by Anne Yetsko
When I speak with friends who work in other industries, I always tell them that if you have an applicant who has been a camp counselor and has a positive reference from that camp, they should move to the top of that pile of applications that are overflowing on their desk. A camp counselor is one of the hardest jobs out there. It is not all fun and games. Here is my list of the top 10 qualities you get when you hire someone who has been a camp counselor.
Camp counselors have to be able to communicate well with children, parents, coworkers, and superiors. This is different from any other job because parents leave the most valuable thing in their lives with us, their child. At our camp they have about 10 minutes to speak to the counselors and feel confident in them before they leave their perfect child with them for two weeks. That 10-minute conversation is one that will have a lasting impact on that parent. THEY WILL CLING TO EVERY WORD! If a child is sick or homesick, that same counselor is the one to call the parent to update them on the situation and ensure them that their baby is safe and being well cared for.
When someone works in a camp setting, they learn that to be successful in camp and in life they have to realize they have a lot to learn not only about camp and their campers but also about themselves. Once they make that transition they are able to approach every situation in life with an “I want to learn more” attitude.
Most camps have between 25-150 cabin counselors. While they are given very good supervision, no one is holding their hand every step of the way. They very quickly learn that as far as their campers are concerned, THEY are the “go-to” person. If one of their children forgets a toothbrush it is their responsibility to get them one from the infirmary.
Camp counselors can handle anything. Just ask the counselor who has been helping a camper overcome homesickness while teaching their activity in the rain for 4 days straight, only to learn that there is a child in their cabin with lice. When they hear this, instead of curling up in a ball and hiding (the way any normal person would), they grab their gloves, strip all the beds in the cabin, get all of the laundry to the cleaners, and get all the campers lined up outside to check each one for nits. I repeat, camp counselors can, and do, handle anything!
At camp we try to keep things very scheduled and organized, but at the drop of a hat, plans can change. Imagine walking out of the dining hall with 250 campers and staff to play sock war (like capture the flag but you get to throw socks at each other!) when you hear a loud burst of thunder and have to come up with a new plan in an instant.
When you need a new plan immediately, leave it to a camp counselor to come up with the most brilliant and fun game that anyone has ever heard of. If you think a boardroom of 10 lawyers is intimidating try standing in front of 200 children who are expecting to have the most fun they have ever had and your plan that you have been working on all week just got rained out.
Remember, camp counselors are responsible for THE most important thing in a parent’s life. Each and every detail is unbelievably important! Did a child have enough to eat at breakfast, drink enough water, make a new friend, skin their knee, play soccer, miss their mom, have wet shoes, lose their sweatshirt…? Now multiply this by a whole cabin of campers!
It does not matter if you consider yourself a leader or not, the moment children arrive on property their counselor is their leader and their biggest role model. They watch their counselor’s every move. It is amazing how quickly camp counselors learn how to take on this role and own it. The way these children talk about their counselors when they leave is a testament to what great leaders they are.
Camp counselors are some of the best team players you will ever meet. They have learned that they cannot do it all on their own and that the best product is produced when you have a team working on it. In a camp setting, you need all different personality types to be able to meet each and every child where they are. To come up with the most fun game, camp counselors know it won’t come from one person but an army of people working toward the same goal. Most people come into this job thinking they can do it all, but it does not take long for them to realize that this job is physically impossible alone.
It is very difficult to explain to someone who has never been a camp counselor how hard this job really is. These college students work 24 hours a day for 3 months with very little time off and they do all the things mentioned in 1–9 with a smile on their face.
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