Why do first time camp staff choose to come back multiple summers?During the off season, our central staff conducts Monday morning meetings. This is a time where we talk about our personal to do list as well as the goals we have set as a camp staff. A large amount of our conversations revolve around the question, “why do first year staff come back to camp for multiple summers?”
I had the privilege of interviewing one of our first year staff from this past summer, who might I add, signed her contract before she left camp at the end of the summer. Her name is Molly McMahan. She is a Junior at The College of William and Mary. Molly is a unique first year staff; she arrived this summer very early for an assortment of certification courses and from the beginning Molly was able to be bridge the exclusive-inclusive gap between returning staff and first year staff. We’re excited to have her back with us next summer, confident that she will be able to bring comfort to first year staff. In this interview, Molly gave me an insiders perspective on the challenges of being a first year staff and why in the end, she was sold on camp counseling and the camp experience as a whole.
1. Why camp?
My friends told me that my strengths would shine in a camp counselor position. The idea of being a camp counselor interested me because it brought together many of my interests. I love one on one relationships with people and I also love a structured schedule. At camp there is a daily routine in which I thrived. Building relationships at camp were key to my success. I also liked the schedule and structure of camp. It is in a beautiful area of the country. I idealized my vision of camp and it turns out I like the reality too. The website played a large part in getting me excited for camp.
Camp made me grow as a person more than any internship. I had to consistently put at least 20 other people ahead of myself. College life is generally self centered and self promoting. Summer camping is the complete opposite. Being a camp counselor is about service and commitment to others. These characteristics are what advance a person in a job or in life.
2. What were you feeling and thinking when you arrived and your first day with campers?
I arrived early with less than 10 staff present. I was nervous and scared of failure. I was concerned with what others would think of me because I was not an outdoor education major and I was not already apart of the camp culture.
Each day got better and better. Feeling included meant putting effort in on my side too. It is all about actively reaching out to new people. I had to actively seek out relationships. As soon as I was connected the adventure began.
By the first day of campers, I was hooked on camp. The first day was exciting yet exhausting. The first group of campers, no matter what session, is overwhelming but so much fun. Meeting new girls and building new relationships are reasons why I am behind the mission of summer camps.
3. How about halfway through the summer?
Midway through the summer I had thought about coming back but was not sure if I would be able to make it work. The future summer seemed so far away that it was tough to make a decision. Our generation has a hard time thinking about things that far in advance.
I realized that I could do this another summer after seeing how these girls do carry significant burdens. Camp is a place for girls to succeed and I feel privileged to be able to facilitate these new adventures.
4. How about at the end of the summer?
I was feeling great about coming back. I was tired but I felt like I found my groove. Sometimes counselors hit their stride late in camp and this can oftentimes lead a first year counselor to come back because we feel like our work is not finished.
5. Why are counselors like you choosing to come back? Your loyalty is not rooted in the many years you have been coming to camp. Something else is hooking you. What brings first year staff back?
The campers and relationships that were formed during the summer season. Individual girls who rely on counselors and often describe us “like a big sister that they never had.” I felt like not coming back would be a waste of time because of our need to stay in touch with these girls. These campers want long term relationships not short term experiences.
6. What would your message be to young adults considering being a camp counselor? They are feeling scared and out of place. How do we encourage college students to step out of their comfort zone and take a risk?
A college student will never know if they like it until they try out being a counselor. Life is what you make out of it. It can be terrible if you decide its terrible. If you are flexible and willing to embrace what comes in front of you camp is the best place to do that. I would have liked to hear that camp isn’t a place where you have to prove yourself before getting there.
I was scared about not being skilled and not knowing culture of camp. In a sense I embraced the “fake it til you make it” idea and eventually I did make it. No one is ever fully prepared no matter how skilled or confident they seem.
Written by Intern, Haley Fulford