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An Argument in Favor of Being a Camp Counselor

To intern or not to intern; that is the question.

This blog has been prompted by the following exchange between a camp parent of a sixteen year old and us directors of a boys’ summer camp in New Hampshire:

       “Our son is hoping for an internship through school while his dad thinks being a Counselor in Training is an important opportunity.”  

       “We work hard to make our CIT program a very rich, rewarding and fun experience; feedback from CITs who have participated has been outstanding. It puts guys in a great position to score one of the best ‘first jobs’ out there- one with real responsibilities that is fun at the same time. Plus we write great recommendations.” 

Let’s set aside the arguments, pro and con, for both choices to focus exclusively on the recommendation angle.  A good recommendation is one that comes from a person who personally has been in the trenches with the applicant and can speak to specific examples of actions undertaken by the candidate.  While not at all aiming to disparage the many terrific opportunities offered by internships, we want to make a strong argument that being a summer camp counselor is not exactly stacking greased BB’s, our phrase for any job that is repetitive and boring.

Admissions officers and hiring departments are looking for prospects who evidence strong character, motivation, work ethics and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.  Most camp directors are direct witnesses to these “characterizations in the flesh,” meaning they have been privileged to observations of young people, and often when circumstances are far from perfect. When prompted to endorse a candidate for this or that, camp people can relate “stories” which serve to underscore the trait the agency is looking for.  In the examples that follow, we share anecdotes actually cited in recommendations of counselors.

Work ethic:  “I had to laugh at myself one day this summer when I fell upon his activity during a rest break.  It was if he had swallowed a canary!  He could not believe his bad luck of being discovered endorsing something as lame as a pause for water!  Indeed, Garrett is that responsible and dependable that he could not countenance a second’s respite.  What a great guy to have on the team, eh?”

Motivation:   “ ‘Antidisestablishmentarianism’ Can you spell that one, on your feet and in front of 200 people?  Well, Jack did it this summer, and I without doubt cheered the heartiest.  Jack is one bright guy, obviously, but I have to tell you that he applies the same slow, methodical thinking process to any issue within his “personal bubble” at Kingswood Camp.  Tell Jack to be sure that 100% of his charges are where they belong, on time, and prepared for the event to follow – and, it gets done with a knowing smile.  ‘I can do this,’ was Jacks’ precise comment upon being challenged to the spelling word.  That’s his modus operandi on any assignment.”

Responsibility:  “In truth, I worried that the clay courts would get overused and that Charlie, the tennis maintenance man as well, would not be able, or willing, to keep up with the rigorous upkeep chores.  I remember wandering up to the courts late in a day when they had been heavily used, when I was expecting company, only to find them in mint condition.  I sought out Charlie right away and he chuckled, saying,  ‘Several of us worked during my free period and we had fun.  Besides, I knew about your company!’ Rare, in this day and age, I would surely argue.”

Character:  “Dave absolutely insists that people treat on another with mutual respect and civility.  From a mile away, he can spot the bully, the insensitive kid or the spoiled youngster and in soft-spoken words urge him towards a greater appreciation of good.  Dave does not drink, smoke, curse or carouse but nevertheless is “one of the guys,” as boys are wont to categorize.  Nor does he harbor excuses for or shrug in submission to the trends of the times.  His dad tells of the incident when Dave was faced with some peers who were mistreating others at his school.  Towards the end of the day, his guidance counselor, of all people, remarked with resignation that “boys will be boys.”  Dave looked the guy right in the eye and said, ‘It doesn’t work that way at my summer camp and should not work that way here.’”

Persistence:  “Harrison had a tough chore in dealing with a youngster who was afraid of the water.  I had let it be known that we were not to force the issue but be patient with the boy and eventually the kid would agree to go into the lake.  One gorgeous morning late in the session, I was giving a tour to a prospective family.  As we came to a vantage point of the waterfront, there was poor Zach, sitting alone on a bench by the water’s edge.  The mother inquired about and got the full story of Zach’s fear.  Meanwhile, there was Harrison ambling into the general area.  ‘Watch the waterfront director,’ I told her.  ‘He works with Zach every day on this issue.’  As luck would have it, this was the very moment Harrison won the war, as Zach, listening with his usual politeness, finally threw off his towel, went out on the dock, and jumped into the water.  What  a great moment!”

Compassion:  “I remember, not that fondly in all honesty, Patrick’s first summer when he was one of the more homesick youngsters on the grounds.  I still recall urging him to ‘hang in there’ until he got the feel for the place.  Four weeks later upon his departure, when he was now all smiles, I knew the camp had found a young man who would return year after year.  Not only that, but every summer thereafter, I solicited Patrick to give aid and comfort to some younger first-time camper who was going through the same pangs of separation which had nearly stuck him down.  At every summons, he smiled and agreed to befriend the youngster in question.  I have found his willingness to be most ennobling.”

Professionalism:  “Enclosed is a replica of a Counselor Report Card completed by two assistant directors (both school teachers, too) on Todd’s behalf.  We feel this feedback mechanism is a useful tool for helping our young counselors become more professional in the various components of their jobs.  “Excellent” is a hard score to get for most.  The three of us graders got quite a chuckle over Todd’s report card.  I went first, as head of camp, and my checks are the larger ones.  Kevin went second, placing his checks “inside” mine as to suggest a “more excellent” grade than the one I had assigned to Todd.  Mike followed and to underscore the point once and for all, placed his marks the furthest to the left!”  (Editor’s note:  Perhaps a tad confusing, but the graders clearly were falling over one another in an effort to endorse Todd’s professional character.)

Adapting to changing circumstances:  “At midsummer, we always have a large staff changeover and my historical bent has been to give the carryover staff and easier run for the second half.  But, Brian was too good to kick upstairs so I told him he’d have the young ones again, and he just shrugged and said,  “Sure.  No problem.”  Then, disaster, of sorts, struck.  Brian got assigned a sweet little boy but for one thing – the child could not control his bladder and he suffered several accidents per day.  His mother was so shortsighted to send him to camp knowing of his condition but I must say that towards this boy Brian displayed a sensitivity and compassion unsurpassed in camp annuls.  Brian even developed a code whereby the little boy signaled him whenever a problem occurred, thus enabling the two to meet privately in the bathroom to change underwear.  Everybody on the staff was effusive in their praise for Brian’s handling of the situation.”

Reliability:  “I sent Scott on a rough three day hike into the highest mountains in the northeast with this very age group, again expecting that here was a chap who would keep the lid on and give good support and guidance to the campers should things get tough.  All had a blast and nearly kissed my feet upon return for my having assigned Scott as their leader.  He delivered a speech to the entire camp about the mental toughness necessary to hike three days without a single whimper, which is what the hikers had accomplished.  I can only tell you that the collective community rose to its feet to salute this group of intrepid souls.”

In conclusion, we strongly contend that a summer camp counseling job is the real deal, one that in many instances sets up a young person for success in any manner of difficult endeavors down the road.  This, as well as that assuring recommendation we have been able to submit.  We’ve been told more than once that our words helped seal the deal!

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