Many summer camps find value in recruiting alumni to join their staff as counselors. Alumni are valuable as they are familiar with the atmosphere and activities and are often helpful in relating to the next generations of campers.
Rebecca Copeland, assistant director at Camp Wise in Claridon Township, and Abbey Phillips, director of day camps and children’s services at Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, weighed in on the benefits of having alumni campers as counselors and how they make the transition from campers to staff members.
“(Alumni) come with an understanding and a passion for the camp that they gained because they have been campers there,” Copeland said.
Copeland added that she feels the camp does a good job of welcoming non-alumni staff members as well.
“We also rely on our alumni to help bring (non-alumni) into that community,” Copeland said.
The transition from camper to counselor begins the summer going into 10th grade, starting with the Solel experience, Copeland explained. She said it creates an opportunity for them to be more independent, giving them their own village space, putting more trust in them and allowing them to go out on trips.
Next, campers entering 11th grade experience the Israel Leadership Seminar, which gives them even more opportunities to be trusted, as well as education for taking on leadership roles, she said.
The summer going into 12th grade consists of staff-in-training, during which they are assigned to cabins to assist counselors, take on responsibilities such as programming and serving meals, and undergoing additional training, Copeland explained. They also work with a staff member over the age of 21, who serves as their supervisor and mentor to guide them through the transition and training.
Copeland explained that these responsibilities “slide” staff-in-training into what will be their first year as counselors, come the following summer, when they become eligible to join the staff after their senior year of high school.
“Around 50% of our staff are people who have been involved with camp in some form in the past,” Phillips said.
Phillips explained that alumni staff members and non-alumni staff members each bring their own attributes that help campers. She detailed how alumni can relate to campers in that they have previously experienced many of the things they are doing, while non-alumni staff members can relate to campers having first time experiences because those activities may also be new to them.
“Any candidate that loves working with children in a fast-paced, rewarding environment, is able to be just as successful, whether they have camp background or not,” she said.
Phillips explained that they have a variety of different staff members, some who have grown up with them and some who have never experienced camp of any kind in the past.
“It’s always really interesting to see the reaction (of) those staff that have never been to day camp,” Phillips said. “There’s a lot of energy and music and activity and the day flies by. So, those who haven’t seen it before (are) always sort of in awe of the experience that happens here.”
When it comes to making the transition from camper to staff member, the camp integrates it into the later years of a camper’s experience, she said.
“Our campers who are entering eighth grade have the opportunity to do some professional development and leaders in training programming while they’re a camper,” Phillips noted. “It’s not a mandated part of their experience, but it is an option so, often those who know that they’re interested in one day becoming a counselor will take that opportunity.”
Incoming ninth graders are able to volunteer for camp, Phillips added. During that year, staff members work with them to help with the transition from camper to staff, she continued.
The camp is still actively recruiting staff members for the upcoming summer, Phillips said.
“We’re looking for people who are looking to build strong relationships with campers, with staff and with the community,” she said.