A big question that we hear from counseling staff applicants — and even from returning counselors — is,
Why do counselors have to stay for the full summer, rather than on a term-by-term basis?
And counselors who have heard that we used to have a different policy wonder why it changed to be full summer or nothing?
A change for the better
Prior to the summer of 2013 we took at look at how our staffing organization was serving — or not serving — the camp experience for campers, and the work structure for the camp team as a whole.
In looking deeply at some problems with mid-term staffing shifts, we determined that we needed to require that counselors commit to working at Camp Alleghany for the whole summer. This practice came about in order to meet the following needs:
- Cultivate increased staff unity and morale.
- Deliver a more consistent camp program across Terms.
- Come into alignment with practices across the camp industry as a whole.
Unity and morale
We strive at Camp Alleghany to make camp feel a lot like a family — or at least a place for meaningful bonding among participants, whether they’re campers or staff.
At the same time, Alleghany is a business, which means we have to balance the cultivation of a strong girl’s and women’s culture with the demands of the business and industry. And we think we do this pretty well! We’re certainly passionate about meeting both of these goals.
But we found over time that the balance had tipped to a little bit too much looseness on the “culture” side and that a corrective was needed to bring culture into alignment with business.
And this is how that pertains to summer staffing.
In the past we’d have a “mass exodus” after First Term, with counselors who only came for four weeks leaving at the term Changeover.
This had a lot of unhelpful effects that an individual counselor wouldn’t likely see as she would be concerned primarily with her own situation — and rightly so; we don’t expect counselors to understand every aspect of our business!
But from the business and personnel perspective, it became a logistical and cultural nightmare.
First, some (certainly not all) counselors who were slated to leave after First Term were busy from the get-go thinking about what was next in their lives, often having plans of their own to consider and orchestrate.
With her mind elsewhere, a counselor’s preoccupation with travel details, planning, and coordination often became disruptive, which in turn affected her job performance and morale. Sadly, that attitude had a bleed over affect, depressing morale among other counselors who might have begun wondering if they too would like to leave after the first term.
Staff bonding, which is crucial to educational and leisure institutions like Camp Alleghany, was hard, because some of the staff were only in it for a few weeks, whereas the rest were in it for the long haul.
In short, the common goal was not the same, creating factions and markedly different levels of investment by staff that wasn’t serving the camp as a whole.
On that note, it’s important to understand that we heavily invest time, resources, and personnel in our staff training program. We do this not just to help nurture and develop a great onsite team, but also to help our “staff alum” be better situated for school, jobs, and careers.
In essence, while being a counselor is paid work, counselor programs like ours are also “women in leadership” styled training programs. For that to work, we need all our counselors to get both the training and enough time and experience to test that training in the field.
Working for only three weeks isn’t enough time to make this constructive and valuable. We can’t get to know a counselor’s job performance well enough in that period of time. Further, the introduction of new campers and new dynamics for the Second Term offers another opportunity for job growth and development for the counselor.
In essence, the whole experience and all of its parts are critical to the counseling positions, the campers’ experiences, and to running the camp as a whole.
The camper experience
In addition to staff bonding and morale, from an administrative standpoint, since First and Second Term have the same number of campers, we were ending up overstaffed for First Term so that we would have enough when the group left to meet the needs of Second term, which is just not good business sense.
As you know, camp has a lot of logistics, from dining and tent housing, to activities to special events, to safety, health, and more. So much of the planning and execution depends on straightforward and practical considerations.
We look at the clearest way to train, equip, and guide our staff in providing a positive, healthy, nurturing, and challenging camp experience for campers.
Losing staff, or starting over with new staff is not viable in a tight season of only seven weeks of camps, one week of Family Camp, and a week or week and a half of staff training.
We’ll feel the strains of too much shuffling in the organization if there are too many stress points in the summer, and then the campers would inevitably experience this, too.
It just isn’t a smart way to run a business nor the best way to offer an experience for our campers.
The camp industry
Most other high level camps comparable to Camp Alleghany have a similar requirement that counselors commit to the full summer. And so, like our competitors and colleagues, we will continue to require full term commitments from staff.
For most of the same reasons listed above, summer camps find full term commitment critical to employer and employee success. Much of this pivots on the short duration of our active season and the tight demands of coordination and staffing within it.
Like Camp Alleghany, many camps are also set in pristine but moderately remote locations, making new staffing demands mid-term impractical and onerous.
And we take the view that if this is the industry standard, it is for good reason.
The past and the future
We understand that some former counselors in past decades experienced different conditions and we think those conditions spoke more to those times while conditions today speak to today’s times.
It would be a special favor to us if alum counselors would help new applicants who they recommend or talk to about Camp Alleghany to see why we went to this new policy and how it really is best for all concerned — camp, campers, and counselors.
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls