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!
The Sochi Olympics took place last month, and even though the athletes competed on snow and ice, the games were surprisingly reminiscent of summer camp, particularly from a staff perspective. Many athletes were there for the first time. Some, however, were competing in their second, third, or even fifth Olympic games. Each summer at camp, likewise, attracts many fresh staff faces – eager but not quite sure what to expect – and returning staff who are back to lead the way and improve upon their past performances, even if those performances were already gold medal caliber. Oddly, a lot of camp blogs and articles address the qualities and expectations of new camp staff, but few address those of returners. How do staff approach camp if it is their second, third, fifth, or even tenth summer? The answer most veteran camp staff provide is that they intend to be better. Even great summers, in retrospect, have room for improvement. Like campers, returning staff always arrive with an agenda and, like athletes, always strive for that perfect 10 summer. Every summer is an Olympic year for camp staff.
Many returners actually begin goal setting for the following summer before the current summer ends. Some simply visualize areas in which they could be better while others actually comprise a physical list. Veteran staff members learn, over the course of several summers, that there is a maturation process to working at camp. Because camp tends to be such a microcosmic environment in which staff wear many hats, it’s almost impossible not to develop multiple perspectives of camp and how it can be made even better. Like athletes, veteran camp staff know that there is always room for improvement. Even the smallest of adjustments can elevate a summer from excellent to outstanding. In part, that is what draws returning staff members back year after year.
Regardless of whether each summer begins with a written or mental list of goals, it ends the same for all returning staff – with careful evaluation of their own performance. The desire to be better is a unique quality of returning camp staff, and a quality that makes them very appealing as job candidates. The enthusiasm of happy campers is infectious. Mediocrity is simply not an option when making campers happy. Returning camp staff are so willing to dedicate themselves to the task of creating gold medal summers that they come back year after year, physically and mentally ready to take on old challenges as well as new ones. At camp, they eat, breathe, sleep and live what they’ve been envisioning since the end of the previous summer in their quest to simply be better at something they love.
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.
Attention college and university students: Have you started to think about how you’re going to spend next summer? Sure, it’s winter, it’s cold outside, and the thing you’re most worried about now are your upcoming finals. Perhaps in the back of your mind you’ve toyed with the idea of applying for an internship or two. But have you considered working at a summer camp? Right now, in the late fall and dead of winter, many summer camps are on tour, making stops at schools throughout the country and recruiting events around the world in search of the most caring, dedicated, enthusiastic and fun students who are interested in working with children. If you’re taking courses to become a professional in any field that pertains to the education, coaching or care of children, a summer spent working at camp is more valuable than any internship. Imagine how much you can dress up your resume after a summer living and working with children. Your understanding of diversity and your communication skills will also get a big boost because you’ll be working alongside people from all over the world, all walks of life and from a variety of professions. Best of all, you literally get paid to spend most of your days outdoors having fun while participating in activities with your campers!
If you think working at camp sounds great but you’re not a person currently majoring in an area related to children, don’t be discouraged. Although students are typically placed in camp counselor positions, there are many different types of roles at summer camp, and summer camp recruiters are always excited to meet and chat with candidates of any college major who may fill a special niche position. So even if you aren’t an athlete or education major, if you think you have a special talent or quality that you can bring as a camp staff member, don’t hesitate to pay summer camp recruiters a visit when they’re at your campus. You might just be that special candidate who is difficult to find but for whom a camp has definitely been searching.
There are a few things prospective staff members should be aware of, though, and recruiters like to be up front with candidates. Working at summer camp is fun, and you’re certainly not going to be fetching coffee (except for yourself at meal times) or be lost in Excel spreadsheets cursing the invention of pivot tables. But you will work harder at summer camp than you probably ever have or maybe even ever will again. In fact, we in the summer camp industry have a motto that working at summer camp is the “hardest job you’ll ever love.” The hours are long. You can expect to be on duty from breakfast to bedtime, typically, six days a week. Summer camp is extremely fast paced and the environment is best described as “organized chaos,” so you have to be able to keep up with the pace and make split second decisions. Being able to stay positive and provide encouragement, even when it’s storming outside, you’re stuck in the bunk/cabin, and the soccer team (of which most of your campers are a part) just lost a big game, is critical. You have to be able to put on a smile and choose a positive attitude even on days when you wake up not quite feeling the summer camp vibe. You must also be able to care about and for someone else’s children as if they are your own for several weeks. It’s still important to remember that those campers assigned to you are your campers for the entire duration of camp, and you are expected to do your best to make sure that ALL of your campers have equal opportunity to have an amazing summer. If you’re dependent on your tech gadgets, you’ll likely experience a bit of culture shock. Summer camps encourage campers to enjoy their natural surroundings and forbid most electronic equipment such as cell phones, laptops, iPads, and Kindles. Staff members may keep them in camp lockers or safes for use in their off time, but they may not be kept in bunks or used while on duty.
If you’re still reading after the “hard parts” of the job, you must really be interested in working at camp. So now that we have most of the difficult aspects out of the way, here are some fun and rewarding parts of the job. Your summer will be rent free. You’ll likely live in a bunk or cabin with another counselor or two and 8-12 campers. You’ll eat free, too, as your meals are provided. What that translates to is that you can save most or even all of your salary if you have no other financial obligations. The ability to be completely silly on the job when the situation merits is actually commendable. You’ll also get paid to play sports, swim, sail, make clay pots, build woodworking projects, make arts and crafts, do fun science and nature experiments, play crazy games, be in camp shows, go on trips with your campers, etc. You’ll likely make more friends in one summer than you have in the past several combined…real friends. Not just Twitter or Instagram followers. You’ll get to know some children who will remain in your heart long after camp has ended. You’ll also get to meet some staff members who choose to return to camp summer after summer. You may even decide that one summer working at camp is just not enough for you either. Regardless, a summer as a camp staff member just may be the summer that changes your life. Summer camps often get emails or phone calls from former staff members explaining how their time at camp clarified an education or career path. Sometimes it’s the collective of everything that happens over the summer that has such a profound effect on staff members. Sometimes it’s a single moment.
So if you want that summer that’s different, that will set your experiences apart from those of many of your friends, then be on the lookout over the next few months for a visiting camp recruiter and go into spring break free of worries about how you’re going to spend your summer. If you happen to miss the campus tour, don’t be discouraged. You can also apply to work at summer camp through most camp websites. For a good start, visit the Camp Weequahic website.
Summer camp staff who thought they were just heading off for a summer job a couple of months ago are surprised to find that transitioning from camp life back to “real” life requires a bit of adjustment. Two months doesn’t seem very long in the context of real life. Most people in real life get up in the morning, go to work or school and then come home. Their environment as well as the people and things in it change several times throughout the day. At camp, however, staff are surrounded by the same campers, the same co-workers, and the same bunk or cabin mates day and night. The environment is fixed. This is what many people love about working at summer camp, and it does have many advantages.
In the real world, two months isn’t a significant amount of time to form friendships or lifelong bonds. But sleepaway camp isn’t the “real” world. It’s very easy to make friends when one spends so many hours of each day surrounded by the same people. The absence of technology encourages interpersonal communication, which means one gets to know a lot about others in a very short amount of time—more than you ever thought. Most camp staff also never thought they’d get so attached to their campers in such a short period of time. But they did. They cried when they said goodbye to their campers and again when they said goodbye to their co-counselors, now friends.
But now that camp is over and it’s time to live in the real world again for the next ten months, staff members are just starting to realize how much camp fever they caught over the summer. They find themselves wandering aimlessly listening for PA announcements or bugle calls to signify what time of the day it is, where to go, what to do, and when to eat. They walk into a supermarket and wonder what they should buy because their meals have been planned for them all summer, and peruse the aisles amongst surroundings that feel slightly surreal. Then the reality that they’re not at camp anymore finally hits them. They’re campsick.
Camp sickness is a common post camp feeling for campers, but many people don’t realize that staff members get campsick too. They get teary eyed when they’re driving along in their cars and a song that was popular at camp during the summer plays on the radio. They follow the camp Facebook page and remember the fun all over again. They even wear their staff shirts on occasion. But maybe the most valuable thing that lives on after camp are the friendships that are formed there. Even for those staff members who can’t return to camp summer after summer, it’s a great feeling knowing that two months in the camp world was enough to form solid friendships with people from all over the globe. The camp world is small, but the “real” world feels much smaller too after one has worked at summer camp.
If you submit prospective babysitters through background and reference checks just for a date night with your spouse or significant other, then you probably have an extreme interest in just who will be taking care of your children at summer camp. Thanks in part to movies and television, many parents have images of young, barely out of high school teenagers filling counselor roles. However, the truth is that camps conduct searches for months to locate and fill leadership and key staff roles with mature, knowledgeable professionals, many of whom work with children in some capacity year round.
Even though camp is still six months away, chances are that your child’s summer camp (or prospective summer camp) has already kicked its recruiting season into high gear. To find counselors, many camps traverse college campuses across the country searching for college students and recent grads who are pursuing careers in education, social work, youth athletics, or other fields related to working with children. In order to avoid staff members that are too immature—or mature—the target demographic for counselors is typically between 20-25, although some camps will vary from this in certain scenarios or for special needs. A successful camp counselor works 24/7 and must be mature enough to make split second decisions that concern the welfare and well -being of children. Although counselor staffs tend to have relatively high turnover rates from year to year because college students complete college and move on to full time jobs that they cannot leave for an entire summer, leadership staff tends to return more regularly.
Camp leadership is often comprised of seasoned teachers and coaches who have been involved with summer camp in some capacity for several years or even decades. Some of them grew up as campers and worked their way into leadership positions beginning as counselor assistants or counselors. Others began as counselors and loved the experience so much that they have returned from year to year. Still others are hired directly into their leadership roles after extensive searches by camps to find the best candidate for the role. However their camp experience began, one thing that all camp leaders have in common is that they not only have extensive experience working with children, but thorough knowledge of the intricacies and behind the scenes goings on of summer camp.
Aside from leadership staff, other mature individuals are employed to staff health and dining facilities as well as offices. In fact, parents are sometimes surprised to learn that so many mature, experienced professionals spend their summers at sleepaway camp. But, for many, the experience, as it is for the children, is beyond compare. Those who return each year will tell you that they wouldn’t consider spending their summers anyplace else. They love what they do, they love their campers, and they love their camps! How many traditional jobs can boast such high morale and collective years of experience?
So you are thinking about being a camp counselor for a summer? Do you want to spend a summer working in a stunning setting in the mountains with fresh air and beautiful weather and travel to new parts of the world? Are you looking to expand on your experience working with children or coaching? Do you want the ability to meet people from all over the world and make everlasting friendships? Do you want to make a difference in someone’s life?
Being a camp counselor is one of the hardest jobs that you will love. The relationships you create and the impact you make with campers and staff members will give you memories and friends that can last a lifetime.
The job of camp counselor is very challenging and demanding (along with being a lot of fun!) While working as a camp counselor you are constantly engrossed with the campers’ experience. You rarely get a chance to check facebook, you barely get a chance to check your phone, and you have kids full of energy begging for you to play cards, play games or shoot hoops with them. On top of that, you live and sleep in the same room as these campers.
But why do it? The reward of being a camp counselor stays with you for the rest of your life. Helping a camper shoot his or her first bull’s-eye in archery, having a camper conquer his or her fear of heights on the high ropes course, help teach a camper how to start his or her own lanyard knot only to hear they were able to do it on their own. It is the little things that as young adults and adults we take for granted. It is the ability to create fun and lasting memories.
To be a successful camp counselor in any camp environment, you have to be a mature goofball. When you come to work at a summer camp, you need to check your ego at the front gate. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and allow others to laugh with you. It shows the campers and other staff members that you are here to have fun and nothing is going to stop you, but you are going to do it in a mature and safe manner. You have to be able to create games on the fly, play these crazy games and enjoy them like it is best game you have ever played. Finally, you have to be able to put the camper first, no matter how quickly they can push your buttons (which may happen.)
One of the best qualities a great counselor has is being able to listen. Listen to what your camper has to say; whether it is talking about their arts and crafts activity, of their pets from home, or their crazy stories about family vacations. If you actually listen to the campers, they will learn to respect you as a counselor and a person.
The one quality we always see in the great counselors we have worked with is their ability to put the camper before him or herself; no matter the issue, no matter the time, no matter how tired you might be. What happens when a camper has a problem? The GOOD counselor makes sure someone is there to resolve the issue and leaves… The GREAT counselor sits with that camper until he or she is feeling better again, even if that means leaving late on your night off, and checks in with them over the next couple days.
The difference of being a good counselor, to a great counselor, can also have an impact on whether the campers have just a good summer, or the best summer ever.
The best summer ever starts with you. When a camper goes home for the summer and begins to tell his or her parents about the great summer they had, YOUR NAME will be said within the first ten words in that child’s story of his or her summer.
You have an opportunity as a summer camp counselor to make a difference in child’s life. Whether it is life skills, social skills, or just having fun, you have the option to create that for the camper.
Think about a time in your life when someone helped you achieve something you are proud of. You get a chance to be that person. That is why we are here. The work is demanding; that is why being a camp counselor is one of the hardest jobs that you will love. With hard work comes great reward, and there is not better reward than a happy child. It is an experience you will never forget.
I have been a part of the Camp Weequahic family for 13 years, as a camper from 1995 until 2002, and as a counselor from 2003 until 2007. These were the best summers of my life and I would give anything to simply be a kid and do it all again!
The memories that come back to me every June when I realize a whole new generation of campers get to experience the same things that shaped my life when I was a child and young adult. These experiences that campers and counselors gain during their summers at Weequahic are priceless; whether it is teaching a camper how to do an activity, learning from counselors and staff that hail from all corners of the world, or just simply having fun with your best friends.
We all looked forward to the traditions that have shaped our summers, including Carnival, MTV Night, Miss Weequahic, Tribal War, Olympics, The Dance, and the hundreds of other activities that all enjoyed. And the bunk trips were always a favorite, kayaking or canoeing on the Delaware River, camping out in tents and building a fire, going to a baseball game, or riding the coasters at Hershey Park; they all were great memories.
The last days of camp are always the hardest, when we remember all of the fun we had during the past weeks as we watch the candles float out onto Sly Lake or the giant “W” burning on main campus. As the summer comes to an end, we know it is time to go “home”, but in our minds “home” is the few beautiful acres in Lakewood PA nestled in the Pocono Mountains. And as the busses leave camp, driving down Woods Road and driving away from the place we call home, we knew it would only be ten short months until we returned.
I urge all Alumni to write in, share photos, and share memories. It is important that we all give back to the place that has given so much to us all.
One of the most touted benefits of working at a summer camp is the network one may build even within the parameters of a single summer. Unlike many work environments, which tend to draw locals with a telescoped set of talents, summer camp attracts staff from virtually all over the world who possess an array of abilities. A successful summer at camp requires the expertise of athletes and artists alike. Because summer camps are 24/7 communities, staff members tend to form very close bonds within the two months that they reside at camp each summer. Camp breeds a sense of family, which is precisely why, for a good many staff members, goodbye at the end of the summer is seldom goodbye forever. Thanks to a little help from social media outlets such as Facebook, it’s possible to stay in touch with summer camp friends no matter where on earth they live. Whether it’s couch surfing while traveling, hunting for a job, needing a little bit of advice or support, or sharing an inside joke, camp friends are there. Working at summer camp is more than just a summer experience. It’s a way to form a global network of friends for life.
An average camp is considered to be successful if the kids come home safe at the end of the summer and had fun. Weequahic is about so much more than that. The people who work at Weequahic want to teach and help children grow up. Working at Weequahic will wear you out. By the last day you will have no ounce of energy left inside of you. But that’s what it’s all about. It’s the most satisfying feeling you can think of. It’s so worth it and that’s why I love working at Weequahic!
My name is Fred Goddard and this will be my third summer at Camp Weequahic. I have been a tennis coach, sailing instructor and am really excited about moving into a leadership position as Division Head for summer 2012. When I’m not at camp, I live in Bristol (UK) and attend the University of Bristol.
My friends back in the UK always ask me why I am going back to camp, and I always tell them… Because I am trying to put off the day that I am going to have to say no to coming back. I am lucky to say YES to my summer home again in 2012!