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One of my favorite parts of every summer is when a new group of staff members come together for the first time in-person to begin staff development. It’s a shared experience unlike any other, and is the beginning of what we know will be relationships that last a lifetime. It’s the day we plant the seeds that grow in a beautiful arrangement of unique and connected flowers. It doesn’t matter what the landscape around camp is - such as, you know, a global pandemic - every year I have spent at camp I see a group of strangers become a network of young professionals ready to support each other during and beyond camp. It always makes those around camp wonder how and why it happens, and I think there are a few key ingredients to the remarkable recipe:

  1. A Melting Pot: Camp staff are melting pots, plain and simple. Throughout the year, camp professionals are scouring the globe to find the best young, driven, and a little crazy youth development leaders to share their camp experience with. People from all different walks of life come to camp. Most staff are pleasantly surprised when they hear they won’t be the only person from out-of-state working at our camp. They come in with different backgrounds, different degree paths, work experiences, and aspirations. In a world that promotes specialization, camp provides an opportunity for college students to expand their horizons by getting to know an eclectic group of young professionals from all over the world. This provides an opportunity for learning about different career paths and shows staff how well-rounded experiences benefit them in their careers.
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  1. No such thing as a “prototypical” camp counselor - We often get asked as camp professionals what the ideal staff member is like, be it the qualities they possess, their experience with youth, etc. Aside from a few general “soft skills” that I believe most employers in the world are looking for, there isn’t a prototype for an ideal camp counselor. Extroverts ready to get up in front of the campfire and lead a song in front of 200 people can thrive at camp. Introverts who are ready for the first sign of homesickness from a new camper to counsel and help them navigate the challenge can thrive at camp. People with a ton of experience with youth can be amazing counselors, as can people with little experience. A director’s job is to bring together a balance of these different qualities to build a great team of staff members. And that team HAS to learn how to use each others’ unique qualities to be successful. Everyone relies on each other, and learns so much about each other. This type of working environment prepares staff for the “real world” of work and builds professional relationships that are hard to come by.

  2. A common thread - Before anyone steps foot at camp, they have all self-selected into the camp experience. They have chosen to spend their summer in the middle of the woods, among a group of strangers, and commit to creating a magical experience for children. This common thread ties staff members together quickly and firmly, and the shared communal living and working experience creates unique personal and professional relationships that last a lifetime. There are few experiences that allow peers to live and work together like they do at camp. Staff have to rely on each other, make difficult decisions together, and support one another through challenging environments.

Camp changes our professional lives for the better every year. Whether it’s making a discovery of a new career path they want to pursue (Fun fact: I used to be an accountant before discovering camp!) or meeting someone who will help them find an opportunity in their field after camp, it happens. Every. Year. Are you ready for camp to change your life?