A fun summer at Camp Weequahic is only possible because of hard working staff members like Erica Linnell, our dance specialist. Dance is not her only interest; she will be attending medical school this August. We asked Erica to fill out a profile for our readers to show an inside scoop on the background of our talented employees.
Name: Erica Linnell
Role at camp: Dance specialist
Years at camp: 3rd year
Tell us a little about your background.
I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a B.A. in neuroscience in 2013, and I will be starting medical school at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson this August. I was on the dance team at Vanderbilt, and I was also on a dance competition team for 10 years growing up.
What do you get out of working with children?
Working with children at camp has given me the opportunity to develop better leadership skills and mature as a person. It is a challenging and rewarding experience in that it allows me to really make a difference in the lives of children and help them grow over the course of the summer.
What does camp mean to you?
Camp means family, friendship, community, and development. Camp Weequahic is especially unique in that everyone from the youngest six-seven year old campers to the camp directors becomes a close family where everyone is accepted. We all have the chance to learn something new from each other and grow together as a community.
What are some of your goals for the summer?
This summer I hope to make a difference in the lives of kids and to continue to develop as a leader and caretaker. My goal is to make this one of the best and most fun summers yet for the campers and staff at Camp Weequahic.
Favorite camp activity: Tubing and Ropes Course (other than dance!)
Tell us a Fun Fact about you:
I love to travel and experience new places, especially historical sites. I have traveled to places such as Indonesia, Europe, Central America, Africa, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Alaska. My favorite vacation was a safari in Tanzania!
It’s interesting how many times throughout the summer counselors are overheard beginning a sentence with the phrase ‘I never thought I would…’ Working at sleepaway camp is truly a collection of ‘I never thought I would…’ moments. All too often, those are also the remarks that speak for camp itself, because they’re epiphanies from the staff members themselves. Although the “I never thought I would…’ comments are as varied as the counselors, there are a few that consistently come up. From the mouths of the staff members themselves, ‘I never thought I would…’
Make so many new friends
Sure, I came to camp expecting to meet a few new people. But I’ve made dozens of friends this summer from all over the world. I feel closer to some of them than I do to people I’ve known for years. I never imagined that I could grow so close to someone in just a few weeks. I’ve wanted to travel abroad for years, but have been scared of going places where I didn’t know the language or the people. Now I can’t wait to go knowing that my new camp friends are going to be there waiting for me!
Be so enthusiastic about little things
One of the most awesome things about working at summer camp is that even the smallest of details are a big deal. The campers getexcited and I can’t help but feel it too. Going to our favorite activity during the day; getting ready for an evening activity; walking into a meal and seeing that it’s my favorite; telling silly knock-knock jokes in our cabin at night; and, in particular, those moments when I really connect with my campers.
Like working so hard
Camp is hard work! I start early in the morning and end late at night. It’s TOTALLY worth it though! I’ve never had so much fun in my life. Sometimes I forget that this is a job and I’m getting paid. So much happens in one day of camp. At night, I lay in bed and try to remember everything that happened during the day just because I don’t want to forget. I’ve started keeping a journal of my days at camp. This winter, when it’s cold outside and I’m missing camp, I’m going to read it. I’m so glad I decided to work at camp instead of accept an internship. This is SO much better than an office! Now I know I want to spend the rest of my life working with kids.
Talk a camper through something difficult
There are a lot of activities at camp and some of them require courage—especially if you’re a kid. I can’t imagine having the guts to maneuver a ropes course thirty feet in the air when I was ten. I really admire so many of my campers for trying brave and adventurous activities. The best part is being able to give the ones who are a little scared that extra push that they need to take on the adventure. There is nothing more gratifying than a smile and a high-five from a camper who just did something they thought they never could and knowing that I helped them do it.
Live so much in the moment
At camp, it’s simultaneously easy and impossible to forget about how short my time here really is.Every day just flies by, which is also reminder that the end of camp is one day closer. I find myself really wishing that I could slow down time, and I’ve started making an extra effort every day to savor each and every moment of camp. Doing so has made me very conscious of how much time I spend in my everyday life planning and thinking ahead. It’s really nice to keep things in the now. I hope to apply my new focus on living in the moment when I return home at the end of the summer, and stop spending so much time thinking about tomorrow.
Become so attached to my campers
I never imagined that I could become so close to a group of kids. I came to camp to be their leader. But it’s so much more than that. It’s impossible not to be attached after spending so much time with them at activities, at meals, in the cabin and getting to know them one-on-one. It’s blows my mind to think that I’ve become so attuned to their individual personalities in such a short amount of time. The summer isn’t even over, and I already know that I’m going to miss them.
Even though many campers anticipate sports and outdoor activities at Camp Weequahic, The Woodshop has become a very popular place at camp. Our woodshop is full of tools that enable our campers to build creative masterpieces, but one of the main reasons woodworking is so popular here is our talented and enthusiastic staff, including James H. We thought you’d like to know more about this great CW team member!
Camp Weequahic: Hi James, we’re so glad to talk to you today. You’ve done great work with us and we’d love to learn more about you and how you help make Camp Weequahic awesome. Please tell us a little about yourself.
James: I come from a small community back in Wales where I have lived all my life. I have two sisters that are older than me and I have always had a passion for sports (soccer and rugby) and teaching and leading my peers. I’m lucky to be able to pursue my profession, carpentry, while doing everything else I love at CW.
Camp Weequahic: Camp Weequahic is a fantastic place to integrate those interests. You seem to love helping kids. What other experiences have you had working with kids before your time at Camp Weequahic?
James: Since I was 16 I have been coaching social and fitness to a local under 9’s soccer team in my community. Plus when I was in School I used to teach woodworking to younger kids. Also, when I was at camp last year, working with our campers was a great joy.
Camp Weequahic: The campers definitely connect well with you. What does it mean to you to work at camp?
James: Camp means everything to me, for the friendships, the experience, but most of all for the FAMILY we create by the end of the summer. It’s amazing how everybody feels at home here in such a short period of time; that’s what camp means to me.
Camp Weequahic: Camp is a great time to make connections with others and grow individually. What are some of your goals for the summer?
James: Some of my goals would definitely be to step up and be more of a leader, to help my DH out with activities. Also to be sure I am a role model to the kids and to make sure that woodworking will be one of the ‘’HOT-SPOTS’’ at camp!
Camp Weequahic: Those are admirable goals and I’m sure this year will be one of our best summers yet. What is your favorite camp activity?
James: WOODSHOP! Camp has many different activities that I thoroughly enjoy, so I am going to say that I enjoy nearly everything.
Camp Weequahic: Lastly, tell us a fun fact about you.
James: One fun fact about me would have to be that I am a people’s person. I can get along and introduce myself to anyone. It is definitely one of my strong points.
Camp Weequahic: Thanks so much James, and we’re thrilled you’re back with us for another summer!
Whether you’re a new or returning staff member who is preparing to work at camp this summer, the decibel level of those first few days at camp are always a bit above what you anticipate. Of course, we hear noise every day. But camp noise is different than other noise. A camp staff member once relayed a memory of her first summer at camp. She recalled the shock of the day the campers arrived. ‘It was suddenly very loud,’ she said. ‘They don’t prepare you for that at orientation. Then again, there is probably no way they could.’ She is right. There is no way to describe what several hundred excited children who have been waiting for a moment for ten months sounds like. It’s certainly not noise pollution, though. It much more closely resembles environmentally friendly noise. It’s the noise of excitement, happiness and anticipation.
A strange phenomenon happens with environmentally friendly noise. You not only expect it, but anticipate hearing it every day. You don’t even realize how much you look forward to camp noise until the end of camp. When the buses pull away on the last day of camp, the quietness that settles over the campus is one of the saddest moments of the summer. You realize the kids are gone, and the summer really is over. Even after you return home, you find yourself wishing to hear the sounds that defined your summer–bugle calls to signal daily activities, constant cheering and laughter, mealtimes with hundreds of other people. Everyday noise just seems like noise pollution.
Are you experiencing it yet? The ‘Oh no, summer is almost here and I still don’t have a summer job yet!’ panic?
Maybe you visited a job fair a couple of months ago, met a camp recruiter, and briefly thought about working at summer camp. It certainly sounded like fun, and it would definitely be different than any other summer job you’ve ever had. But you decided to put off the decision. Oh, how time flies when you’re taking exams and busy planning spring break.
Now, you’re just a little over a month from packing up your dorm room and wondering where you’re going to go. There is home, of course. But if you’ve been hoping for something slightly more exciting this summer, consider revisiting the idea of working at summer camp. It’s not too late.
While it’s true that many camps are filling those final empty positions, if you have a unique or unusual talent, that just might work in your favor. Most of the positions camps are currently filling are those that are hardest to fill, meaning that they require some sort of specialized knowledge that not a lot of people have. What kind of specialized knowledge? Think creatively. Are you good in the kitchen? Maybe you are Shaun White on a skateboard, a Zumba enthusiast, know how to fire a kiln, operate a band saw, sew or build rockets. These are just a few of the specialty hobby or niche programs for which camps sometimes have difficulty finding just the right person. Before assuming that there is no place for you on a summer camp staff, do a little bit of research. You never know when a camp may be looking for someone just like you.
This isn’t to say that if you’re not particularly gifted in anything special that there is no place for you. Sometimes staff members who have signed on for the summer score that last minute dream internship or have to withdraw for personal reasons, leaving camps with positions to fill that require common skills. The point is that although openings are dwindling fast, it’s not too late.
Even though camp is three months away, snow covers the ground in many locations and you just barely finished making spring break plans, if you’ve committed to working at a summer camp, it’s already time to begin thinking about the summer. Here are five camp things to begin thinking about in the spring:
1.) Make travel arrangements. How will you be getting to camp? Will you drive, fly, carpool? If you plan to fly, airline tickets are often less expensive in the early spring before the weather warms and people begin making summer vacation plans. Carpooling is a great way to get to know co-workers while splitting the cost of fuel. If you plan to carpool, reach out to other camp staff through your camp’s Facebook page or other resources offered by your camp and begin to get to know others from your area who may be interested in traveling together. If your camp offers travel reimbursement as part of your contract, it’s also very important that you understand the reimbursement process prior to making travel plans.
2.) Set goals. Camp is a work experience like no other and it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Setting goals prior to arriving helps minimize culture shock. When setting goals it’s important to keep an open mind. Summers at camp tend to have a lot of twists and turns. Your list will likely evolve as you familiarize yourself with your new environment, and there are some things that will probably not pan out quite the way you initially envision them. That’s okay. The importance of setting goals is that they help you mentally prepare for the camp experience and arrive with some sense of direction.
3.) Begin stockpiling…but not too much. Packing for camp is an art. Living space is very limited. At the same time, camps are usually in rural places that don’t have a lot of nearby shopping options, and limited access to computers and the internet make online shopping a bit more challenging too. So it’s extremely important to pack the right combination of items that can be easily replaced with those items that are difficult to come by or require a bit of a drive to acquire. Chances are, you will have several opportunities throughout the summer to replenish basic items such as shampoo, deodorant, sunscreen, etc. So if you need to maximize luggage space, pack just enough of these items to get you through the first couple of weeks. It’s a good idea, however, to begin thinking about acquiring certain items, such as bedding, towels and socks, that people tend to overlook until the last minute. By beginning to accumulate those items a few months ahead of time, you’ll avoid that last minute binge shopping trip in which something essential and perhaps not easily acquirable is inevitably forgotten.
4.) Complete forms. In the spring, your camp will either mail or make available online a series of forms. These forms may include a contract, standard employment forms, forms requesting information about how you intend to travel to camp, and forms that require medical and insurance information. Although completing paperwork is never the most exciting task, it is essential that you complete and submit these forms prior to your arrival at camp. First, the camp must have these completed forms in order to pay you or treat you for any medical emergencies or conditions. Second, many camps will not issue you id badges or uniforms until they have received these completed forms. Orientation is a very busy time and few staff members love the idea of having to take some of their downtime to complete paperwork.
5.) Learn about the camp. Presumably, you learned at least a little bit about the camp prior to accepting a job there. But now that you’re actually going to be part of it, really get to know it. Watch the camp video if you haven’t already. Re-watch it if you have. The camp video is a great way to preview the camp culture. Also, if your camp participates in any social media outlets (and many do these days), begin following them to get a sense of who your co-workers are as well as your camp’s values and traditions. Also, a lot of camps provide tips and updates for staff through their social media outlets as camp draws near. Of course, it’s impossible to get a full sense of what your camp is all about until you get there, but arriving with some sense of what (and who) to expect is a lot less disorienting than arriving with none.
We spend our entire ‘off season’ finding and training the best group of camp counselors. One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves about each candidate is “Will this person serve as a great mentor and role model for our campers?”
We recently heard a great description of a mentor: someone who walks beside or behind the one with whom they are working. When walking around camp, you can see this principle in action – kids laughing and learning next to young men and women who are there for them.
The term ‘mentor’ comes from Greek mythology.Odysseus, when leaving for the Trojan War, placed his son under the care of a good friend named Mentor. Athena, the goddess of wisdom and courage, later assumed the guise of Mentor in order to interact with and guide both Telemachus and Odysseus.
While our counselors are not ‘mythically powered’, they do come to Weequahic brimming with energy and prepared to give each child their best. Most want to become teachers and coaches later and life and see camp as a great opportunity to build a fun and safe community. Many were campers themselves and look forward to creating the same awesome experience that was created for them.
We at Weequahic are thrilled to create a situation in which college aged and older men and women serve as consistent, patient and committed mentors for our campers.
Summer camp employment is synonymous with “camp counselor” in most people’s minds. But there are a lot of non-counselor” positions at camp. If you’re interested in working at summer camp but don’t really think the role of camp counselor would be best for you, consider one of these alternatives:
Program/Activity Head: Are you or have you ever been a professional or college level athlete or coach? If so, and you’re interested in working at summer camp, then the Program/Activity Head role might be a perfect fit for you. Program/Activity Heads oversee a sport or activity at camp. They typically have a staff of counselor specialists who are also active in the sport or activity to assist with instruction and coaching. Program/Activity Heads plan daily activities, oversee instruction and assign campers to teams for intra and inter camp league play. There are also a handful of Program/Activity Head roles at camp for those who are not athletic but have some sort of niche expertise in areas like arts & crafts, music, dance, theater, cooking, science and communications.
Programming Staff: If you have a knack for scheduling, consider applying to work as part of a camp programming team. The camp programming staff is responsible for the daily camper and staff schedules. When creating schedules, they must keep in mind things like facility availability, staffing ratios and camper frequencies.
Special Events Staff: The special events staff at summer camp are responsible for all events that take place outside of the regular daily special. This is typically all evening activities and special days as well as (on that rare occasion) a rainy day. It helps if you have some sort of technical knowledge, such as connecting laptops to video screens, rigging microphones and operating (sometimes complicated) sound systems. But not everything you do as a special events staff member is hi-tech. You can also be charged with setting up a scavenger hunt, gathering and placing materials for game night or baking night, or a host of other things. The imagination is the limit. If you love fun and event planning and are detail oriented, special events might be the area of camp for you.
Photography/Videography: Camp photographer and videographer roles are highly specialized and extremely critical roles at camp. Every day, camp photographers take hundreds of photographs of daily activities and film many of the activities as well. If you’re a professional in either of these areas and are interested in working at summer camp, chances are there is a camp looking for you.
Camp Nurse: Summer camps maintain health centers and employ licensed nurses to dispense medication, clean up those inevitable scratches and cuts, and treat campers and staff who become ill during the summer. For those rare more severe injuries that sometimes occur, nurses also may be asked to accompany campers or staff to local hospitals or doctors’ offices.
Office Staff: If you prefer behind the scenes desk work and answering phone calls, then consider applying for a camp office staff job. Typically, office staff answer phone calls, sort mail, greet visitors, manage camper phone calls, prepare documents or mailings, and complete other administrative tasks.
Maintenance Staff: If you’re a handyman (or woman) who’s good with a hammer, loves landscaping and cleaning, and prefers being outdoors to inside, consider applying to work as a member of the maintenance team. Camp maintenance staff stay busy all summer long maintaining summer camp campuses, and no two days as a camp maintenance staff member are alike.
Kitchen Staff: Working in the camp kitchen is perfect for those who thrive in restaurant environments. If you’re a chef,caterer or member of a restaurant staff–or aspire to be one–then working in a summer camp kitchen is a fun alternative to restaurant work.
If any of these camp roles interest you, camps are hiring now. Many of the people who work in these role return year after year because they are a great way to integrate personal interests and specialized expertise with the fun and adventure of working at summer camp. Apply now and you just may find yourself returning year after year too.
Arrival: The time has finally come and you have one million different thoughts racing through your head. I can’t believe I am here! Will I fit in? Will I make friends? Will the kids like me? How am I this excited and nervous at the same time? Did I pack enough socks? These feelings are par for the course when coming up the camp road for your first summer at Weequahic. It’s a feeling that any returning staff member remembers vividly and one they are not likely to forget.
Orientation: It’s officially started; your bags are in a bunk, you’ve exchanged a few smiles or started small talk with a couple people, and you are wildly curious as to what a week of training will have in store. You attend meetings that are less of meetings than they are events. Chants, cheers, and skits may not be in your normal comfort zone, but here at Weequahic you have flipped a switch you never knew you had. You have immersed yourself with this group of complete strangers to make a week of learning fun and the nerves of where your summer is headed completely vanish.
Campers Arrive: The nerves are back as fast as they went. The two weeks of orientation felt a lot longer (in a good way) and you’re not too sure you want anything to change. You are attempting to perfect your bunk for the campers’ arrival and also trying to decide how much paint to put on your signs. Cheers erupt as the buses emerge. Nerves are at an all-time high, but the energy of the moment is temporarily paralyzing any fear that attempts to escape. Camper after camper joins your group until the last makes it and you begin introductions as you head towards your bunk; relief sets in.
Week 3: You are at the end of the first session and the halfway point of your summer. Just a few short weeks ago your campers knew more than you did, but that seems like an eternity ago. You are now proficient in the camp schedule, spirit, and probably even the songs. Nerves, what nerves? Only half of the summer has gone by and you are determined to make the most of it. You are sad to see your first session campers leave but can’t wait to meet the new campers who will arrive in a couple of days.
Closing Time: You are in the final days and are trying to relive your summer as it has flown by way too fast. Every “last” moment brings both cheers and tears; you really don’t want to leave. The kids board the buses and the magic of Camp Weequahic has come to an end….for now. As you pack your bags and say your goodbyes to friends who you are so thankful for meeting, you realize a few things: you’ve made friends and memories that will literally last a lifetime, you can’t wait to come back next summer, and when you do you will most assuredly bring a few more pairs of socks.
A popular question that a lot of prospective summer camp counselors ask recruiters is about the difficult aspects of the job. After hearing about how much fun they will have, about the amount of time they will get to spend outdoors, about all of the friends they will make, and how much money they can save, it all sounds a bit too good to be true. Candidates want to know, ‘So, what is the hard part?’ It’s a good question because, while it’s true that a simple internet search will produce article upon article about all of the great aspects of working at a sleepaway camp, few highlight the difficult parts of the job. In the name of bucking the status quo, this blog is going to take a stab at it.
First, camp ends. That’s probably the hardest part. From an outsider’s perspective, a couple of months never seems like a long time, certainly not long enough to form any permanent bonds or attachments. What a lot of people fail to consider, because it’s just such a foreign concept to most people, is that those two months aren’t 9-5, 5 days per week months. They’re 24/7 months—including meal times. That’s roughly 1,344 hours of constant interaction with campers and co-workers compared to the 320 hours those people who just do that daytime thing get. A little basic math establishes that’s roughly eight months of regular work time crammed into two. Eight months is the better part of a year and plenty of time to get pretty attached to new friends as well as campers. That’s why tears are usually inevitable when it comes time to say goodbye. Goodbye is always hard. But it’s even harder when you know that you may never have the opportunity to see some of the people with whom you’ve just spent the equivalent of eight months of your life again.
Second, you have to be comfortable around children. This sounds like a no brainer, but if you’re used to spending most of your time around adults, spending most of your time around children requires a bit of an adjustment. It goes without saying that interacting with children requires a filter of sorts. Obviously, you don’t share everything with children that you would with other adults. Interacting with children also requires a great deal of discretion. They’re looking at you for answers. Not only knowing what answers to give but when to give them is important. Knowing when it’s not your place to answer but to escalate the issue is even more important. Also, successful interaction with children is all in the presentation. You have to be a good salesperson to a certain extent. Before signing up to work at summer camp, think about the fact that convincing at least one camper to do something he or she does not want to do and to have fun while doing it is likely going to be a daily occurrence. If you’re a person who is quick to lose patience, summer camp may not be the right fit for you.
Third, stepping outside of your comfort zone is difficult. Think about it. When you’re feeling like pizza, do you pick up the telephone and call a different restaurant to order each time or do you call that place that you know makes a killer pie? There is nothing wrong with comfort. It certainly makes life (and decisions) easier. But leaving friends and family and going to a completely foreign environment to live and work for two months is definitely taking a giant step out of the comfort zone for most people. A lot of first year staff members arrive at camp thinking they’re prepared…and then reality sets in. Just accept that you will feel disoriented for a few days and definitely out of your comfort zone, which is hard. But if you stick with it, you’ll find that stepping out of your comfort zone to work at camp is one of the best hardest things you will ever do.
Finally, working at camp is exhausting. Seriously. You need some serious stamina—both mental and physical–to make itthrough the summer. The days are long. The sleep is short. You will likely be given one day off per week, on which you will still find yourself spending time with the same people with whom you’ve been working for the past six days and with whom you will work for the next six days. Obviously, if you’re a person who values a lot of alone time, you might find working at camp a bit hard.
There you have it. The hard part. The fine print. The ‘What’s the catch?’ If you’ve read all of that and are ready to take on a bit of difficulty in exchange for a whole lot of fun, then a summer at camp just may be the right fit for you.