Bridging The Gap

By Jayna Lang

Oftentimes, teens ages 12 to 15 fall through summer programming cracks. They are usually too old for traditional summer camps and too young to start working their first part-time summer job. However, this age range offers a perfect time to transition teens from “camper” to “staff member.” Recognizing the need to create opportunities for youth to grow and become working members of the community, the city of Lakewood Recreation Division created a Counselor in Training (CIT) program. This program provides the opportunity to have a fun summer camp experience while learning to be an active and productive member of the community, learning the skills to enter the workforce as a capable leader.

Guided by the city’s Community Resources Operational Keys of Integrity, Communication & Connection, Leadership, Adaptability, and Diversity, the program begins with a two-week training course that is designed to develop leadership skills and build confidence. Teens interact with staff to learn a variety of skills that will support them as they grow into leaders in the workplace, school, and the community. Training topics include but are not limited to safety, workplace policies, group management skills, conflict resolution, team work, character development and many other important tools for working in a team setting and being a positive role model. In addition, teens are given the chance to experience the hiring process in a “test” environment by going through a mock interview process.   

After training, CITs assist youth summer camp staff members for three to eight weeks by leading games, assisting with campers, and managing camper groups. This invaluable, hands-on experience allows CITs to learn in a real-life and supportive environment. It also provides an opportunity for the city to prepare individuals for city job opportunities once they are of age. CIT’s can list this experience on future job applications, resumes or apply hours towards school volunteer requirements. A summer of working with youth participants and summer camp staff at various sports and recreation summer camps ensures each CIT gains valuable work knowledge and leadership skills while still having a quality camp experience walking away with great memories and new friends.

Not only did the city offer this camp as a new program in 2016, additional staff members had to be added to meet the demand; it was estimated 10 would sign up for the program and 29 ended up participating.

Jayna Lang, CPRP, is the Recreation Program Supervisor for the Recreation Division in Lakewood, Colo. Reach her at JayLan@lakewood.org.