When I was 19, I was determined to work at a summer camp. I had no experience with camps, and had only babysat for three families before, but regardless, I was determined to get hired. I applied to over 50 camps, interviewed at two, and was hired by one. I’ve moved my way up in the camp world and I am excited to return for my fourth summer.
I started working in the office as a day camp transportation co-ordinator and as a residential camp counselor at night. I’m now the program director of a Leader in Training program where I work with kids who have just finished grade nine on developing leadership skills with the hopes that one day they become counselors, too.
Needless to say, I have put forth a lot of time and effort into my job. From programming to evaluations, my job requires way over the 40 hour week many of my peers have had over the years. I’ve been responsible for campers as young as six-years-old and as old as 15. I’ve helped a homesick camper make it through her first overnight experience and I’ve watched many of my leaders become hired as counselors. I do not get to work 9:00am to 5:00pm. I wake up between 7:00am and 7:15am and go to 9:30pm. I get one night off every other week.
And I do it all for under minimum wage.
“But why…,” you may ask yourself.
Instead of spending my summers racking up money by working jobs I would despise, or being bored out of my mind at home, I chose to make something else – a difference. Nothing matches the feeling of a child high-fiving you when their archery arrow finally makes it onto the target. Or having a camper eagerly show you the totem pole they made at arts and crafts that week. Nothing replaces the feeling of having a second family, who know me by a different name and aren’t aware of the type of person I am during the school year. They see me as an influential staff member who will bend over backwards to help.
So it always comes as a shock, and most times I’m offended, when people inform me I do not work a “real job” or that I’m gaining “no experience to put onto my resume.” When you hear this multiple times, it’s easy to think, “I’ve wasted so much time at camp, avoiding the real world and gaining nothing for my future.”
Camp is a place where transferrable skills can be developed in a short period of time.
Let me show you:
Communication: In an average day, I’m talking to senior staff, staff members and kids from ages four to 15. Being able to change my communication style so I’m not patronizing one group or overcomplicating my language for the next is an important skill to have regardless of the field of work you’re going into. Engaging in conversation is a skill many of your peers may develop from networking, but as a camp employee, your day consistently revolves around communication with a variety of age groups.
Program planning: From capture the flag to cabin time, program planning is constantly on the to-do lists of all staff. Being able to effectively program plan means you’re brainstorming, it means you’re communicating with other staff and that you’re organized enough to put something together. Sure it’s no charity barbeque, but don’t undermine your nights of planning capture the flag for 60 kids.
Teamwork: No matter what, your camp is working as a big team to make everything run smoothly. You rely on each other to get things done. For example: A swimming lesson relies on the counsellor getting the campers there on time, the swim staff to be prepared, the waterfront director ensuring there’s proper supervision of the pool and counsellor supervisors ensuring their staff aren’t burnt out. If you can do this and keep a smile on your face, you’re rocking this tangible skill.
Conflict management: Conflict is inevitable and it’s going to happen no matter where you go. At camp, you have the perfect opportunity to help mediate a conflict between campers or confront your fellow staff when an issue arises. Some campers are only with programs for a week, so it’s important that any issues are solved immediately so everyone has a great time.
Responsibility: You have been trusted to take care of someone else’s child for an extended period of time. There is no greater responsibility than this and you should never let anyone undermine this.
Camp is a real job. You are going to spend the rest of your life working a job where you won’t develop friendship bracelet tan lines or get to eat a pancake in the shape of your name. Despite all the fun, and what your friends and family may be telling you, you’re learning real tangible skills.
Your bank account may not be full at the end of the summer and you may be rocking wicked raccoon eyes, but you’ll have made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Not every job can do that for you. You can afford to work at camp because the skills and stories you’ll take away are going to last you a lifetime.