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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.

5 Tips for First Time Counselors

You’ve accepted the position and completed the paperwork. It’s official! You’re about to spend your first summer as a camp counselor. Naturally, a lot of people experience a few nerves in the days leading up to camp. After all, even when you’re a grown adult, leaving behind your family and friends to spend the summer in a strange place is a big deal, especially if you’ve never been away from home for an extended period of time before. If you didn’t attend summer camp as a child, working at summer camp holds even more mystique because you’re not sure what to expect. If first time counselor nerves are haunting you, don’t be so quick to call up and accept that unpaid internship filing paperwork in a stuffy office all summer and, for goodness sake, don’t accept that job at the hot dog stand in the local park. Instead, follow these tips to kick your summer into gear now:

1.) Relax! You are NOT the only first time staff member coming to camp. If you know no oneelse going to camp or have never been to camp, that understandably may be a pretty difficult concept to wrap your head around right now. But trust us! When you get to camp, you will be in good company. If you’re feeling a little bit lonely when you first arrive, don’t panic and automatically assume you’ve made a mistake. The majority of people who tend to be drawn to work at camp typically have laid back, easy going and open personalities with an extraverted bend toward making new friends. Chances are that after your camp’s staff orientation period, you’ll have several new friends for life and wonder why you ever even doubted coming to camp.

2.) Like your camp’s Facebook page and staff Facebook page if it has one. Social media has arrived and most summer camps are completely aware that the easiest and most effective way to communicate with their camp staff is through means such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. By liking your camp’s pages, you can make friends before camp, pick up a lot of useful tips, and even possibly connect with a rideshare if you’re looking for a way to get to camp. Most summer camps also now feature regular blogs. It’s a good idea to pop onto the camp webpage every now and then in the weeks leading up to camp to see what new blogs have been posted. Camps tend to post some blogs, such as this one, for which staff is the intended audience during the late spring and early summer.

3.) Don’t over or under pack. Packing lists are created by camp professionals who’ve spent enough summers at camp to know what you need to be comfortable for the summer. So read over the staff packing list, if your camp supplies one, when determining what to pack as well as what not to pack. Veteran staff members are also usually more than happy to field questions on staff Facebook pages, which makes them a good resource if you’re unsure about some items.

4.) Arrive with the right mindset; being a camp counselor really is the hardest job you’ll ever love. Camps tell prospective staff members this during the interview process…and they mean it. You are about to spend the summer working harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and you will love most moments of it. There will also be moments during which you will question how in the world you ended up working at a summer camp and why you thought it was a good idea. Two things are essential to moving forward when these moments happen, and they’re actually most effective if you prepare yourself with them before you even get to camp. First, arrive with the right attitude. Yes, you’re there to work. You’re there to work hard. You’re also going to have a lot of fun creating amazing moments for and with your campers. Second, know what helps you alleviate stress or frustration and come prepared to engage in it should the need arise.

5.) Be in the moment. Yes, we spend our lives being told how important it is to plan. But at camp, it’s very important to be in the moment and be present with the campers. It’s how you’ll best appreciate the camp counselor experience as well. Summer camp lasts only a few weeks each summer, and things tend to move very quickly. On the first day, you’ll be looking ahead at a whole summer and thinking the end seems like a long way off. But on the last day of camp you will wonder where it went. Don’t find yourself with regrets on that day by realizing that you didn’t take advantage of every moment.

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