A Focused Group

By Heather Reichle

Camps have the ability to shape the youth of the country through leading by example. Staff training at camps is a critical component in a solid program.

At Pali Overnight Adventures in Running Springs, Calif., “the deeper the foundations, the stronger the focus” is this year’s motto for the staff-training series.

The philosophy is that everyone on staff--both old and new--goes through training. The veterans are refreshed on key messages before moving on to any new technical skills.

“You can never be too good that you can’t continue to learn,” says director Ian Brassett.

Two-Week Training
The first week of training concentrates on activity skills, while the second week focuses on counseling.

Brassett attributes the success of his program to its duration. “Two weeks has made a world of difference in getting the message across,” he says. “We are giving enough time to really place people in the activities that best suit them and address any concerns. Sometimes, things can feel too rushed to model correct behaviors.”

During activity training, all staff is cross-trained as much as possible. Even though a member may love one activity and really excel at it, that person may be burned out by the time camp is over. Cross-training offers the chance to rotate staff, allowing members to remain invigorated by each activity. During training, each member is required to pass a skill-set “test” associated with an activity before he or she is cleared to take the lead.

Meanwhile, the counseling portion of the training teaches staff how to deal with common camp issues, such as homesickness, the logistics of arrival days, behavioral issues like ADD or ADHD and the overall process of camp. Before the campers even arrive, the staff already knows what to expect.

“The hardest part of staff training is getting the counselors to see that their needs come secondary to those of the kids,” says Brassett. “It takes longer to sink in.” The easiest aspect of training is keeping up the energy to be a camp counselor. “The key is to hire good kids with good personalities with positive attitudes. They have to have a lot of energy and smiles.”

All training is documented, and if a counselor has a difficult time grasping an activity, he or she will not lead it. Instead, the employee will be placed in an activity where his or her own skill set is best utilized.

“Our goal is to put every counselor in a happy, effective and safe environment,” says Brassett. “That’s best for them, and it’s best for the kids.”

Keeping Staff Informed
Another key component in helping staff with training is keeping members informed. For example, the senior staff is notified of any policy changes before new members arrive.

“This allows them the chance to voice opinions or concerns, and allows us the chance to explain why something may have changed,” says Brassett. By doing this separately from the new counselors, the returning staff isn’t shocked and expressing concern with a new group. By notifying them in advance, it’s a united front, and everyone is on the same page.

Being Part Of A Team
To stress staff cohesion at Pali Overnight Adventures, a Facebook group was created just for staff members so they could communicate before arriving at camp. The page also helped create a welcoming environment for both new and returning staff.

In addition to participating in activities planned by camp administrators, staff members also took the initiative to organize their own team-building activity. Last year, they all arrived a day before training and planned a beach trip to socialize with one another before work started. Once the group was back at camp, administrators organized ice-breakers and made cabin assignments, mixing old and new counselors.

Every year at Pali during orientation, nights are deliberately laid back so everyone has a chance to get to know one another without the pressures of passing skill tests and familiarizing themselves with procedures.

Setting A Good Example
The key to Pali’s success in training is to model the compassionate behavior that will be passed along to the counselors and will eventually be passed along to the campers. If the staff is treated well, the members will treat the campers well. Senior staff members are also mixed in with counselors so that everyone is treated equally. “We strive to show value to every staff member. “

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.com

Camp Basics

Ages: 9 to 16
Single-session cost: $1,535; two-week session: $2,995
Type of camp: 16 resident specialty camps--Secret Agent Camp, Extreme Action, Watersports, Hollywood Stunts, Girl Power Extreme, Motorsports, Broadcasting, Film Institute, Dance and Acting Academies, Rock Star Camp, Magazine Publishing, Fashion, Movie Make-Up, Culinary Institute and Leadership.