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Aug 12 2016
by Katie Sims

4 Benefits of Working at Sleepaway Camp

By Katie Sims - Aug 12 2016

Sitting in the staff cabin of a Girl Scout camp, I asked the room, “Why do we work at camp?” The immediate response, from a friend of mine I know as Whiskers, was, “Because you leave camp a better person.” We’ve spent seven weeks in the woods, frustrated and annoyed but fulfilled and excited. We’ve shared inside jokes, our fair share of scares, and plenty of sleep deprivation. It’s the best way to spend eight weeks learning and growing. Here are four benefits to working at a sleepaway camp.

1. You're able to take on adult responsibilities while being given the opportunity to act like a child.

Every Sunday afternoon, we’re given 10 to 20 children to take care of for a week or two. It’s no small task to make sure they’re safe, clean and happy, even when they’re peeing themselves or afraid of the lake. We hand seven year olds deadly weapons in the form of bows and arrows, and let nine year olds who know their strokes swim in 50 foot deep water. When we have to sweep the bottom of the lake, searching the 15 ft. deep lake bottom, in lifeguard training for a missing camper, it hits you how scary this place is.

Despite all of these very important responsibilities, last night my campers wrapped me in toilet paper and stacked Cheez-its on my head. I’ve been covered in paint and chocolate syrup and I wear garbage bag dresses to dinner on Thursdays. My favorite game to play is called “Scream and Run” — you literally just scream and run until you can no longer do one of them. The best way to entertain the kid is to be the kid.

One of the most important parts of being a counselor is knowing when to be a child and when to be an adult. It’s hard to balance, but it’s a valuable skill and helps you balance your fun and working lives.

2. You gain communication and job skills.

There’s a lot of moving parts at camp. You have to make sure every child is supervised 24/7, entertained most of the time and healthy. It takes a team of 35 to make that happen at my camp. It’s crucial to have a good working relationship with everyone, as well as being friendly. You live in close quarters — any problem that you have with another staff member can blow up in no time at all. Communicating as coworkers and friends while at camp is what makes or breaks the experience for the counselor and their campers.

In addition to communicating with the staff, communicating with campers is just as important. You learn to understand what makes the children work. I have to mediate disagreements just about every day and navigate my campers’ fears and apprehension. Trying to make a group work together so that everyone has a good time is really hard, and trying to convince a determined eight year old to compromise can be very difficult.

Activities take a lot of organization and planning, but just as much thinking on the fly and creativity. You can have a night planned out months in advance, but the rain moves in and you have to do something completely different. Plus, every child reacts differently to activities, so you might have to change things to sell it to them.

Time management is another important part of keeping the camp gears going. When you’re planning activities, you need to know how long they’ll take, and be able to shorten or lengthen activities if things don’t go as planned. If 100 other people are waiting for you at the dining hall, you can’t be late for lunch. The same goes for whatever meetings you have in jobs or classes you have in college.

3. You have a fulfilling experience.

I’ve never been happier than at Girl Scout camp. Empowering young girls to think and act independently, to work hard, and to learn new things is a pretty noble task. Teaching new skills and having fun and appreciating the outdoors are great things, but something about young Girl Scouts makes it particularly important for me. Maybe it’s because I was them when I was younger or maybe it’s because I think young girls need a little more empowerment. I love it when they’re excited to learn how to swim the butterfly or tell me about the cool mushroom they found on their nature walk because they’re excited about their learning and growth. When they don’t miss home because they’re having such a great time and when they ask me questions about something they learned earlier, I know I’m doing something right.

4. You meet the best people.

The best part of camp, for me, is the people I meet. People come from all over the United States and United Kingdom to work at our camp. Twenty-five percent of our staff is from England or Scotland, spending the summer working in the United States for the experience. I love spending our breaks at amusement parks and shopping malls with them, getting the “American experience.” Spending late nights eating ice cream in the cabins or roasting extra s’mores after the campers go to bed are the most fun times. Even when we’re frustrated and tired, we laugh because kids do the darnedest things.

Camp pushes me to be a better person. I try to learn more, work harder and be nicer every day. When I’m at camp, I want to be a perfect role model for my campers. I hope that they look up at me the way I looked up to my counselors when I was their age. I hope the next generation of campers is just as joyous about camp as I was, and still am. 

Lead Image Credit: Katie Sims

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Katie Sims - Cornell University

Katie Sims is a freshman at Cornell University, studying Environmental Engineering. They are probably laughing at bad calculus jokes and crying about calculus homework. You can find Katie on Twitter or Instagram @k8esims

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