Published: Jul 04, 2012 12:00 AM
Modified: Jul 01, 2012 04:52 PM
Most all of us have fond memories from summer camp. Whether it’s our first overnight trip or learning to shoot a bow and arrow, nearly every one of us has had the chance to experience the fun and excitement of the great outdoors in a summer camp setting.
And there’s no doubt about the value of summer camp. According to the American Camp Association, “Camp provides children with a community of caring adults, who nurture experiential education that results in self-respect and appreciation for human value.”
But at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Y, there’s an outcome that one may not consider: the impact camp has on its counselors. “Every summer, it takes nearly 100 counselors run our camps in Chapel Hill and Chatham County,” says Aubrey Vinson, youth director. “And even though many of them come to us just because they need a summer job, I continue to be surprised by how working in summer camp affects them too
Here in Chapel Hill, the Y looks to university students, many from outside the Chapel Hill area, to fill the majority of its camp counselor positions. Some of these students are working toward degrees in areas related to children, like education or social work, but some are business majors or pre-med students.
Vinson says some experience with or working towards a degree involving children is a plus, but what camps really look for in a potential counselor is the desire to connect with and mentor campers through the activities at camp. And it’s through that mentoring process that counselors often find themselves changed.
Those changes can last a lifetime. “I’ve always believed that if you want a successful business, you should hire camp counselors,” says Dave Bell, executive director of Camping Services for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. “Working at camp, counselors learn conflict resolution, collaboration, problem solving, and improve their interpersonal relationship skills. Relationships, all these things – they’re what make camp great. They’re also what make a business successful.”
So while parents might be focused on a safe fun environment for their kids, they can also consider the broader impact of camp. They can feel confident that summer camp is the right decision for their children, for the young people leading them and for the whole community.
“Working at camp, I’ve learned a lot about myself,” said Nate Barnett, a counselor at Camp Clearwater this summer and, during the school year, a chemistry major at Sewanee University. “It can be tough working with a group of rising third graders and trying to teach them, while making sure it’s a fun environment. It’s made me a more patient person. But when I’m able to connect to a kid and help him or her learn a new hobby or skill, it’s all worth it.”
Greg Lee is the senior membership and marketing director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA.