What summer camp volunteers want you to know
What do those two words bring to mind? Maybe sleeping away from home, getting eaten alive by bugs, telling ghost stories while making s’mores by a campfire.
For nonprofit summer camp workers and volunteers, what comes to mind is a little different.
Sleepless nights, lots of sweat and maybe a few tears. But also, laughing so hard you think surely you’ll have a six pack by tomorrow, becoming lifelong friends with someone you just met, and seeing a child’s personality bloom in front of you. These memories are some of your most cherished.
From my experience as a staff member at a nonprofit summer camp, here are a few things summer camp volunteers want you to know.
Summer camp isn’t just for kids
If you volunteer or work at a summer camp, I guarantee you’ll get as much (or more) out of it as the kids do.
“I was 18 when I spent my first summer at The Summer Camp, Inc. as a lifeguard and camp counselor, and 7 years later I can say with absolute certainty that working there was the singular most formative experience of my late teens and early twenties. Having worked with other camps as well as other social service organizations I can now understand the unique and transformative nature of a place like this which changes the lives of its staff as well as the girls that it serves.” – The Summer Camp Former Staff
Summer camp isn’t all fun and games
Working at a summer camp is some of the hardest work you’ll do because it challenges you emotionally AND physically. Any staff member will tell you that it is a tough job being 12 youngsters mother and father for a week! Serving and taking care of kids while traipsing all over nature all day is exhausting. Plus since these camps are nonprofit, each staff member has to pull a lot of weight. It isn’t out of the ordinary to see counselors cleaning up campgrounds on the weekend or serving as kitchen staff.
But sometimes it is
There’s fun with the kids doing things like horseback riding, hiking or ziplining. Getting them excited about games like Capture the Flag by dressing goofy and painting war paint on your face. Fun with fellow staff members continues after the kids go to sleep and on your off days.
“I am not sure who has more fun, the kids or me!! Happy Hollow serves children from all walks of life. We serve children from the inner-city and those that may have medical diagnoses that prohibit them from attending other camps. They experiences activities that they may have never been exposed to such as: horseback riding, rock climbing, a zip line, fishing, canoeing and swimming in a lake led by a very dedicated staff.” – Happy Hollow Children’s Camp Volunteer
You’re joining a family
Camp workers are some of the most tight-knit groups I’ve ever seen or been part of. These are people who you live with 24/7, clean little kid throw up with at 1 a.m., and whisper secrets to each other over sleeping kids’ heads. You’ll see each other at your funniest and best, but also at your exhausted and over-it worst. You’ll witness each other grow and transform over the span of the summer.
“Camp really is just one of the most fun, amazing, life-changing places in the world. It is not an understatement to call Odayin a “family.” I hope to still be volunteering there as a nurse in thirty years when I am old and gray!” – Camp Odayin Volunteer
You’ll come back different than before
There’s something about working at camp that makes you comfortable and secure in who you are. You learn that if you can figure out how to entertain twelve eight-year-olds inside when a thunderstorm suddenly hits, that you can pretty much handle anything.
Best of all, YOU will change lives
This is definitely the most rewarding part about working at summer camp. When these kids come to your camp, you have no idea what their home life is like. The week that they are at your camp may be the only positive thing they have to look forward to all year. You might be their best shot at having a positive role model. Sometimes, kids arrive homesick and nervous. Or shy and reserved. But by the end of the week, they have blossomed into self-assured little people. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
“My daughter with Down syndrome was tremendously changed by her first summer at Camp Barnabas — her teachers the next fall asked me, “What happened to Sarah this summer? She’s so much more outgoing and independent!” – Camp Barnabas Camper Parent
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