The Lessons I Learned as a Camp Counselor

I have spent the last two summers working day and night at Camp Sweeney, a type 1 diabetic summer camp. Each year, I spent three whole months cleaning up after 5 to 13-year-olds, waking up in the middle of the night to test blood sugars and giving insulin shots to a multitude of campers. Through this experience, I learned the importance of self-sacrifice, self-love and strong friendships, which is why I think everyone should spend a summer working at a summer camp (plus, it looks great on the resume)!

 

 

Self-sacrifice, or selflessness, is one of the most extraordinary virtues a person can develop. At camp, this virtue is instilled into every single one of the campers and staff members. Campers learn this through mentor programs between an older camper and a younger camper. The older campers will dedicate their free time to hang out with the younger ones, they will buy toys and diet drinks for their junior ments with their own earned tokens, and they will sign up for activities together that they typically would not take. The experience for counselors, however, is different. We learn self-sacrifice through both serving the campers and watching them serve one another. I slept approximately 4.5 hours every night, spent more time helping young girls brush their hair than I brushed my own and I was a mother to 250 children for 57 days. You cannot learn true selflessness without putting the needs of so many others before your own, which is why camp is such an amazing place to learn this. Not only are you completely surrounded by these campers and their needs, but you are also surrounded by their own exemplary acts of selflessness. Watching the 5-year-olds give up their temporary tattoos, hair glitter and new stuffed animals inspired me to sacrifice even more for the campers, and this has led to even more sacrifices in my outside life. Putting the needs of others, in the proper situation, has been a huge character development for myself over the past year, and it’s something that I have been encouraging others to practice as well. 

Now onto self-love, a slightly more selfish reason as to why we should all work at summer camps. Spending so much time with the kids and working around the clock only allows you a few moments to focus on your own needs, which means those moments have to be special. It allows you to think about what means the most in your life. As much as you learn about selflessness, you also learn how to be selfish in your life away from camp. After my first summer, I started prioritizing my needs over the needs of others. Yes, this sounds counterintuitive, but this practice brought me an emotional stability that I did not know I needed. I realized what I found most important: my family, my selfless friends and my own happiness. Before this experience, I was trapped in a rut with friends that I was constantly trying to please and impress. After this experience, I knew that I needed to put my needs and desires first, which helped me discover who I truly wanted to be. I was able to find new friends who embody more of the traits I find important and I have realized which of those friends want to watch me succeed and grow rather than adapt to their own personal needs.  

 

It’s weird to put so much emphasis on a simple summer at camp, but I wholeheartedly believe that I am who I am today due to the lessons I have learned. This summer job pushed me to grow into a whole person who is capable of making her own decisions and following her heart. Not only did I spend time serving and loving on the amazing campers, but I found who I wanted to be and I found friendships that will follow me beyond college. Camp Sweeney is a place where friendship begins and never ends for both the campers and the staff. This is why it will always hold a special place in my heart. 

 

 

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Photos 1, 2, 4.

Photo 3 provided by author.