Ode to the Summer Camp Counselor
It’s just fun in the sun all summer. That might be what you think of when you think of working as a camp counselor, but in reality, the job is so much more than that. In fact, if you are an employer, you would do well to think about hiring former camp counselors. Here is why:
Most jobs require at least a basic level of communication skills. These skills are honed and sharpened at camp. Try teaching a group of twelve rowdy 10-year-olds how to properly shoot a bow and arrow, and you’ll know that good communication (and patience) is essential for a camp counselor. They are constantly teaching new skills, new games, and new activities. They are coaching kids through difficult moments like homesickness or even team building challenges. They are setting boundaries and expectations, forming positive group culture, and making sure that everyone knows what is happening and when. They field hundreds of questions (parents, you know how this goes) all day long. Strong communication skills are essential to the camp counselor.
In any job, you want people who are willing to learn and who are teachable. Many camp counselors, believe it or not, didn’t grow up knowing all things camp. In fact, for a lot of them, staff training was their first experience with living in a cabin, building a fire, or paddling a kayak. However, they willingly jumped into the camp community. They learned the songs. They memorized the rules to the games. They practiced and drilled on all of the emergency procedures. They were willing to get dirty, to try new things, and to submit to a different culture and way of life. And then, they turned around and welcomed their campers, teaching them the things they had just learned. It is a fast-paced learning environment, and it shows great resiliency and tenacity when counselors thrive at camp.
Most work cultures demand flexibility and adaptability, and there’s no better place to learn it than summer camp. Rain and storms all afternoon? Let’s change the schedule. Two campers got sick right before the talent show? Let’s re-choreograph. It took longer to get everyone changed after swimming than expected? Let’s adjust our next activity. Counselors manage their own groups and schedules, and they have to be ready for all of the unexpected things that might arise in a typical day at camp. As a result, counselors quickly learn how to problem solve, adapt, and adjust, making it almost second-nature.
Who doesn’t want staff who are strong leaders? Camp counselors step into leadership roles each week. Counselors plan activities, games, and schedules. They ensure their group is working together and getting along. They enforce boundaries, set expectations, and coach those who are struggling. They plan large and small group activities, teach skills, and take ownership for the problems that come up along the way. In every facet of their job, they are leading.
Many jobs require public speaking ability, and the camp counselor gains a lot of experience here. Each time they step up to teach an activity or skill, they are taking charge and speaking in front of a large group. They lead prayers, songs, and dances. They might develop cheers with their color war teams or help create a presentation to be shared with the whole camp. And not only that, but they help their campers to do the same.
Who wouldn’t want to hire people who meet any challenge with a can-do attitude? Camp counselors learn that their abilities are far beyond what they thought. They are challenged in so many ways throughout the course of a summer, and each time they rise to meet that challenge, their confidence grows. They learn that they are capable, and they learn that it truly does take the work of an entire team to make anything happen. When one person doesn’t pull their weight at summer camp, everyone suffers, and thus, camp counselors are the first to ask, “How can I help?” The community at camp breeds this sense of teamwork, positivity, and confidence.
There are so many more things we could say about camp counselors. They are resilient. They are strong. They are willing to laugh at themselves and admit when they make a mistake. They learn about healthy work culture and how to be part of a team. They learn how to encourage and uplift others, how to muddle through when things are tough, and how to take any rainy, drizzly day and make it into something amazing. They aren’t easily discouraged and they don’t easily give in. They are excellent problems solvers and some of the hardest working people you will ever know. Camp counselors learn how to be self-reliant, how to resist technology addiction, and how to appreciate the world around them. They learn empathy and compassion. They are often passionate and caring individuals, and they often leave camp to do amazing things. Some of the best people in our world today have been camp counselors (think Michelle Obama, Denzel Washington, and Leonard Cohen). So to all of the camp counselors out there, we want you to know that we see you and we know just how amazing you actually are! And if you are an employer, the next time you see “camp counselor” on someone’s resume, we encourage you to think of all the possibilities. They might just be the best hire you’ll ever make.