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The Many Role Models of Summer Camp

There aren’t many places children can go to be surrounded by positive role models that provide them the opportunity to develop relationships on multiple levels.  For most kids, adult mentors are limited to parents, coaches and teachers. There’s one place, however, where children are surrounded by mentors on multiple levels 24/7: summer camp.  Most summer camps have very high staff to camper ratios, which means there is never a shortage of grownups from whom campers can seek guidance and leadership.  Of course, everyone knows that role models are important in the lives of children.  But we simply forget to take the time to consider that having different types of leadership examples is equally crucial, until we’re reminded of this by the campers themselves.

A senior camper at one of America’s Finest Summer Camps recently observed there are so many leaders at camp that you never feel like you have no one to go to when the need arises.  This is very true.  There are coaches to help children improve their skills and reach athletic goals.  There are counselors to provide guidance through daily activities.  There are Head Counselors and Campus Leaders to help out with the bigger, more complicated aspects of camp.  And there are Directors who make it their business to make sure everyone has fun and stays safe.  There is also the myriad of other staff who work in camp offices, kitchens and health centers.  Regardless of which role any of these people fulfill, they’re all working at summer camp for one reason: They have opted to dedicate their summers to making a positive impact on the lives of children, and the campers’ best interests are their first priority.  There aren’t many institutions that can make a similar claim.

As leaders and mentors, camp staff bring a passion to their jobs that anyone who makes a decision to dedicate themselves 24/7 to a job must have in order to be successful.  They voluntarily give up sleep, time with family and free-time in order to be a part of summer camp, and their dedication shows through their interaction with campers.  The relationship is symbiotic.  Campers understand that staff find as much value in the summer camp experience as they do, which develops into a mutual confidence and trust.

Social learning is the psychological concept that places value on the necessity of good role models in the lives of children, which is perhaps why camp is an ideal place for campers to get the most out of being surrounded by many prospective mentors.  Summer camp is somewhat of a microcosm of an ideal society.  It’s a self-contained arena in which people live alongside one another in an environment that is most harmonious when everyone supports the successes of those around them. The absence of everyday competitiveness gives campers the opportunity to take full advantage of the encouragement that comes from everyone around them, including leaders.

Who is Watching Your Children? A Look at Camp Staff and Leadership

If you submit prospective babysitters through background and reference checks just for a date night with your spouse or significant other, then you probably have an extreme interest in just who will be taking care of your children at summer camp.  Thanks in part to movies and television, many parents have images of young, barely out of high school teenagers filling counselor roles.  However, the truth is that camps conduct searches for months to locate and fill leadership and key staff roles with mature, knowledgeable professionals, many of whom work with children in some capacity year round.

Even though camp is still six months away, chances are that your child’s summer camp (or prospective summer camp) has already kicked its recruiting season into high gear.  To find counselors, many camps traverse college campuses across the country searching for college students and recent grads who are pursuing careers in education, social work, youth athletics, or other fields related to working with children.  In order to avoid staff members that are too immature—or mature—the target demographic for counselors is typically between 20-25, although some camps will vary from this in certain scenarios or for special needs.  A successful camp counselor works 24/7 and must be mature enough to make split second decisions that concern the welfare and well -being of children.  Although counselor staffs tend to have relatively high turnover rates from year to year because college students complete college and move on to full time jobs that they cannot leave for an entire summer, leadership staff tends to return more regularly.

Camp leadership is often comprised of seasoned teachers and coaches who have been involved with summer camp in some capacity for several years or even decades.  Some of them grew up as campers and worked their way into leadership positions beginning as counselor assistants or counselors.  Others began as counselors and loved the experience so much that they have returned from year to year.  Still others are hired directly into their leadership roles after extensive searches by camps to find the best candidate for the role.  However their camp experience began, one thing that all camp leaders have in common is that they not only have extensive experience working with children, but thorough knowledge of the intricacies and behind the scenes goings on of summer camp.

Aside from leadership staff, other mature individuals are employed to staff health and dining facilities as well as offices.  In fact, parents are sometimes surprised to learn that so many mature, experienced professionals spend their summers at sleepaway camp.  But, for many, the experience, as it is for the children, is beyond compare.  Those who return each year will tell you that they wouldn’t consider spending their summers anyplace else.  They love what they do, they love their campers, and they love their camps!  How many traditional jobs can boast such high morale and collective years of experience?

We at Summer Camp are Thankful for…

Every year around this time we pause to reflect on those aspects of our lives about which we are most thankful.  To celebrate this turkey day, we thought we’d share what makes us most thankful for summer camp:

Our camp families: Without our campers, there would be no summer camp.  We’re thankful you value your summer camp experiences so much that you return every summer, and that you continue to build and carry on the traditions that make America’s Finest Summer Camps so special.

Our camp family: The unique family we are all a part of each summer.  The bonds that campers and staff create truly do last a lifetime.  We love every moment of the summer when we are laughing, playing, singing, and sharing together.

Camp Memories: Every year we bring home new memories that motivate us to make the next summer even more special than the previous.  Talking with our families and camp friends about our summers and sharing in each others’ unique experiences while at summer camp are some of our favorite times during the winter months.  They help us get over our “camp sickness” and carry us through those months between summers.  Speaking of camp friends…

Camp Friends: Every camper knows that camp friends are friends for life. Our camp friends share some very special memories that one can only get at summer camp.  Our camp friends are also great at helping us get through those ten months that we’re not at camp by reminding us of just how special summer camp is, whether it’s through the distance that makes seeing each other at camp every summer so special or the closeness of having a camp pal who  “gets it”.

Amazing Staff Members from all over the Globe: Summer Camps are only as good as their staff, and we’re thankful that we have some of the most amazing staff anywhere in the world.  Each summer, you come from all over the world and commit yourselves 24/7 to insuring our campers have a safe, amazing summer.  We know it’s hard work, and we are grateful that so many of you find the experience so gratifying that you return year after year.

The Breathtaking Scenery of Maine and Northeast Pennsylvania: We love where our camps are located almost as much as we love our camps.  The beautiful woodlands of Maine, the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania, hiking paths, the lakes that are such a big part of our camp experiences and traditions, and the wildlife all make the perfect backdrops for our amazing campuses.

The Beautiful Campuses that are our Summer Homes: Just like the houses we live in the other ten months of the year, each of our summer homes has its own energy, homey feeling, and special places for gathering, playing or contemplating. We’re proud that ours are some of the most awesome facilities in camping and look forward to continuing to build and improve them each summer.  We know our campers eagerly await opening day when they finally get to see how camp has changed since the previous summer and what new additions might be waiting for them.

Our Year-Round Staff: Yes, even summer camp requires a staff to work year-round.  After each summer, they go back to their offices and immediately begin planning the next, thinking about what new programs we might add or how we might make existing ones better.  They begin traveling, recruiting new staff members.  They create newsletters, Tweets, and blogs.  They answer the phones when you call.  They plan the menus.  In short, they tirelessly build each amazing summer day by day.

Being a Part of Such an Iconic American Tradition:  All over the world, American summer camps are an icon of Americana.  They’re unique to America and so many have found them inspirational that there have been movies and television shows that feature them, as well as books and songs written about them.  We are also grateful that many of our international friends are beginning to see the value in the American summer camp experience and, increasingly, are joining us from all corners of the globe.

We hope this holiday season that we’ve inspired you to contemplate what it is about camp that you’re most thankful for and how it has enriched your life.  We encourage you to share those thoughts with us.  We’d love to hear them!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Making Global Connections

One thing that isn’t entirely evident to people who’ve only recently begun to familiarize themselves with the world of summer camp is the level of connection that it provides, not just to a regional network of people, but to those from different states and even countries. The campers and staff members that make up America’s Finest Summer Camps come from all parts of the globe to bring together a multitude of cultures. According to Fransec Pedro, analyst for the Center for Research and Information with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, global awareness and effective communication across cultures are essential in today’s international economy. Exposure to many different cultures provides campers and staff members with experiences throughout the summer that ultimately help them learn and integrate these skills into their lives.

The challenges that are sometimes involved in effective communication across cultures help campers at America’s Finest Summer Camps learn how to express themselves efficiently. When exposed to multiple cultures, it’s not only important to use language resourcefully in order to express oneself but to be a good listener. Understanding that people have various ways of thinking, express themselves differently, and that those differences sometimes affect our world view is no longer a novel skill but a requirement for success in today’s world. “Students need to graduate from high school not only workforce-ready and college-ready, but they also need to be globally competent,” says Alexis Menten, Assistant Director of the Asia Society.

Inevitably, there are sometimes mis-communications but such stumbles are part of a learning process that, like other skills, requires practice. Connecting with people from all over the globe helps children understand that the world reaches beyond their immediate surroundings. In the process, they learn to think internationally when building their social networks. This often leads to opportunities that they may not have otherwise have had. For many a summer camp staff member or camper, the process of learning how to connect begins and grows during their at camp.

Demographics are not the sole aspect of summer camp that makes it the ideal setting for “becoming global”, however. The very structure of camp is surprisingly global. As in the real world, the camp world expands outward from the individual. Campers and counselors must learn to function as a bunk or cabin. Then, as a bunk or cabin, they must figure out how to be part of a larger group of other bunks or cabins of campers the same age. From there, they must all learn how to work with other campers of various ages to become what makes “camp” a unit, rather than hundreds of individuals. Being part of the camp unit is what campers and staff members alike report as the most meaningful part of summer camp.

Camp Sick

The summer of 2011 is over, a new school year has started, everyone has finally unpacked their camp bags, and now the wait for the summer of 2012 begins.  Ten months isn’t really that long.  Every year we manage to wait it out.  But when it’s September and the fun times we had this past summer are still fresh in our minds, it seems like an eternity; and, inevitably, we all feel a little bit (or a lot!) camp sick.  We all know the feeling.  Some of us find ourselves singing camp songs or have the urge to tie-dye something…maybe even set our ring tones to the camp bell, or just sit around with camp friends re-living all of the memories from the summer.  Saying goodbye to another summer in our own way is a rite that we go through every fall.  We not only say goodbye to our camp friends, but our counselors, and upper campers.  But on the upside of goodbye is hello.  Hello to all of our new friends who will join us for the first time next summer.  Hello to the challenge and excitement of planning a new summer that’s even better than last.  Hello to good times that turn into new memories.  Hello to a new group of campers.  Hello to the new counselors and staff members who choose to make camp their summer home next year.  Hello, everyone. We can’t wait to see you in the summer of 2012!

A Look Behind the Scenes

Every day, we rely on a several teams of individuals to make camp happen.  Everyone knows about camp counselors, the people on the front lines, but not everyone is aware of the people who work behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly.  Running a summer camp really is more than showing up in June ready to welcome campers and have fun.  There are a myriad of staff members who perform the often thankless job of working “behind the scenes” at camp.  They are a very diverse group of individuals.  Some of them answer the phone when you call the camp.   Others schedule daily activities, arrange transportation, or cook the food.   Still, others take care of your children when they’re not feeling well, or look into your concerns about their daily lives at camp.

The fact of the matter is that summer camps require individuals of many interests and talents to operate successfully, and the measure of a good summer relies on the abilities and passions of these individuals.  They often work long hours, from sunrise until the wee hours of the morning simply because they love camp.  If you ask any one of them, they’ll tell you that they do what they do because, in the end, it contributes to a successful summer for campers and their parents.  They also might be a little coy in admitting that it’s just plain fun for them.

Furthermore, these people are so good at their jobs that we don’t even adequately know how to thank them.  They work with passion and without regard to anything but making sure our campers and their parents have the best possible experience at our camps.  It truly is a thankless job , in many ways, to work behind the scenes at an American summer camp.  But we are thankful!

Lots of Fun During Staff Orientation!

Staff Orientation is in full swing! All our staff is at camp learning the ins-and-outs of being a camp counselor and having a blast. It’s certainly a talented crew! We’ve had a jam-packed week so far with Leadership Training Sessions, Health and Safety Seminars, Typical Day At Camp, Role Playing, Staff Chaos, Campus Competes, Field Night, CL Drafts, Swim Tests, Driving Tests and so much more. We even brought in Maine’s premier Square Dance Caller, Al Hipkins, for a little Hoe-Down last night. Yeehaw! We still have a lot to do before camper arrival day on Saturday but we can’t wait. Only 5 days till camp!!!

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 3

Finally, we close our trilogy of camp counselor tips with one last blog dedicated to you, future camp counselors…

Get ready to build your resume!  Working as a camp counselor at a summer camp will provide you with some invaluable experience that will serve you well far beyond this summer.  Many HR Managers in lots of different fields find summer camp experience very impressive because of the level of dedication and commitment required.  Summer Camp also demonstrates that you can adapt well to new cultures, which is essential for success in many corporate environments.  In fact, many corporate executives were once campers and/or camp counselors themselves.  If you’re an education major, it goes without saying that experience working directly with children is a huge plus on a new teacher’s resume.

One final warning: As a summer camp counselor, you will act goofy, dress funny, and find yourself doing all sorts of crazy things you’d probably never ordinarily do…and you’ll have a blast while doing them.  It’s what summer camp is all about.  But what other job can you get where being an expert in painting faces, making signs, inventing outrageous costumes, and acting silly are all just part of your typical workday?

So there you have it!  A few suggestions for preparing yourself for a great and successful summer.  Have fun!

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 2

We promised a sequel and here it is: Orientation 101…

The first thing you should know about the orientation is don’t sweat it.  Yes, it’s intense.  Yes, it’s a VERY busy week and there is a lot to get done.  We know that, by the time months of anticipation for your new summer camp job to start come and you travel (sometimes for hours or even days) to get to the camp and find yourself actually there, even the most staunch start to feel the butterflies.  Remember that everyone with whom you come into contact those first few days is probably feeling the same butterflies—even returners who’ve done all of it before.  But relax.  Orientation is also full of opportunities.  Opportunities to learn more about your new surroundings, opportunities to learn more about your summer camp and embrace its traditions, opportunities to learn more about your summer job as a camp counselor, opportunities to change your mindset and grasp expectations, and opportunities to make friends.

Speaking of making friends, be ready to make LOTS of them from all over the world!  Sure your summer camp job will only last for a couple of months. But a couple of months are plenty of time to make lifelong friends when you spend everyday together.   You may even find that you don’t need the whole summer to bond.  You’ll probably be planning vacations to visit some of your new friends during the winter before orientation is even over.

Don’t over- or under-pack.  Yes, we know that you’re going to want to cram your entire bedroom into your suitcase or duffel..  But the fact is that camp housing isn’t exactly spacious.  Most summer camps provide their camp counselors with packing lists.  Of course you’re going to want to bring a few personal items, but don’t stray too far from what’s recommended and definitely avoid packing the “DO NOT BRING” items.  In other words, make sure your camp permits camp counselors to bring outside food onto the campus before you pack a stash of Doritos and energy drinks.  It’s also a good idea to make sure you read the camps guidelines about permissible items, particularly those related to swimsuits and shoes.  Once you’re packed, inspect your suitcase one more time to make sure you remembered things that are often easily overlooked or forgotten by new summer camp counselors, like rain gear or bedding (if your summer camp requires you to bring your own).

Chances are that you’re going to get a very important email or envelope from your summer camp very soon, if you haven’t already.   It’ll have some pretty important paperwork for you to complete.  Be sure to pay attention to the specified deadlines for each form.  For one thing, you’re not going to want to be bothered with it after you get to camp.  For another, not filling it out on time may cause pesky delays in important things…like being paid!

Well that about covers the orientation.  We’ve still got enough tips left for you that we’re going to make this one a trilogy.  Be sure to come back in a few days for the final part of this series!

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 1

So you’ve gotten a great job at a summer camp and are wondering what to do while you impatiently wait for June to get here…

First things first.  You found this blog, so we’re assuming you want to know as much as you can before you leave.  You’ve come to the right place! We’ve got a few suggestions for you…Actually, a lot.  In fact, since we understand that you’ve come to this site to read a blog, not War and Peace, we’re going to have to divide this into a few different parts.  But we figure that’s okay because they do it with movies all of the time, right?  So without any further delay…

Have you started checking out your camp’s blog as well as this one?   Many camps now maintain regular blogs and they frequently post blogs (like this one) intended specifically for staff members.

Check out the camp’s website, if you haven’t about a thousand times already.   Even if you visit the website everyday and spend hours staring dreamily at the photos as you imagine images of you having the perfect summer showing up on the site this time next year, dig a little deeper.  A camp’s website can also tell you a lot about the very special world that you will be part of this summer.  Many camps  have FAQ pages for staff members or special staff areas.  They give you ideas about what to bring and what to leave at home.  Some post sample daily schedules, which are a great way to familiarize yourself with how you will be spending your days.  If there are videos on the site (or if the camp sent you one), watch them.  Not only will you be ready to leave the same day, but it’s a great way to get to know the camp.

If the camp has Facebook or Twitter pages, join them.  They’re another way to keep up to date on what’s happening and, as summer inches closer, the anticipation that builds is infectious.  Many camps also post helpful information or instructions for staff members as summer nears.  Facebook and Twitter are great ways to connect with other staff members before you get to camp.  Not to worry, though.  You’ll make PLENTY of new friends during your Orientation, even if you show up knowing no one!

Prepare to work hard.  We won’t lie.  Camp is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have.  It’s also one that you’ll probably love the most.  Every second of every day, SOMETHING is happening at camp.  It’s all a lot to take in at first, but the chances of you making it through the last day at camp without shedding a single tear and hugging hundreds of people are pretty much nil-to-none.  And you’ll probably be making plans to come back next summer before this one’s even over.

Well, like we said, we’re well aware that if you were looking for a novel, you’d be downloading the latest best seller for you Kindle right now.  So we’ll call it a day for this blog.  Be sure to tune in next time for advice about what to pack (and not) and some tips for orientation.

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