Adventures in Oz

I've met hundreds of camp counselors, yet one young woman stands out as the best counselor I've ever known. You may know her, too. In fact, she stars in the best camp staff training video ever made: The Wizard of Oz. Yes, Dorothy Gale. And you're not in Kansas anymore.

You can see her so clearly, can't you? As I describe why I think she's such a great camp counselor, play those vivid scenes back in your mind's eye. (Better yet, microwave some popcorn and watch the video again tonight!)

One Brick at a Time

1. She took advice from the people around her (even though they were rather strange). Having an open mind is critical to finding new friends and building a support network at camp. But then she also wasn't afraid to head down a path she'd never been down before. And she did it with a skip in her step and a song; and a basket of back-up tricks in case she needed them -- in this case, a dog and a few handy things in a basket. I might also suggest a few decks of playing cards, a bag of balloons and some string.

2. When she first met her campers, she got to know them individually right away. She did that not by talking about herself, but by asking a few questions, and then listening. Really listening.

Remember when she meets the Scarecrow? You should watch the movie again just to see how she reacts while she's listening to the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Lion. She's a perfect reflective listener.

Her campers immediately love her, because no one they've ever know has been so interested in them. If I had to pick a single trait that makes Dorothy stand out, this would be it.

In fact, once she lands in Oz, you'll find that she has less dialogue than any of the other characters. That's because she asks great questions, and listens. She really cares about her new friends.

3. She had a knack for showing she was paying attention to her campers by praising them. She didn't focus on Scarecrow's lack of a brain; she tells him, "I think you're wonderful! You can dance, you can talk," and you can tell she means it.

4. She welcomed new campers into her group by inviting them to join right into the activity (following the trail to see the Oz), even though she and her other campers (Scarecrow and Tin Man) where a little apprehensive at first and already had a good thing going. Diversity made her cabin group stronger.

5. She encourages reluctant campers to join her in activities they'd never done before by joining arms and doing it together. See them walking down the hallway to see the Oz the first time? I'm sure she helped clean the bathroom with her campers too, instead of sitting on her bunk with headphones on.

6. She provided meaningful activities to do as a group that built team spirit. For instance, going after the broomstick of the wicked witch of the west.

She didn't just talk about self-esteem with her campers. Their activities built confidence and self respect in her campers as they practiced and mastered new skills, from rock climbing with a lion-tail belay, to skit-night dress-up with the Oreo Men, to the final all-camp challenge with the water bucket relay.

7. So it comes to the end of camp, after the camp director's awards ceremony (you remember, Green Certificate of Responsibility for Scarecrow, Red Bead of Caring for Tin Man, Blue Ribbon of Honesty for the Lion…) That's when Dorothy makes a powerful discovery about her life:

She had the power all along, but she had to learn it for herself. We encourage, we guide, we invite. But in the end the real rewards come because we make our own decisions and have proven to ourselves through our actions that we are valuable.

That kind of confidence withstands adversity. Those kinds of friendships last a lifetime. For campers, sure. But even more so for great counselors. Like Dorothy. Like you.

Gary Forster recently retired from a full career in organized camping. He still speaks at conferences and volunteers. Reach him at

Bryan BuchkoComment