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5 Things for Camp Staff to Begin Thinking about in the Spring

Even though camp is three months away, snow covers the ground in many locations and you just barely finished making spring break plans, if you’ve committed to working at a summer camp, it’s already time to begin thinking about the summer. Here are five camp things to begin thinking about in the spring:

1.)    Make travel arrangements. How will you be getting to camp? Will you drive, fly, carpool? If you plan to fly, airline tickets are often less expensive in the early spring before the weather warms and people begin making summer vacation plans. Carpooling is a great way to get to know co-workers while splitting the cost of fuel. If you plan to carpool, reach out to other camp staff through your camp’s Facebook page or other resources offered by your camp and begin to get to know others from your area who may be interested in traveling together. If your camp offers travel reimbursement as part of your contract, it’s also very important that you understand the reimbursement process prior to making travel plans.

2.)    Set goals. Camp is a work experience like no other and it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Setting goals prior to arriving helps minimize culture shock. When setting goals it’s important to keep an open mind. Summers at camp tend to have a lot of twists and turns. Your list will likely evolve as you familiarize yourself with your new environment, and there are some things that will probably not pan out quite the way you initially envision them. That’s okay. The importance of setting goals is that they help you mentally prepare for the camp experience and arrive with some sense of direction.

3.)    Begin stockpiling…but not too much. Packing for camp is an art. Living space is very limited. At the same time, camps are usually in rural places that don’t have a lot of nearby shopping options, and limited access to computers and the internet make online shopping a bit more challenging too. So it’s extremely important to pack the right combination of items that can be easily replaced with those items that are difficult to come by or require a bit of a drive to acquire. Chances are, you will have several opportunities throughout the summer to replenish basic items such as shampoo, deodorant, sunscreen, etc. So if you need to maximize luggage space, pack just enough of these items to get you through the first couple of weeks. It’s a good idea, however, to begin thinking about acquiring certain items, such as bedding, towels and socks, that people tend to overlook until the last minute. By beginning to accumulate those items a few months ahead of time, you’ll avoid that last minute binge shopping trip in which something essential and perhaps not easily acquirable is inevitably forgotten.

4.)    Complete forms. In the spring, your camp will either mail or make available online a series of forms. These forms may include a contract, standard employment forms, forms requesting information about how you intend to travel to camp, and forms that require medical and insurance information. Although completing paperwork is never the most exciting task, it is essential that you complete and submit these forms prior to your arrival at camp. First, the camp must have these completed forms in order to pay you or treat you for any medical emergencies or conditions. Second, many camps will not issue you id badges or uniforms until they have received these completed forms. Orientation is a very busy time and few staff members love the idea of having to take some of their downtime to complete paperwork.

5.)    Learn about the camp. Presumably, you learned at least a little bit about the camp prior to accepting a job there. But now that you’re actually going to be part of it, really get to know it. Watch the camp video if you haven’t already. Re-watch it if you have. The camp video is a great way to preview the camp culture. Also, if your camp participates in any social media outlets (and many do these days), begin following them to get a sense of who your co-workers are as well as your camp’s values and traditions. Also, a lot of camps provide tips and updates for staff through their social media outlets as camp draws near. Of course, it’s impossible to get a full sense of what your camp is all about until you get there, but arriving with some sense of what (and who) to expect is a lot less disorienting than arriving with none.

Be Better

The Sochi Olympics took place last month, and even though the athletes competed on snow and ice, the games were surprisingly reminiscent of summer camp, particularly from a staff perspective. Many athletes were there for the first time. Some, however, were competing in their second, third, or even fifth Olympic games. Each summer at camp, likewise, attracts many fresh staff faces – eager but not quite sure what to expect – and returning staff who are back to lead the way and improve upon their past performances, even if those performances were already gold medal caliber. Oddly, a lot of camp blogs and articles address the qualities and expectations of new camp staff, but few address those of returners. How do staff approach camp if it is their second, third, fifth, or even tenth summer? The answer most veteran camp staff provide is that they intend to be better. Even great summers, in retrospect, have room for improvement. Like campers, returning staff always arrive with an agenda and, like athletes, always strive for that perfect 10 summer. Every summer is an Olympic year for camp staff.

Many returners actually begin goal setting for the following summer before the current summer ends. Some simply visualize areas in which they could be better whileothers actually comprise a physical list. Veteran staff members learn, over the course of several summers, that there is a maturation process to working at camp. Because camp tends to be such a microcosmic environment in which staff wear many hats, it’s almost impossible not to develop multiple perspectives of camp and how it can be made even better. Like athletes, veteran camp staff know that there is always room for improvement. Even the smallest of adjustments can elevate a summer from excellent to outstanding. In part, that is what draws returning staff members back year after year.

Regardless of whether each summer begins with a written or mental list of goals, it ends the same for all returning staff – with careful evaluation of their own performance. The desire to be better is a unique quality of returning camp staff, and a quality that makes them very appealing as job candidates. The enthusiasm of happy campers is infectious. Mediocrity is simply not an option when making campers happy. Returning camp staff are so willing to dedicate themselves to the task of creating gold medal summers that they come back year after year, physically and mentally ready to take on old challenges as well as new ones. At camp,  they eat, breathe, sleep and live what they’ve been envisioning since the end of the previous summer in their quest to simply be better at something they love.

The Other Camp Staff

Summer camp employment is synonymous with “camp counselor” in most people’s minds. But, there are a lot of “non-counselor” positions at camp. If you’re interested in working at summer camp but don’t really think the role of camp counselor would be best for you, consider one of these alternatives:

Program/Activity Head: Are you or have you ever been a professional or college level athlete or coach? If so, and you’re interested in working at summer camp, then the Program/Activity Head role might be a perfect fit for you. Program/Activity Heads oversee a sport or activity at camp. They typically have a staff of counselors who are also active in the sport or activity to assist with instruction and coaching. Program/Activity Heads plan daily activities, oversee instruction and assign campers to teams for intra and inter camp league play. There are also a handful of Program/Activity Head roles at camp for those who are not athletic but have some sort of niche expertise in areas like arts & crafts, music, dance, theater, cooking, science and communications.

Programming Staff: If you have a knack for scheduling, consider applying to work as part of a camp programming team. The camp programming staff is responsible for the daily camper and staff schedules. When creating schedules, they must keep in mind things like facility availability, staffing ratios and camper frequencies.

Special Events Staff: The special events staff at summer camp are responsible for all events that take place outside of the regular daily special. This is typically all evening activities and special days as well as (on that rare occasion) a rainy day. It helps if you have some sort of technical knowledge, such as connecting laptops to video screens, rigging microphones and operating (sometimes complicated) sound systems. But not everything you do as a special events staff member is hi-tech. You can also be charged with setting up a scavenger hunt, gathering and placing materials for game night, baking night or a host of other things. The imagination is the limit. If you love having fun, event planning and are detail oriented, special events might be the area of camp for you.

Photography/Videography: Camp photographer and videographer roles are highly specialized and extremely critical roles at camp. Every day, camp photographers take hundreds of photographs of daily activities and film many of the activities as well. If you’re a professional in either of these areas and are interested in working at summer camp, chances are there is a camp looking for you.

Camp Nurse: Summer camps maintain health centers and employ licensed nurses to dispense medication, clean up those inevitable scratches and cuts, and treat campers and staff who become ill during the summer. For those rare, more severe injuries that occur, nurses also may be asked to accompany campers or staff to local hospitals or doctors’ offices.

Office Staff: If you prefer behind the scenes desk work and answering phone calls, then consider applying for a camp office position. Typically, office staff answer phone calls, sort mail, greet visitors, manage camper phone calls, prepare documents or mailings, and complete other administrative tasks.

Maintenance Staff: If you’re a handyman (or woman) who’s good with a hammer, loves landscaping and cleaning, and prefers being outdoors to inside, consider applying to work as a member of the maintenance team. Camp maintenance staff stay busy all summer long maintaining summer camp campuses, and no two days as a camp maintenance staff member are alike.

Kitchen Staff: Working in the camp kitchen is perfect for those who thrive in restaurant environments. If you’re a chef, caterer or member of a restaurant staff – or aspire to be one – then working in a summer camp kitchen is a fun alternative to restaurant work.

If any of these camp roles interest you, camps are hiring now. Many of the people who work in these roles return year after year because they are a great way to integrate personal interests and specialized expertise with the fun and adventure of working at summer camp. Apply now and you just may find yourself returning year after year too.

The Hard Part of Working at Camp

A popular question that a lot of prospective summer camp counselors ask recruiters is about the difficult aspects of the job. After hearing about how much fun they will have, about the amount of time they will get to spend outdoors, about all of the friends they will make, and how much money they can save, it all sounds a bit too good to be true. Candidates want to know, ‘So, what’s the hard part?’ It’s a good question because, while it’s true that a simple internet search will produce article upon article about all of the great aspects of working at a sleepaway camp, few highlight the difficult parts of the job. In the name of bucking the status quo, this blog is going to take a stab at it.

First, camp ends. That’s probably the hardest part. From an outsider’s perspective, a couple of months never seems like a long time, certainly not long enough to form any permanent bonds or attachments. What a lot of people fail to consider, because it’s just such a foreign concept to most people, is that those two months aren’t 9-5, 5 days per week months. They’re 24/7 months—including meal times. That’s roughly 1,344 hours of constant interaction with campers and co-workers compared to the 320 hours those people who just do that daytime thing get. A little basic math establishes that’s roughly eight months of regular work time crammed into two. Eight months is the better part of a year and plenty of time to get pretty attached to new friends as well as campers. That’s why tears are usually inevitable when it comes time to saying goodbye. Goodbye is always hard. But it’s even harder when you know that you may never have the opportunity to see some of the people with whom you’ve just spent the equivalent of eight months of your life again.

Second, you have to be comfortable around children. This sounds like a no brainer, but if you’re used to spending most of your time around adults, spending most of your time around children requires a bit of an adjustment. It goes without saying that interacting with children requires a filter of sorts. Obviously, you don’t share everything with children that you would with other adults. Interacting with children also requires a great deal of discretion. They’re looking at you for answers. Not only knowing what answers to give but when to give them is important. Knowing when it’s not your place to answer but to escalate the issue is even more important. Also, successful interaction with children is all in the presentation. You have to be a good salesperson to a certain extent. Before signing up to work at summer camp, think about the fact that convincing at least one camper to do something he or she does not want to do and to have fun while doing it is likely going to be a daily occurrence. If you’re a person who is quick to lose patience, summer camp may not be the right fit for you.

Third, stepping outside of your comfort zone is difficult. Think about it. When you’re feeling like pizza, do you pick up the telephone and call a different restaurant to order each time or do you call that place that you know makes a killer pie? There is nothing wrong with comfort. It certainly makes life (and decisions) easier. But leaving friends and family and going to a completely foreign environment to live and work for two months is definitely taking a giant step out of the comfort zone for most people. A lot of first year staff members arrive at camp thinking they’re prepared…and then reality sets in. Just accept that you will feel disoriented for a few days and definitely out of your comfort zone, which is hard. But if you stick with it, you’ll find that stepping out of your comfort zone to work at camp is one of the best hardest things you will ever do.

Finally, working at camp is exhausting. Seriously. You need some serious stamina—both mental and physical–to make it through the summer. The days are long. The sleep is short. You will likely be given one day off per week, on which you will still find yourself spending time with the same people with whom you’ve been working for the past six days and with whom you will work for the next six days. Obviously, if you’re a person who values a lot of alone time, you might find working at camp a bit hard.

There you have it. The hard part. The fine print. The ‘What’s the catch?’ If you’ve read all of that and are ready to take on a bit of difficulty in exchange for a whole lot of fun, then a summer at camp just may be the right fit for you.

Camp through the Eyes of a Program Director

I’m the camp’s Program Director.  I have a very unique job at camp as the person responsible for overseeing the daily scheduling of the camp’s daily activities.  Even though it’s not one of the traditional camp jobs that comes to mind when people imagine working at a summer camp, it’s a crucial one.  I like that it’s a perfect combination of behind the scenes with hands on.

One of the things I love most about my job is that I get the opportunity to get to know most of the campers and staff through daily interaction.  I’m the person they come to with requests for their programs.  I enjoy speaking with them about the things that are working in their activity areas and hear feedback about things that I might improve.

On those rare occurrences when the sun refuses to cooperate with the camp schedule, I get to demonstrate my creative talents by figuring how we can keep the fun going in all of our indoor facilities.  I also enjoy getting out on campus every now to see for myself how the schedule plays out in real time.  It’s a great time for me to take notes for the next schedule.

In the evenings, before I begin working on the next day’s schedule, I often participate in special events.  Sometimes I judge activities.  Sometimes I lead them.  Other times, I host them or just keep score.  The real reward of my job is when I overhear campers telling their counselors that they just had the best day ever as they’re heading off to bed in the evenings.  It’s a great way to begin another day because just as everyone winds down their day at camp, I head back to my office to begin working on the next day’s schedule, ready to create another “funnest day ever!” for our campers.  If you think working in camp programming sounds like a fun job, apply at one of America’s Finest Summer Camps today!

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?

A Network of Lifetime Friends

One of the most touted benefits of working at a summer camp is the network one may build even within the parameters of a single summer.  Unlike many work environments, which tend to draw locals with a telescoped set of talents, summer camp attracts staff from virtually all over the world who possess an array of abilities.  A successful summer at camp requires the expertise of athletes and artists alike.  Because summer camps are 24/7 communities, staff members tend to form very close bonds within the two months that they reside at camp each summer.  Camp breeds a sense of family, which is precisely why, for a good many staff members, goodbye at the end of the summer is seldom goodbye forever.  Thanks to a little help from social media outlets such as Facebook, it’s possible to stay in touch with summer camp friends no matter where on earth they live.  Whether it’s couch surfing while traveling, hunting for a job, needing a little bit of advice or support, or sharing an inside joke, camp friends are there.  Working at summer camp is more than just a summer experience.  It’s a way to form a global network of friends for life.

Who Works at Summer Camp?

Spring is just around the corner and summer will be here before you know it, which makes now the time to start thinking about how you’re going to spend your summer.  If you’re a college student, you could toil away as a server or cook at the local pizza joint or operate rides or peddle souvenirs at the local amusement or sports park.  Interning in an office may even be an option you’re considering.  And we all know the internships at Wall Street banks are now fewer and far between. But if you want summer employment that promises a summer full of fun and adventure while also helping you develop valuable lifelong skills that employers view favorably, consider working at summer camp.  Just because your college days are behind you doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role at summer camp for you too, particularly if you are a teacher or high school or college athletics coach looking for a great way to supplement your income.  In fact, the ages and backgrounds of the people who make up the typical summer camp staff are about as diverse as summer camps themselves.

If you don’t think being a counselor is really your thing or you’re pretty sure you’ve aged out of that option, don’t sweat it.  There are a multitude of positions besides counselors that summer camps must fill each summer.  For starters, camps have offices and offices require personnel to run them.  If answering the phone and administrative tasks are more to your liking, perhaps working in a summer camp office might be the ideal option for you.  Additionally, camps need people to help with daily scheduling as well as planning and executing special activities during the evenings and on special days.

If you like the idea of spending time with children but are an athlete or hobbyist who would rather focus on your passion, summer camps hire specialists to teach skills in specific sports and hobbies to campers.  If your passion is photography or videography, as the camp photographer responsible for capturing the fun every day, your role is one of the most integral at camp. In fact, if you can think of an activity, there is probably a staffing need for it at camp, and sometimes some of the hardest positions to fill are ones most people just don’t think of when they think of summer camp, such as creative writing, cooking, robotics, eco science, skateboarding, or magic.

Although most hospitality positions such as food service, maintenance, and housekeeping are usually filled with international applicants, some camps hire domestic applicants as well, particularly for supervisory roles in these areas.  If you are an international student who would love to earn some money by working in the U.S. before or after traveling, one of these summer camp roles may be the perfect option for you…as well as a lot of fun and a chance to make a lot of new friends from around the world!

Camps also have a need to fill key roles that require more foundational knowledge and experience.  Aside from campers, camps also need division heads or campus leaders, people who lead a specific age group and supervise all of the counselors within that group.  Although many camps fill all or most of their head roles from within, using individuals who have several years of successful camp experience because they require a more intricate knowledge of summer camp, occasionally they will search outside of camp, typically for teachers or other professionals who work with children. Camps also hire program or activity heads, usually college coaches and current or former professionals in their area of expertise, such as soccer, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, etc.  However, since almost all activities require people to run them, those with interest and expertise in hobby or arts related programs can often find a summer home at camp in areas such as arts and crafts, dance, theater, etc. Those who manage offices, act as campus administrators, or arrange transportation are typically individuals with some type of related work experience as well.  Most camps also employ camp moms or parent liaisons during the summer.  These are individuals, often mothers themselves, who monitor the well being of younger campers to insure they are eating properly, staying well groomed, and having a fantastic summer.

So who works at camp?  Chances are someone like you! If you’d like a summer job in which you can work among a diverse group of people from all over the world, make lifetime friends, be challenged everyday, and have the time of your life, apply now to one of America’s Finest Summer Camps!

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