This Is A Real Job, These Aren’t Pretend Kids

Validate and elevate the way staff members view their job.

Why is it still that I am leery to tell my relatives that I have chosen a career in camping? I presented my many summers at camp to them as a way to let loose and be silly between college semesters, a chance to live on a lake and make great friends. All of these things are true, but we need to validate and recognize the work and the importance that makes a summer camp counselor different from the ride attendant at an amusement park. Let's push camp out of just summer recreational, child care and into a conversation about fostering and facilitating problem-solving, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence. A conversation about filling in the gaps or leading the way for our broken and tired education system.

This starts with validating and elevating the way our staff members view of their jobs. Let's find ways to give staff the credentials and the skills that they need on their resumes and in their educational paths. We can give them the language that they need to tell their family members, friends, professors what it is that they are gaining from working summer at camp.

Our summer staff are, mostly unknowingly, on the front lines of a movement--the movement of summer camp. They have chosen to dedicate a summer or multiple summers or their whole lives to the idea of providing kids a space to discover, invent, and create. A place where true connection and incredible friendships are formed through the community and culture that they have created.

The way that we think about kids and treat kids at camp is different from the sterile and factory system in so may well-meaning but failing schools and other areas of our broader society. There is more freedom--we are more willing to trust and empower kids at camp. Giving our staff members the power to articulate the value in what they do and the importance of camp will not only give them more confidence, but allow them to be emissaries of the camp movement in the rest of their lives.

3 Practical Ideas

Start With Why

One of the most view TED talks of all time is Simon Sinek’s talk "How Great Leaders Inspire Action." He argues that “People don't buy what you do, but why you do it” and to start with why. At camp, starting during staff training with an hour session on why camp, creates buy in and begins to give staff a framework an argument for camp. Some questions that help to get us thinking are: Why are they at camp? They could make more money. They could work shorter hours, and even work with kids a million other places, but they picked camp. Why do parents send their kids to camp? And how does each staff member fit into this magic?

Build A Great Resume

Just about every one of our staff members this summer will have been asked, “What are you going to do when you graduate?” or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” a thousand times this year. One reason I love camp is because kids know what I want to be is their friend and thats all that matters, but how can we help our staff answer those tough questions and articulate the professional development they get everyday at camp? At Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA counselors looking for internships or jobs are encouraged to put their resumes out on a table for parents to see as they pick their kids up from camp. Another simple way is just to pass out great sample resumes, past staff, your own. This way staff can see specific great language other camp people have used to describe their professional experience at camp.

Create An Internship

If you can’t beat them join them. Many camps have found the best way to fight their counselors leaving for an internship is to partner with a local university to create their own. This can bring older more experienced staff back to camp for another summer and get tons of awesome extra work done. Camp directors joke all the time about how we do a little bit of everything and I would be hard pressed to find a college major that couldn't find an application at camp. Marketers can blog, manage social media, do market research. Engineers can look at systems like the kitchen or opening day. Nurses can be a part of the medical team.

Jack Schott and Laura Kriegel are camp consultants, trainers, and proud millennials. You can find out more about who they are and the camp journey they are on at