud of.  Whatever success we have is due to their engagement and generosity.
Whenever  we’ve had a need, people have come through – from the successful $10,000 dollar-for-dollar match campaign in June, to covering the entire cost ($5,950) of a brand new double convection oven plus installation – plus $4, to the constant flow of donations from our Amazon wish list.
Tresner wrote about the oven in a few posts on Facebook. Here is an excerpt from his Aug. 2 post:
“ … Why am I sharing all this? As an example of Wanakee’s management philosophy in 2016. In my last note, I mentioned one of the mantras among staff in 2016: “Wanakee is a place where we do things the right way.” There were other options available. Those options were less systemic. Less comprehensive. Less permanent. With the support of an engaged Facilities Committee and Board of Directors, these beautiful new machines are examples of a commitment to professional standards, a growth mindset, and confidence in Wanakee’s future.”
Read the full post on Facebook
What are you most proud of at this point?
One of things that I’m most proud of is the 2016 summer staff. Fourteen out of twenty-one had worked at Wanakee previously, and working in the same place under different leadership is never easy. Their accomplishments and ability to succeed during a summer full of “firsts” speaks volumes about their passion for this place. Wanakee is so much bigger than any of us, and their effort and impact is proof that they understand that. Their strength of character and desire to be in service to youth and keep campers at the center of everything is extraordinary.
I’m still at the point where there are campers and staff who were campers when I was on summer staff from 2006-2009. I’ve loved getting to work closely with the next generation of Wanakee and Methodist leaders and to see young adults who have grown because they’ve been involved at Wanakee and witness the upstanding people they’ve become … it’s remarkable, and proof that Wanakee does an excellent job creating leaders.
What is your favorite part of the job?
It is really personally meaningful to be at a place that means so much and have the chance to work with families, campers, staff, the Board, and Wanakee Enthusiasts of all stripes to shape this place’s future. I love digging into the complex problems, having the expected disagreements, and working collaboratively towards a bright future – in the challenge is the limitless opportunity.
This job is also full of very surprising nostalgic moments. From the obvious – sitting on inspiration point and watching a sunset, jumping in the lake, singing songs in the dining hall – to the less obvious - such as how a building smells or the jitters I shared with campers on the first day of the season. It’s been very meaningful, and I don’t think I fully appreciated how that would feel when I came on board.
Another highlight has been the conversations on Friday nights or Saturday mornings when campers are checking out, or when a camper comes back for a second or third week. Sometimes a camper will say something to me or another staffer, or the parent will take me aside and share what an impact Wanakee is having on their son or daughter. I’m so fortunate to have had that experience myself, and it’s an incredible honor to steward that experience for present and future campers.
I know you asked for one favorite and I’ve already shared three, but here’s one more: Wanakee’s volunteers. The individuals who return here year after year – we couldn’t do it without them, and I’m so grateful. The energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas they bring each summer are invaluable.
Anything surprised you about the job?
While I’m not surprised by the support by the Wanakee community, I’m still in awe of it. And the fact that so many people have lent so much support so quickly – it’s been incredible.
A narrower, less fun surprise is the scope of the needed facility maintenance to our existing infrastructure. We’re digging into the farmhouse this fall and spring using funds from the 2015 and 2016 Wanakee Wilderness 5Ks because the needs are acute and it’s the signature building of camp. We need to ensure that it is here for future generations. I have a new appreciation for the complexity of managing a site of wonderful, character-filled, historic buildings.
Are there any new projects/initiatives you are putting in place that you’d like to highlight?
In addition to all the things that have to happen every off season to keep things moving forward – supporting our retreats, program design, volunteer recruitment, hiring staff, paying the bills, an increased emphasis on talking to and listening to the Wanakee community etc. – I have four “big rocks” on my list for this “off-season”;
  • Renovating the farmhouse
  • Ensuring that the registration process is as smooth and user friendly as possible for families
  • Using the grant we received from the United Methodist Foundation of New England to purchase and implement a new online donor tool
  • Thinking about Wanakee’s web presence, our events, and all of our PR/marketing and getting the branding tied together more tightly
In addition to what we do day to day and year to year, the goal is for these four things to be changing over the next 45 weeks – but who’s counting.