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22 Things I Wish I Knew Then: Advice from CW Summer Staff

by on January 6,2016 in Camp Staff, Summer Camp with No Comments

22 Things I Wish I Knew Then: Advice from CW Summer Staff

We asked our summer staff what they wished they had known at the beginning of the summer, before they started working at camp. They had quite a lot to say to their former selves! And we realized it was also great advice for anyone thinking about working at camp for the first time. Here are some thoughts, dreams, pieces of advice, and funny tidbits from our previous staff.

1. This job will be way more challenging than any other job you’ve ever had, but it will also be the most rewarding. Sure, you’re going to be tired. There’s going to be that kid that always gets on your nerves. But the work you do is changing lives. It’s changing culture. It’s changing families. It’s ministry in the purest sense of the word, and while it will demand so much from you, it will give you so much more in return. (From Kristen, University of Wisconsin)

2. This may be the only time in your life that you will be in God’s creation literally 24-7. You’re going to be surrounded by the majesty of nature, from towering trees to fragile flowers, from the drone of cicadas and the chirping of birds, from the brilliant sunrises and star-studded night skys. All of this will be your home. Now that I’m away, I miss it every day. Cherish it. (From Libby, Iowa State)

3. Enjoy each second of camp. The summer will be over before you know it. Eleven weeks sounds like a long time, but really, you’re going to blink, and the time will be gone. Cherish every trip down the slip ‘n slide, every bullseye in archery, every time a camper grabs your hand as you walk together to campfire. Sing as loud as you can at worship and spend time laying on your back just taking in the beauty of the stars in the sky. Summer camp doesn’t last forever. (From Jake, University of Iowa)

4. Your focus will be on the campers 99% of the time; get to know them and get to love them! Think about it, these kids are traveling away from home to spend a week with you. They’re excited, they’re nervous, they want an adventure! Once you know what they’re interested in and what they like, you’ll all be having a way better time. (From Dawn, Iowa State)

5. Extra shoes means dry shoes. Walking in the morning dew or the rain, going creek stomping, accidentally leaving your shoes outside during a storm…these things happen, so it’s good to have extra shoes so you’re not walking around with wet feet all the time. (From Peter, LeTourneau University)

6. The troubled camper is the one who needs us the most. There’s no other way to describe it. Challenging campers are a nightmare. It’s not fun and exhausting having to constantly keep an eye on one kid to make sure he’s not doing something that’s putting him/her or other campers at risk. And it’s so incredibly easy to develop a negative bias towards them. My challenge to you is to treat that kid the same way you would all your other campers when it comes to how much attention you show them. If they do something wrong, discipline them, but don’t hold a grudge. Don’t let that one thing they did set the vibe for the rest of the day.Try to make them laugh a little while later and get them into a positive mindset. Kids look up to us more than most of us realize and you’ll find that by befriending them, their behavior will get better because they WANT you to be proud of them. (From Keith, Iowa State)

7. Spend time each day praying for the campers and other staff. These people are going to be part of your life for eleven weeks. They come from all different backgrounds, lives, and experiences. They carry their own baggage, their own fears, and their own expectations. Pray for them. Ask God to meet them. Ask God to show you how you can minister to them. Pray for them every day. And then watch God work. (Jake, University of Iowa)

8. Remember to just have fun. Fun is in your job description. You’re supposed to pick up that SuperSoaker and douse that kid with water. You’re supposed to slide down the mud slide, belly flop into the pool, and scream as you fly down the zip line. Be joyful. Be a kid. Sometimes you’ll get stressed, but never forget that this is supposed to be fun. (From Jennie, Black Hawk College)

9. Calling things “pets” makes them cute instead of gross. Most campers and people in general don’t like things like spiders. But as soon as you give them names (i.e. George) and make them bunk signs, they are part of the cabin family! And less worrisome to uneasy campers. Nature and bugs and mice and lizards are all part of camp, so get creative in easing kids’ fears and helping them see the beauty and value in every creature around them. (From Becca, Iowa State)

10. Leave expectations at home. No matter what you think summer camp will be like, it will be more fun, more exhausting, more rewarding than you thought. It will be more filled with laughter than you could expect. Working at camp will bring you some of the most memorable times you’ve encountered, and I wouldn’t trade the memories I’ve made for anything. (From Jon, Boambee East, New South Wales, Australia)

11. Your attitude matters. Sometimes the kids will complain about doing an activity, but when they see you out there having fun, they’ll want to join in, and at the end of the week, they’ll be telling you about how it was their favorite part of the camp experience. (From Peter, LeTourneau University)

12. Keep track of what worked during the week and what didn’t in a journal. Use this information to improve how you plan from week to week. It’s also nice documenting your experience of camp just for the sake of memories. (From Keith, Iowa State)

13. Don’t let small problems become disasters. For the one week a camper is here during the summer, you are essentially their parent. If you freak out, they’ll freak out. Skinned knees, rashes, bruises…it happens. You lose your keys, accidentally break a glass, spill your drink at dinner – these things will happen to you, and they’ll happen to your campers as well. Let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes. (From Jennie, Black Hawk College)

14. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself or the situation and just move on. Camp can require you to do some pretty funny things: dress up in a dog costume, shout loud, obnoxious cheers for your cabin, dump over in your canoe—and you’ve got to be willing to laugh at yourself. The kids love it when you interact with them and show them that you’re a real person. Be silly. Admit when you mess up. Laugh. Move on. (From Kristen, University of Wisconsin)

15. Not everyone at camp is the typical “camp person.” When coming to camp for the first time, I imagined everyone to be overly-excited, creative, and great with children. Camp attracts all sorts of people, they all have their own awesome qualities, and you have to be ready to work with all of them. After all, it’s the people that make camp great. (From Dawn, Iowa State)

16. Remember that you can always count on God’s grace. Sometimes you’ll be tired, you’ll say something you shouldn’t, you’ll work with an age group that really challenges you…but God’s grace will pull you through it every time. (From Peter, LeTourneau University)

17. Coworkers = family. You learn to live with them and learn to love them. That being said there is going to be someone you may not see eye to eye with. Work through your disagreements. Reach out to the people who are hurting or struggling. Take care of your family. (From Becca, Iowa State)

18. Feel free to count your swim in the pool or trip down the slip ‘n slide as a shower for the day. Okay, in all seriousness, these probably aren’t the best substitutes for a shower. But camp is a place where you are going to get dirty, and you have to be okay with showing up to dinner a little muddy or a little smelly. Don’t worry, everyone else is, too! (From Jake, University of Iowa)

19. Get enough sleep! It can be really tempting to stay up late talking with friends, catching up on all the shows you missed on Netflix, or playing air-hockey in the staff lounge, but you’ll regret it the next morning. This job is very physical. You are on the move from the moment you wake up in the morning to the time your head hits the pillow at night. You’ll be hiking, swimming, running, and beating tons of campers at GaGa ball. It’s hard to do all of that without a decent night’s sleep. If you want to be the best you can be for your campers, get enough sleep. (From Jennie, Black Hawk College)

20. Be willing to jump into new experiences. You are capable of growing and adapting, and you will do things you never thought you could do. From cleaning up after a camper wets the bed to zip-lining, you’re gonna do a lot of new things and it’s best to jump in head first. (From Dawn, Iowa State)

21. Live in the present; be present with those around you. You might miss home, family, friends. That is normal. Use weekends and time off to send emails, make phone calls, Skype and use social media to your heart’s content, but when it’s not the time to be doing those things, do what you’re there for. Be the best counselor you can. Make friends with your co-workers. Laugh, have fun, and be present in the present. (From Jon, Boambee East, New South Wales, Australia)

22. Camp will change you. You can either resist that change or let go of your ego and let it turn you into something new. In the bible Jesus talks about being reborn a new. I love the idea of applying this to camp. Because the experience does change you in ways you’d never even have imagined. When it’s over you’ll go back into this crazy game we call life. Back to your life before camp whether it’s school or work. I don’t know, maybe before camp you had a lot of things you didn’t like about yourself that you wish you could change. Perhaps you weren’t so happy with where your life was at. Or you had a lot of bad habits that caused you to procrastinate or be lazy and make excuses. Whatever it is, I have amazing news for you! You aren’t that person anymore. No matter how many times you failed at something or how many mistakes you made, you’re a new person. Forget your past, learn from your mistakes, and focus on who you are NOW. Use this experience to transform your life into something new. (From Keith, Iowa State)