Open Letter to Parents of Counselors (and parents of campers, too, because your daughters may be counselors one day!)
We realize you want the best for your daughter. Who wouldn’t? Being a successful young woman in the working world is a great goal for all parents to have for their daughters. But I have to share something with you that breaks my heart a little every time a counselor says it to me. They’ll say,
I really want to come back to camp, but my parents are making me get a real job.
A real job? Ouch! That stings — not only because I used to be a counselor, but because I manage our staff of counselors now.
It’s not that I’m taking it personally, it’s that I feel there must be something that’s not understood about the value of being a camp counselor for such a misconception to persist.
Everybody loves camp
So I’m reaching out to you again in order to make a case for camp counseling as not only being a very a real job — it’s not an imaginary job and it’s quite a demanding one — but far, far more.
Fortunately I’m not alone in this view. A few notable others also make this case:
- In USA Today: Skip the internship, go to camp
- American Camp Association Blog: 10 Reasons Why Businesses Should Hire Former Camp Counselors
- New York Times: The camp counselor vs. the intern
I’ve also written several blogs on why being a camp counselor is an excellent form of long-term job and career development for the counselor, and also how that work benefits today’s youth in so many ways:
- Being a counselor works
- Why being a camp counselor is a top job
- Hurray for counselors!
- What makes a great camp counselor
You can also read a raft of stories from counselors themselves here.
I think that if you consider the counseling job from multiple angles, you’ll see that it is great training, a challenging personal growth opportunity, and immensely valued by employers.
A valid choice among many
If your daughter chooses to try something different, that’s one thing. We understand completely that today’s teens and young twenties have a lot of options presented to them. We certainly would never want to force anyone to come back to camp if they are being called to try something new. We also understand that academic, family, and other obligations come up, too. That’s just life!
But it is very hard on us when counselors tell us their parents are making them do something different because the parent doesn’t believe a camp counseling job has long-term value. That, we can’t abide! :).
What about money?
I’d also like to address the financial piece.
Of course we know that working at camp isn’t the most high paying job. Alleghany is about average when it comes to counselor salary, compared to the national average at camps. It’s a well-known fact that you can rake in more dough waiting tables for the summer.
Then again it’s a lot more than an unpaid internship which may or may not actually be providing the intern with training in the industry at hand (many interns complain that all they did was the three C’s — make Copies, run for Coffee, or Cleaned but didn’t actually learn about the business or industry at all). In that case, even the prestigious name of a business where an intern spent her time isn’t worth much if she can’t explain how it helped her Career.
Surely a smart young lady can take away something useful from waiting tables, interning, or any job. But it’s my contention that that only goes so far in comparison with the leadership program built into many camp counseling jobs and which is very present at Camp Alleghany.
Trained for success
Parents, you should ask yourselves, “What will my daughter gain from the experience?”
Though counselors may not make a lot of money at camp in the summer, they’re also not spending much money on gas, food, lodging or entertainment except very incidentally.
The skills they develop and the leadership they polish, the resilience it calls out in them, and the multi-tasking and stamina required at camps are, however, immensely valuable. This doesn’t even include actual staff training and development sessions that directly address:
- Communications with multiple audiences — campers, parents, fellow staff, superiors — in person, on the phone, and in writing.
- How to think quickly in situations and adapt if things don’t go according to plan.
- How to be creative in all situations since the counselor herself is directly responsible for her campers’ experiences.
- What safety considerations and techniques are necessary to keep campers safe and to deal with illness or injury.
- How to understand and risk assessment in decision making and leadership while still fostering a fun and relaxed environment.
- Mastering knowledge of emergency procedures, practicing them in drills, especially the skill of staying calm in an emergency.
- The art of work-life balance: long work hours versus taking time for yourself to recharge, avoid burnout and stay focused, on an even keel and energized. (Who doesn’t want that life skill??)
- Honing the art of time management; getting all your work done efficiently and effectively.
- Learning how to give AND receive feedback and evaluations with dignity and poise. THIS is a biggie in the job world.
- Practicing positive problem-solving skills within groups both as the leader (as counselor) and as a member of the group (with fellow staff and superiors).
- A process of individual development that helps the counselor learn more about how her own personality works in a group so she can rest into positive strengths, pull-back from any dominance, and push forth where she is meek.
- And of course the BIG, BIG biggie: public speaking and presenting with confidence and creativity.
YES, we do this at Camp Alleghany in direct, subtle, and daily ways. And yes, all of this decidedly helps former counselors to land interesting, well-paying jobs after camp.
I welcome any parents to talk to me…in fact I WISH more parents would e-mail me or call me up to ask questions, pick my brain, and share comment or concerns. I’d love the opportunity to talk this through with anyone who has questions. Also please don’t hesitate to comment in the comment section or Facebook comments.
Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls