I recently came across this article in the New York Times, “What Parents Don’t Get About Camp,” and in spite of it’s slightly off-putting title, it has a lot to say about why being a camp counselor is an especially important job for teens and college-age young adults (or anyone for that matter).
One of the main points the article makes is the link between having been a camper and becoming a counselor and why that’s both important for the counselor in a personal sense, and how it has meaning once you’ve got the job.
Most staff members return to camp after years as campers to pay it forward — delivering the quintessential camp experience to the next set of campers. You are the warmest, silliest, most fun (and responsible) counselor you can be, because you remember just how phenomenal your staff was.
None of this is to say that if you haven’t been a camper you won’t be as good a counselor — the camp experience is for everyone, regardless of prior experience. But there is a special bond that previous campers have about camp that they often bring to the job, and that’s great!
Fall weather, summer jobs
But I got thinking (again — this is often on my mind) about the importance of being a counselor because, though most students (and their parents) are focused on back-to-school, for many camps, this is the beginning of our recruiting season. Getting our staff for the next year sewn up as early as possible allows us to move forward as we get closer to the next summer with all the other details concerning camp.
In late May of this year I had one friend tell me that she was scouting around for a summer job for her 17 year old daughter. I had to tell her that we were full and that, frankly, most camps are fully staffed by then. Of course there’s always a chance that something could open up that late. But in all honesty, the time to begin tracking summer camp jobs for next summer is now. For those late high-schoolers, graduating seniors, and college students (including graduating college students) wanting to secure a fun, worthwhile and highly valued summer job next year, now is the time to look — and act!
And what could be better than knowing soon that you have secure employment next summer?
In fact, we will have our counselor applications online and ready by September 1st. We have three applications: Junior Counselor (JC), Counselor, and Head Counselor. You can see all the info on the Staff page of our website.
At Camp Alleghany, we take direct applications, but for anyone applying from overseas we use BUNAC.
What makes a good counselor candidate?
As the New York Times article notes, one of the most treasured and rewarding experiences for the camper is the engagement level of her counselor. To trust in, have fun with, follow the authority of, respect, turn to, and ultimately to adore your counselor is what makes going to camp an experience the camper can rest into free of stress and anxiety and full of fun, laughter, and growth opportunities.
It’s also one of the things that most make campers want to become counselors themselves one day:
Staff members don’t work at camp because it’s easy or because they want to hang out with friends. Dan Fleshler’s daughter had it right when she told him that she wanted to return to camp for one more summer as a counselor because it truly mattered.
The main qualities I look for in a counselor are: Nurturing, Leadership, Conflict Resolution, Creativity, and Work Ethic (these 5 traits are research-based qualities, and I base my interviews and staff evaluations on this American Camp Association article by Bob Ditter, Determining Competency: Essentials in Interviewing. Everyone, except JC applicants, undergo an interview conducted by me, even if you’ve been at camp for many years.
This is a subject I am very passionate about — getting the right staff on board for the job.
Up for the job
My expectations are high of our staff. There’s no question that being a counselor is challenging and rewarding, and the vast majority of them rise to the occasion beautifully, meeting and exceeding my expectations.
One of the ways that we get the right staff is that I won’t budge in certain policies and expectations I have of the staff. Applicants can find all the staff policies on our staff page as well, and importantly on the “Before you apply” page, including our mandatory training dates. These are things to consider before making the commitment to being a camp counselor. Again, from the New York Times article,
Job recruiters — listen closely. As a staff member, you are on call 24/7, sleeping six hours a night and spending the remaining 18 outside, running around with your campers, planning programming, catering to every need of your cabin and getting more mosquito bites than you thought physically possible. The dedication to your work, the happiness of your campers and their personal growth is incalculable. You want an easy, restful summer? Go get an internship. You can sleep all weekend long and get paid a lot more, too.
It’s good to get the big picture and the details of being a counselor well in hand before applying.
My main focus is that camp is for the campers; counselors will get a ton out of it, but only if they put the campers’ needs first.
Once I’ve selected my staff based on the application, interview, and my sense that the applicant truly understands and is passionate about our priorities and approach, I then get down to the important work of ongoing communication concerning the summer ahead and then intensive training prior to camp.
If I haven’t scared you off 🙂 — in truth our applications process is quite competitive because so many young women want what is also a joyful and highly prized summer job ♥ — I hope I have at least made our parents feel secure that our staff placement process is rigorous and thorough.
So parents, encourage your older students to consider being a camp counselor and to get those applications in early! And as for you students, there’s no rest for the weary — in between studying begin to get your camp applications in. Summer will be here before you know it and I’m sure you’d rather be by the banks of a river (even if it means working hard) instead of stuck in some office somewhere making copies and watching the clock. Because when you get right down to it, summer camp really is one of the most fun jobs ever! (Look for our applications on line this Saturday.)
–Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls