I’ve held several ‘Ghany jobs over the years (most recently Changeover Queen) and loved them all. But in a very close contest, Hopping wins as my all-time favorite job at camp. Hopping comes with the obvious advantage of getting to be a camper in the non-hopping hours, but that’s actually pretty far down the list of its attractions for me.
In explaining Hopping to a parent of a newish camper or new Hopper, I realized that to outsiders it must be hard to believe that waiting tables at a summer camp is a very coveted and admired position. Insiders would mention Hopping’s glamour, esprit de corps, and adventure with neither irony nor (very much) exaggeration. Yet the labor pool for this job is an age group for whom free time is a scarce resource and hanging out with peers is at the top of the agenda. So why does every single one of our Upstarts this term want to be on her feet for hours, get up early, work in a hot kitchen, and give up almost all her free time?
Is this just a case-study example of the value and power of the ‘Ghany culture?
For the love of camp
Maybe our traditions and groups are so strong that if we always say a hard job is fun and give it its own song, everyone believes it and it magically becomes “true.” Is Hopping the ultimate Tom Sawyer fence-whitewashing job? While I won’t deny the seductive power of having your own song, particularly one with percussion, I don’t believe teens can be brainwashed into wanting to Hop.
Let’s go back to that list of attractions.
There’s the pay, which is paltry. Then there’s the the community service hours, which might be quite valuable if your school accepts them. (But quite a few don’t, since Camp Alleghany is a private enterprise.) Much more significant is the chance to get a glimpse into the inner workings of camp. It’s a first peek behind the curtain to see how the magic is made. What really does go into the barbecue? Who makes those sweet rolls, and how does she make so many? Who are those Green Team boys?
For many girls, Hopping is their first “real” job: they have set hours, specific responsibilities, and “customers” counting on them to do it right or fix it fast. Hopping has built-in first tests of adult worker mettle:
- Opening the ancient walk-in door requires cleverness (foot on the wall beside it), synchronized teamwork, going all out with total abandon, or some combination.
- Two tables with 20 different personalities (and up to 4 different personal salad dressings) can generate a very complex set of tasks to remember and execute, with just two legs and one tray.
- Messes you didn’t make are still your responsibility to clean up.
Some meals are tougher than others, for unpredictable and unpreventable reasons (broken hot chocolate machines, picky eaters, occasional loss of power, etc.) Finding a way to take responsibility, ask for or give help, find the humor, do your best anyway, stick to it , get better and live to Hop another meal is perfect practice for any job. I’d say it’s a pretty good definition of professionalism!
So another major attraction is the rush of mastering a tough job. Hoppers’ pride can’t be faked and the younger campers would smell it if it were. No whitewash: Hopping is a real deal.
Any situation with newcomers to an intense community experience can be a very tight bonding experience, and in this sense Hopping is a hazing-free version of boot camp, the old-school corporate training programs, and Greek pledge classes. Hopping could be its own sisterhood, but most years it overlaps almost completely with the Upstart set, deepening and sweetening that bond.
Not a small item on the list of attractions is getting to work with food, glorious ‘Ghany food. Hungry campers are sure to idolize anyone who brings them noms. Mealtimes at Alleghany are as rich in ritual as any family’s: blessings, celebrations of daily achievements, gentle teasings – all in song! Being central to something this important is heady stuff.
A force for good
I think, though, that the most important attraction of Hopping is one the Hoppers sense but don’t have the perspective to see clearly. In the jargon of educators, Hopping is exceptionally developmentally appropriate. Fifteen- and sixteen-year olds are starting to see how they can, in Steve Jobs’ phrase, make their dent in the universe. Their energy levels are high, and easily replenished with regular sleep hours. They are idealistic, and want to be part of forces for good. Most would readily name camp as the most perfect community they know, and they have a sense of what it has already done for them. They are just waiting to be asked for a meaningful contribution, and Hopping is the puzzle piece that fits perfectly in that spot.
Carson Gleberman, Staff and Alum, Camp Alleghany for Girls