By Noa Bejar
I got it wrong. We have all seen camp counselors lounging by the pool, flirting with each other, texting on their cellphones while children swarm around them.
I have seen “Camp Counselor” on résumés and have quickly disregarded it. I know the description: underpaid, overworked teenagers rising a few heads above a sea of animated children, loosely shuttling groups from activity to activity.
I often advise students to participate in internships or specialty programs that capitalize on their interests, demonstrating to colleges their initiative and commitment to a certain field of study. I made light of working at summer camps even when I saw a flicker of hurt blink through students’ eyes. Strive for more! Define yourself! Set yourself apart from your peers!
Until I was completely immersed in it. I volunteered at a day camp for three weeks this summer. I did not work hard, and I did not work directly with the campers. Still, I was exhausted — “crawl up in the fetal position on the lobby couch” exhausted. I watched the high school, college and post-grad counselors fully engage with their campers in a display of boundless energy and patience that has long since escaped my middle-age body.
I put aside the obvious, incredible camper experience of action-packed days with friends and activities and looked at the personalities that were implementing, troubleshooting, conflict-resolving, nursing and engaging with these campers.
What I saw was the unquestionable ability these young people have to motivate and inspire others, but that’s little kids loving big kids. What impressed me the most about the counselors was their work ethic and maturity. They arrived early to work, embracing and warmly welcoming their campers each morning.
The time and energy counselors invest in their summer job many times exceeds adult expectations for our own work environment.
Mia coaxed a young camper to participate. Ryan talked his boys through a disagreement. Daniel sweated in a Zumba class, encouraging his campers to participate. Adam let the girls swing and twirl on his long arms. Sydney patiently reminded her campers to eat their lunches, throw their garbage in the bin, and prepare for their upcoming activity.
I watched these counselors put aside their social impulses and personal insecurities in the powerful realization that they were truly responsible for caring for and developing their young charges.
Yes, teenagers were still socializing and enjoying being with one another at work, but they understood their role and were able to put themselves aside to nurture and strengthen their campers’ identity, independence and ability to collaborate with their peers. The counselors’ commitment was unwavering, and their dedication to their campers was palpable.
This is clearly not a poorly paid summer job filled with free field trips around the city; camp is an intensely rewarding, albeit exhausting, summer of giving almost completely of yourself. What a humbling experience for today’s teens, and that’s just a day camp!
Can you imagine how much more intense an overnight staffing experience is, dealing with homesick children, bed wetters, sleepwalkers, cabin conflicts, hygiene and adolescent antics I don’t want to think about?
I hope college admissions officers take the time to read between the lines when they see a student’s résumé that reads “Camp Counselor” because these young adults are selfless, mature leaders who are challenging themselves in new ways every day and working tirelessly for an experience they believe in.
College freshman class dynamics will be better off with camp counselors who understand the impact of contributing and collaborating, and campus activities need these enthusiastic and engaged young people to help their campuses thrive. We need camp counselors, our children need them, and I am in awe of them.
Noa Bejar helps Jewish students navigate the college search process at www.collegeboundjews.com