‘The mountains are calling and I must go’
‘And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul’
Both quotes are from John Muir – who I was introduced to by one of my friends from camp!
Summer camp is such a special place and everyone has their different stories but its so hard to experience your experience to someone who hasn’t taken part but with a willing bunch of fantastic friends I have gathered many stories from summer camp counsellors and here we shall share the true magic of camp.
As I have already explained in a previous post why I love camp so much and keep going back I’m now going to share my favourite story.
I was taking my kids for an activity period and as it was the 2nd day and they were the youngest boys cabin I sat them in a circle to play an ice breaker. I started by telling them that we would all go around and say our name, our favourite animal and what noise that animal made. So I gave the example of ‘Hello, my name is Tasmin, my favourite animal is the Tasmanian Devil and then span in a circle making lots of noise (its all for the kids haha). All the kids managed until we got around to one kid. He looked me dead in the eye with a cheeky smile on his face and said ‘Hello my name is Timmy, my favourite animal is a carrot and they say noooo don’t eat me’. I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself and that is my favourite example of how kids take you by surprise. (Names have been changed).
‘Doing camp brings out the best in adults and children. It’s a beautiful place to be, in the mountains and technology free. It gives me a chance to meet many children and adults who all want the same thing, a great memory in life. I try my hardest to fulfil these magical times when kids can be free of parents and make new friends adults and children, and try to mentor young adults into the mission of the YMCA and bettering one’s self to help others. I’ve been participating in camp since 1990 and will continue because I love the feeling of being amongst great people. Some of the best people I’ve met in my life have come from camp. My funniest times are always at campfire when we perform skits in front of the camp. It’s always a blast.’
‘Well for me camp has always been about personal development. I’ve gone to the same camp for about 16 years and every time I’ve gone home learning something new about myself or how I could become a better person. You meet some people that change you for the better. Camp really helped me break out of my shell a lot! I was quiet, shy, and not very confident in myself, but nobody cares up there. Nobody judged you because they are there being silly and wacky just like you and it’s because of that you feel so comfortable. I would say if anyone had an opportunity to go to any type of camp to jump on the chance and take it! You’ll meet some great people and you could find something new about yourself you never knew was there.’
‘There are several reasons why I love to go to camp. I love disconnected from the outside world, and I would prefer adventuring outdoors as opposed to being lazy and playing video games. But what I love the most about camp that keeps me coming back are the people. From Counsellors to Directors to Perm Staff, they are some of the greatest people I have had the pleasure to meet. One tip I would give to those who plan on being a counsellor would be to truly disconnect for a solid week. Put away the phone and really take in the world around you! And as for a funny story, I am afraid they are either too long or too inappropriate to be shared! Many stories were have been told, many more will be made and I am happy to be a part of that!’
‘Summer camp is one of my favourite things to do in the whole world. It is something I look forward to every year, and I make sure that I clear up a space in my calendar for at least one week of it every summer! In the middle of trying to figure out how to become a functioning adult, summer camp helps me remember that having fun like a kid is just as important. There is not one camp session I’ve gone to where I didn’t have something to laugh my guts out to. We always play the most outrageous games at camp, including playing pranks on each other. I remember one time I accidentally volunteered with a friend to go on stage and compete with him in a food eating competition. The food, however, happened to be a concoction made out of marshmallows, cookies, chocolate chips, cereal, milk, and… Ketchup. Yes. Although it did not taste all that bad, the smell was atrocious, and in the competition my friend and I were gagging at each other. The kids watching us were getting such a kick out of it that we couldn’t help but start to snort the food up our noses from laughing so much too. So disgusting. At summer camp, we try to just go all out and do the activities that nobody would think of doing out in the “real world”. The leaders of summer camp try their best to just help everyone forget about labels and come together to do silly things with real people. The best advice I can give to really enjoy summer camp is to just forget about who you’re TRYING to be and just let your instincts tell you what is fun. Nobody is there to tell you not to be yourself. Be as much a part of every moment as you can, make as many friends as possible, and try to do it all. That is how camp has become one of my favourite things in my life.’
I started volunteering at a summer camp about 4 years ago. At first, I only went because the idea of spending a week in the mountains sounded like a dream! However, after that first week, I was hooked on camp; but, for a different reason. I soon realized that while I may see my time up there as a break from work and social media, for the kids that go up year after year, it’s their second home. I quickly realized that phrases such as “you can do it” and “I believe in you” are all these kids need to conquer their fears of whatever activity they might be doing. Those little positive encouragements go a long way with kids. Being that one person who believes in these kids is the reason I continue coming back to camp. I’ve made so many memories with my cabins over the years that I don’t think I have one specific thing that stands out. My favourite part about working with kids is watching them grow into their personalities and become best friends with the other girls in their cabin. Even though many of them go to the same school, it’s an awesome thing to watch these kids develop true friendships in just a couple of days. I definitely recommend that everyone tries out volunteering at a summer camp at least once! It’s a life changing experience; not only for you, but for the kids you get to meet also. If you’re unsure of how to go, check out your local YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, or churches. Be open and honest about who you are and show that you’re responsible. Chances are, you’ll meet the parents of the kids in your cabin and they’re trusting you with their kids’ safety.
Karen was also kind enough to include two pictures of her cabin – one from the start of the week and one at the end of the week. These pictures show how much a friendship can form in a short amount of time in such a special place.
At the start of camp
At the end of camp
In fact three of the girls within these photos went on to be my campers at winter camp and it was an honour to be their counsellor.
‘Serving as a counsellor at a summer camp has always been an exciting and enthralling experience for myself. It is a very unique place where people are able to truly open themselves up to one another, while engaging in fun outdoor activities. At summer camp there is a joyful spirit in the air created by campers and counsellors as they laugh and cheer though out the week. To get the best experience you must learn how to assimilate into the wacky camp spirit. In a sense, as an adult, you must bring out you inner-child behaviour to make the best memorable moments. Summer camp has the potential to become fascinating when you least expect it. Sometimes I found it to be a little too interesting. During one of my counselling sessions, I had a camper who was known to be a sleepwalker. One late night I was returning from the restroom to my cabin filled with sleeping campers. As I was getting into my bunk I noticed a dark figure in the corner of the cabin walking toward me. I called out to the figure but received no response. I was a little scared. The figure finally made it to my bunk revealing itself as one of my campers. He stood at my side for a good minute the said “Counsellor…. I’m hungry!” My face was priceless according to my co-counsellor. The camper then turned around and went back into his bunk as if nothing happened. As crazy as that experience was, it did make some great conversations when I told the camper what he did in the morning.’
‘I volunteer at a summer camp because I love giving back to the kids. It’s a great experience and feeling knowing that I get to take kids for a week, who might not have a positive experience at home, and give them possibly the best week of their life. I get to be the person that reminds them of how special they are and how they can do anything they set their heart to. For anyone who is thinking about going, I would suggest being as opened as possible and get to know your campers, CO counsellor and other counsellors as quick as possible. You will be with these other amazing people for a week, so don’t waste any time getting to know then and have fun with them. Usually what happens is people start to become comfortable with each other towards the end of camp and that is when your experience is more fun. So why waste time when you can have an amazing experience with your fellow counsellors for the whole week instead of half of the week. A story that reminds me that I’m impacting kids is one when I made bracelet for one of my favourite camper. I didn’t get to see or talk to her for the next three years. One session we finally ran into each other and she was wearing the bracelet I made her. She told me she never took it off. It really touched my heart.’
‘This summer will mark my fourth year as a summer camp counsellor. I’ve got so many warm feelings and precious memories tied to summer camp. I keep coming back for the nostalgia and for the opportunity to help others make precious memories as well. If someone else was going to be a counsellor, I’d suggest bringing extra deodorant, shower supplies, and some air fresheners. Some campers forget about hygiene when out in the mountains. I’ve had campers that refused to take showers all week. Those campers get thrown in the pool so they smell like chlorine rather than pit stink.”
‘What is working at a summer camp really like?
“Best, and favourite place on Earth” says Anthony Tighe, from Virginia, USA. Tigs, as he is affectionately known by his campers, has been a camp counsellor for four years and specialises in coaching hockey. For the 9 months of the year without camp, Tigs is a high school hockey coach at a high school in Virginia but every June he heads to camp.
“You will make friends from all over the world and the kids will look up to you. You develop strong leadership skills, as well as learning how to be caring and loving to the children for whom you are a surrogate parent for a month or two.”
The ability to care for children with a genuine love, to be intuitive with the campers in your care is a sentiment echoed by Tony Aspel. The Irish ex-international triathlete now coaches sailing and boating in his native Ireland. This past year however, he headed stateside to try summer camp life and he says it’s the best decision he ever made. And he intends to go back for summer 2017, and for many more after that.
“I love it man, I love summer camp”
As a first time camp counsellor he says “It is hard work with long hours, but very worthwhile because of the kids.”
Long hours, tiredness and hard work are a common thread amongst all who have experienced life at a summer camp.
Henrik Ocklind of Sweden, a swim instructor and camp counsellor says “I don’t think I will ever get a job where I work as much as I did at camp. It’s like having a regular job and being a parent – to ten kids.”
Everyone will tell you that being a camp counsellor is difficult and draining, but almost all of them will also tell you that it is undoubtedly absolutely worth it.’
– Joe (feature paper)
As an extra Joes Paper included a heading of How does working at a camp benefit me? Which really spoke me and so I’m going to include it so you can aim to relate to these feelings one day.
“These people are trusting us, trusting you, with their most prized possession. Their children.”
Daunting and heavy words to hear from the owner and director of your new place of work on the first day of training. The truth in that simple statement is inescapable and the safety of the children is and will always be the first priority at camp.
On the other hand, being a camp counsellor is so much more than safeguarding; you are a coach, a surrogate parent, an older sibling, a life coach, a role model and an inspiration. The days are long but the summer is short, and the rascals that have terrorized you endlessly for weeks are leaving, and this time there’s nobody else coming to fill the empty bunk.
Dry eyes are hard to come by as that final bus leaves, let me assure you.
It is at this time of reflection you realise that you may have taught them how to shoot a bow, how to swim or how to use a lathe but really, they taught you a whole lot more.
And from someone who’s done both, it’s my own personal opinion that it’s a whole lot more than you can learn through work experience in industry. Education and work experience can’t and never will be able to give you the emotional and cultural enrichment you can find at camp.
The camp bubble is real, and it’s inescapable. The rest of the civilised world fades from conscious thought to be replaced with all manner of things you previously wouldn’t have dreamt you’d be involved with. Before you know it, you have a small army of four-foot tall pre-teens to keep tabs on whilst covered in war paint in a tie dye t-shirt consoling a crying child who lost a game of tug of war.
All this occurs thousands of miles from home working as part of a team consisting of people that you have never met from all over the world, friends that will last for years from all over the globe.
As a fully grown adult you pledge allegiance to all manner of teams for a plethora of different sports and games, jumping up and down in ecstasy for coaching your team of eleven year-olds to soccer world cup glory.
The most wonderful thing about it though, is that at that one particular moment there is nowhere else you would rather be. You are totally immersed in the life of the campers and their happiness is not only the goal as a professional but it is the driving force of everyone working at a summer camp.
Within the camp bubble it doesn’t matter about your political alignment, religion, nationality, skin colour, sexual orientation or gender. All that matters, are the campers and ensuring you’re doing as much as you can for them.
Aaron Cohen, a perennial camper and now a revered counsellor from Boston, Massachusetts says “Camp is the most magical place in the world.” But in reality, the true magic of camp isn’t created for the children. It is created by the children.’
Thank you to everyone who has helped me with this post, your stories are incredible and it means a lot to me that you have taken the time out of your daily lives to help me with something I’m so passionate about. I hope everyone enjoys this post as much I have enjoyed creating it.
Until next time