Summer Fun Ramps Up Resume

Posted February 11, 2008 10:59 a.m. EST

David Johnson calls it the best job he ever had. From organizing games to leading cheers, he worked many summers as a camp counselor with the YMCA of the Triangle. Today, as an associate branch director of the Cary Family YMCA, Johnson helps hire the summer camp counselors who are in charge of shaping young lives while serving as positive role models.

Being a camp counselor is a big job that requires the skills of a cautious parent, older sibling and best friend all rolled into one, Johnson says. And while the work often can be challenging, the rewards for both counselors and campers can last a lifetime.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of counselors who get the importance of the job,” Johnson says. At the same time, “many can’t believe they are actually getting paid to have such a great time.”

Across the Triangle, day and residential camps hire hundreds of camp counselors. The hiring process usually begins in early January, and many camps welcome back counselors each summer.

Opportunities for Teens

Most counselors are college students, but several camps offer leadership training programs for younger teens. For example, the Cary Family YMCA offers Counselor in Leadership Training (CILT) programs for rising ninth- and 10th-graders. Junior counselors in 11th and 12th grades are hired at Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center near Efland and at camps operated by the Girl Scouts – North Carolina Coastal Pines.

“Our junior counselors are paired with the senior counselors to gain leadership experience,” says Nick Jeffries, program director at Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center. The camp, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, offers both day and residential programs. Volunteers who are in ninth and 10th grade also work behind the scenes at Chestnut Ridge, helping to organize games, hand out snacks and participate in evening programs.

Teens in the Cary Family YMCA CILT program register and pay for the sessions. CILTs work alongside senior counselors for a portion of each day, then attend activities with their peers.

The Girl Scout camps offer two levels of Counselor in Training (CIT) programs each summer. Similar to the YMCA, the younger counselors pay for the experience. The training programs are a win-win for both the camp and the younger teens, according to Keli Diewald, program director for the Girl Scouts. “The teens gain a great deal of leadership experience while working with the older counselors and with the campers,” she says. “We also hire many of our CITs as counselors when they are older, which is a big benefit for us.”

What Camps Want

Similar to camp counselors, younger teens must have skills that include flexibility, responsibility, dedication and determination. While often paving the way for future summer camp counselor jobs, these skills are beneficial for a lifetime, camp leaders agree.

Many of the younger teens start as campers in the programs, which is true of counselors as well. Experience as babysitters, first aid certification and club or community activities give younger teens a nod over the competition.

“We look for counselors who are interested in being of service to something greater than themselves,” Jeffries says. “We want people who will be positive role models, but also know how to have fun.”

At the Cary Family YMCA, Johnson oversees the hiring of approximately 150 summer camp counselors. “We work to balance the positive energy of our camps and counselors with the all-important safety issues,” he says. “We want counselors who are able to balance the fun with the seriousness of being responsible for others’ children.”

Diewald looks for counselors who “are quick on their feet, energetic and articulate.” She hires about 75 summer counselors for area camps.

Recruitment and Training

Larry Hancock, director of the state’s 4-H camping program, oversees the training of counselors statewide for six 4-H camps. The 10- to 14-day training focuses on such skills as conflict resolution, teamwork, group dynamics, participatory learning, reflective listening and journaling.

“We look for counselors who have a real love for working with children and may be looking at a career in youth work,” he says.

Future camp counselors at the Cary Family YMCA interview in groups and attend about 30 hours of training, according to Johnson. Programs focus on group leadership skills, safety, time management, interpersonal relationships and CPR.

Some local camps recruit for summer camp counselors at job fairs. Others post jobs on their own Web sites or the site of the American Camp Association. The ACA Web site offers information about camps and camp jobs across the country, including tips on what camp directors look for in summer staff and links to international opportunities.

With offices in Durham, the ACA Southeastern region has 225 accredited camps, according to Cheryl Gans, an ACA board member. Its Web site offers information on camps and jobs in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

“It is the responsibility of the camp counselors to make sure that campers are engaged in fun activities in a safe environment,” Gans says. “Being a camp counselor is an important job that takes a great deal of skills.”

All agree that the skills gained as summer camp counselors are beneficial later in any profession. “All my job success has been due to the invaluable skills I learned as a camp counselor,” says Diewald with the Girl Scouts. “The interpersonal skills that you acquire are valuable no matter where your career path leads you.”