It's My Summer: Reflections of a Camp Counselor

I have the best summer job in the world.

No, I didn’t land an internship at some major company in New York City or an apprenticeship in DC that will jumpstart my future career. I am not working at a law firm or shadowing a surgeon. I am a camp counselor.

I have spent every summer for the past 13 years at a day camp. I was a camper for seven summers, and this year will mark my sixth on staff. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

When I tell people what I’ve just told you, about how much I love my job and how, at least right now, I don’t want to be looking for other things to do, they usually say something about “glorified babysitting” and then tell me how their summer job launched their career and changed the course of their young adulthood.

But there’s something they’re not able to understand.

 

Camp is where I learned to be a leader, where I came out of my shell, where I was nurtured, believed in, and encouraged. Camp is what got me interested in theatre, what taught me that I liked being on and around the stage. Camp is where I made some of my best friends, where I have gained confidence in myself. Camp is where, in third grade, I had my first successful sleepover (though we are a day camp, we celebrate each four-week session with a camp-wide overnight), thanks to the love and patience of the staff who sat and told me stories until I fell asleep. Camp is where I learned about compassion and empathy, where--through the special-needs inclusion program--I saw that all people are people no matter what.

 

Emma and Sheri Gross, Camp Director

 

So, for the past six summers, I have had the honor of helping other children learn those lessons. I feel lucky to give back to a place that changed who I am and who I want to become. We camp counselors don’t babysit, we teach and nurture and love. We are a performing arts camp that isn’t just about theatre--it’s about what this basic foundation in the arts can do for each child as a person. We work to create an environment in which every camper feels safe, valued, and loved. Then, the fun comes in--we think out of the box, we aren’t afraid to make fools of ourselves, we jump and dance around on stage. When we are teaching lyrics to a song, we’re also really teaching kids the importance of working together on something bigger and greater than themselves. When we’re working on helping kids paint the set for their show, we’re also showing them the satisfaction that comes from working hard on something that is all your own. When we counselors get up on stage and perform wacky skits in absurd costumes, we remind our campers that there is fun to be had in being fearless.

Emma and fellow staff members and friends at a camp performance

 

I have watched as the shyest camper, the one who (like me) can’t leave her parents on the first day, makes her first friend at lunch. I have watched as she learns to sing her solo on stage with a smile and as, then, she returns summer after summer. I have watched as a camper jumps into the deep end for the first time, leads her color war team to victory, and takes the hand of a new friend and shows her the ropes.

So, every winter, when my friends start to apply for internships, I call up my camp director and sign on for another summer.

In no way do I mean to devalue the power of internships (especially since, in the not so distant future and when the time is right, I will probably be scrambling for one myself). They are powerful career-builders, networking tools, and chances to get your feet wet in whatever field you choose--but there’s something magical about camp, and I’m not ready to give that magic up just yet.

In just 63 days (yes, we counselors have been group-texting a countdown since last August), I will set out on another summer of crazy costumes, scavenger hunts, sing-a-longs, and spontaneous camp-wide dance parties. Another summer of jumping into the pool, delving into creativity, and making memories. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.