Across the country, thousands of eager former campers are counting the days until summer camp begins. Some new campers may be more anxious than excited, as day one draws near.
And once camp begins, the person who will influence the experience of each camper the most is the camp counsellor.
The director is essential, the maintenance staff is useful, the nurse is important (should you need her) and nobody would stick around for long without the cook. But the camp counsellor is the one with the closest, most consistent contact with the campers.
As one renowned camp director, Elizabeth Raymer, described it, “This group of leaders determines the success or failure of the entire enterprise … The most beautiful site with elegant buildings and a superabundance of up-to-date equipment is useless in the hands of an inept staff.”
Her expectations were clear: if you aspire to be a camp counsellor, you have to be good. Your campers deserve your very best.
Camp directors diligently read resumes, identify candidates worthy of an interview, then check references. With care and thoroughness, they select a group of young people whom they believe to be worthy of emulation by impressionable young campers.
Once on site, they continue to train, supervise and evaluate. One Camp Wenonah staff alumna who assisted the director with interviewing prospective camp counsellorsfor the 2015 season marvelled at the qualifications, personalities, experiences and volunteer service of the candidates.
My experience concurs with her conclusions – young people who choose to be camp counsellors are anything but average.
The summer my 18-year-old son, David, joined our staff as a canoe trip leader, I had a rude awakening. For years, without a second thought, I had sent other people’s young adults into the wilderness to care for our campers. Sending my own son forced me to think more carefully about the huge burden I was placing on these young leaders’ shoulders.
I expected them to travel for days on the assigned route, feed, shelter and care for a group of campers relying on the bare necessities, as well as their experience, judgment and skills. They accepted the challenge without hesitation. And they never disappointed me!
Despite the rattlesnake sunning on the portage path, a group of drunken fishermen wanting to share their site or a young camper with abdominal pain who required evacuation in the night, they always made the right decision and brought everyone home safe and sound. With one exception, they always arrived on time.
Once when the lake was too rough to cross, they patiently remained on shore until the wind died down, thus forcing them to arrive home late, but with good reason. Again, they made the right decision.
That summer I started a new tradition. At the end of the season, I wrote to my camp staff parents to share with them my renewed admiration of their offspring, based on their achievements.
But the campers get the last word. As a board member for the Kids in Camp Charity, I recently received a summary of comments from the campers the charity had financially assisted in 2014. Their remarks confirmed that counsellors continue to do an awesome job.
Payton tells us, “I learned how to do tricks on a wake board … my counsellors were amazing and so chill.” Veronica, a special needs camper, reports, “If something is too hard or too much, I can tell my counsellors and it doesn’t mean I’m lazy.”
Emily confirms, “My counsellors were really nice, sweet and kind and very funny.” Tal loved his counsellors: “Cameron and Shimon are very cool and they helped us with problems if we got into fights. I am so lucky I came to this camp.”
Parents, ask your camp director about their staff of special young people, who will influence your children in positive ways and hopefully help them grow up to be just like their counsellor!
Catherine Ross is former director, Camp Mi-AKon- Da, Canadian Camping Association communications officer, and author of Our Kids E-Book, Preparing for Camp.
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