I was raised in summer camp. And now I’m raising my kids in summer camp. The circle is complete!
Because my parents, Sam and Bonnie Dawson, were second-generation owners of Camp Alleghany for Girls (my grandfather, S. Cooper Dawson owned it before them), naturally I attended during the summers. And traditional American summer camp being a pretty magical place in most every circumstance, naturally I was bitten by the bug.
No, not a mosquito bite or a bee sting (though, sure, maybe there were a few of those). I mean the love of camp bug!
And yes, I was the granddaughter and daughter of owner-directors, but that didn’t mean I ascended the ranks at camp by bypassing any of the traditional ladders. I still made my way up one slow rung at a time.
Over the years at Camp Alleghany for Girls I was a Hopper (that’s our word for a kind of mealtime Dining Hall waitress), and also went through our Junior Counselor program (which is a key summer for training to prepare for greater counselor responsibilities and also an opportunity for some really special fun!)
I then went on to earn various roles with greater responsibilities in subsequent summers such as:
- Full Tent Counselor
- Head of Dance (that’s management of an activity department)
- Senior Unit Head (management of a Tent Row segment of tents/tent life)
- Head of Junior Camp (two summers management of an entire camp division)
- Head of Senior Camp (one summer and ditto)
- Assistant Director (though there were a few years in between and while it’s my current job, it has morphed considerably into greater responsibilities since 2008 when I first began)
Each of these roles had various new challenges and opportunities that called on me to show leadership, creativity, follow through, awareness of programming, rules, and objectives, as well as collaboration with team members and a reporting structure to my supervisors. Oh, and these jobs had FUN, too!
Now I am that supervisor but not before first learning it all just as everyone does…one step at a time.
Take Me Back To Summer Camp
Because of that love of camp deeply planted in my soul, and earned in many summers of blood, sweat, JOY, and tears, I went on to pursue a masters degree in counseling after having first earned my undergraduate in Art History. And while I took a career foray into counseling at a public school, my heart — and mind — longed to put my skills and passion to use in the camp world.
That’s what ultimately brought me back to wanting to make camp my year-round career, and to the place where I am today, as Assistant Director of Camp Alleghany for Girls! (Can you tell I love my job?!)
Now it might seem, at first glance anyway, that all that prior camp experience was ONLY positioning me for something in the camp world down the line. But I’d disagree. Camp jobs prepare you for ALL KINDS OF JOBS. Really!
Everything You Need to Learn You Learn At Summer Camp
I’ve written many times about the remarkable — even superlative — benefits of holding a summer camp job over summer jobs like waitressing, retail, and even some “career-focused” internships which too often turn into running for coffee and living by the copy machine.
I’m not trying to put those jobs down. Merit can be found in anything by a worker with a positive attitude and the will to learn whatever they can, wherever it comes from.
But camps, too, have been on the wrong end of criticism, particularly around the utterly misguided notion that summer camp isn’t a “real job.” The intimation is that camp is all random slacking in the water and sun and maybe even late nights partying and come what may.
Uh, no. 100% wrong!
Yes, there’s a fun aspect to the job.
But traditional sleep away summer camps, particularly ones that seek accreditation from the methodical, demanding, and consistent American Camp Association, are highly organized, structured, and well-thought out summer recreational education programs.
Each camp deals in a myriad of facilities, safety, programming, medical, nutrition, socialization, artistic, and skill-building concerns (among other things), all of which demand a well-trained, well-supervised, highly-directed staff of intelligent, responsible, caring, creative, skilled, and people-person workers to implement the programs thoroughly and effectively.
And you learn a lot doing that!
You learn about:
- How things work at an educational institution
- How to create a lesson plan
- How to teach an activity
- How to speak in front of a group
- How to multi-task
- How to mediate a conflict
- How to work well with others in unique circumstances
- How to share your unique ideas as well as be responsive to those of others
- How to monitor a camper’s progress and deliver targeted feedback
- How to monitor your OWN progress and receive supervisory feedback
- How to keep going in less-than-ideal circumstances (like a bad turn of weather)
- And much, much more…
But Don’t Take It From Me…
I bring all this up by way of introducing two counselor interviews that I’m going to post later this week for our 2017 #GhanyJobsWeek campaign (use that hashtag on social media to see more!).
It’s all well and good to hear about how I gained greater experience in the camp world and how that translated to where I am today. You might think, though, “Sure, but you grew up in camps! What about for people who didn’t? Is this really such a great step on an ultimate career path?”
That’s why I want to share their stories with you.
I’ve interviewed two of our counselors and I want to let them tell you, in their own words, how being at camp and being a counselor has shaped their job experience, positioned them for more responsibility, and factored into the career direction they feel they’re on at this stage.
I think you’ll find that you don’t have to be the daughter of camp directors — or a director yourself — to see the connection between working at summer camp and going on to a successful future where the very skills learned working at camp come back to help you in a future somewhere down the line.
And just for a bit of fun, and a kind of non-sequitur, check out these articles:
- Famous Alumni — Famous People Who Attended Summer Camps!
- BuzzFeed’s 20 Celebrities Who Went to Summer Camp
- 8 Performing Arts Summer Camps and Their Famous Alumni
Yes, my friend, camp is cool. Cool, meaningful, worthy, important, and a huge influence on many people’s lives, whether camper, counselor, or both. Camp is so cool that that funnywoman Tina Fey, who went to drama camp at Upper Darby, “…enjoyed Upper Darby so much” that she returned to help them when they celebrated their 40th anniversary!
So tune in to my other blogs this week for #GhanyJobsWeek and read about some impressive counselors right here in our own neck of the woods and hear why THEY feel certain that working at camp during the summer is exactly the right step for building a strong future career.
And in the meantime, feel free to download my FREE e-book about the topic. Geek alert: Can you tell I love camp? But seriously, it’s a great guide to understanding what working at camp is like, what you’ll gain, and how you can use those gains for both winning and working in future jobs.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls