Camp Joy: Embracing Diversity

by Amy Krehbiel

LaTrice Towns, an African American counselor, and Samantha O'Hara, a Caucasian counselor, are a true representation of what Camp Joy is all about. Camp Joy strives to provide inner-city youth who could not typically afford to come to camp with an opportunity to play and live with children from diverse backgrounds in a camp setting. LaTrice and Sam, both former foster children, campers, and counselors, are natural staff leaders. Because of their experiences at Camp Joy, their diversity is not an issue. They have come together and created a lifelong friendship. As Sam stated at last summer's staff banquet, “LaTrice, you will always be like a sister to me.”

Camp Joy was founded in 1938 and was a pioneer in offering a racially integrated camp program. Today, the camp is known as Joy Outdoor Education Center and is located in the small town of Clarksville, Ohio. Joy has three main divisions — Corporate Training, Outdoor School Program, and Camping and Retreats. The summer camp program is affectionately known as Camp Joy. Camp Joy continues to bring children from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds together for a week of camp. This diversity is also seen among the staff and provides great learning opportunities for both the campers and staff.

How to Attract Quality Minority Staff

Where does Camp Joy recruit minority staff? Finding quality minority staff is often a struggle for many camp directors. At Camp Joy, we have learned a handful of tricks over the past couple of years. Word of mouth and our leader-in-training program have been very successful in attracting quality minority staff members. We also attend job fairs at predominately African American colleges, such as Wilberforce College and Central State University. We never underestimate the power of networking. We have developed relationships with professors at our local college and also with social agencies in our area.

Former campers
Former campers are one of the best sources for quality staff. Because of their positive experiences, they often want to return as counselors. Donnell Kelly, an eighteen-year-old African American counselor, was a former camper and is presently an active member of the Cincinnati Boys & Girls Club. Donnell has been with Camp Joy for many years as a junior counselor, a senior counselor, and this year acted as the Sports and Recreation Specialist. Donnell explains, “I wanted to be a counselor at camp because I'd been coming here for five years, and I wanted to give back to Joy.”

Networking with nearby colleges
Camp Joy has had great success finding quality staff by developing relationships with nearby colleges, especially professors in the social work, education, and psychology departments. Gillianne Roberts, a social work student at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio, approached her professor about finding a summer job that not only related to her field, but also fulfilled her desire to work with children. Gillianne was a huge asset to our team as the archery specialist and energetic song leader. Camp taught Gillianne about the specific needs and struggles of our foster campers.

Internship/job fairs
We have found that camp fairs are not the way to attract minority staff. They are an overwhelming process for most students and tend to attract primarily Caucasian students. During the summers, minority students are often looking to make money or gain experience within their fields. We attend Central State University's Internship Fair. We are there with businesses from around the state, and therefore stand out to the social work, education, and psychology students. Because of our attendance at this internship fair, Shauntae Walker and Hassan Scott joined our summer 2001 team. Hassan, a very talented education student, was our creative writing specialist and developed our newsletter for the campers. At the staff banquet, Hassan stated, “I used to think life was all about making money and material goods, but now I know there is a whole lot more.”

Word of mouth
Hassan told his cousin David Gilbert about the opportunity to work at Camp Joy. David, a young man with a great deal of energy and passion, taught the children how to ride bikes. In order to encourage this powerful recruitment method, endorsements from current staff, we offer a $50 bonus to any staff member who recruits a new employee who stays at camp through the entire summer. This has helped us attract many of our minority staff members.

Networking with local social agencies
Camp Joy actively networks with social agencies within the area, such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or the Boys & Girls Club. Christopher Morris, an African American college student, learned about the employment opportunities at Camp Joy from his mother, who worked at Families Forward, a social agency in Cincinnati. Chris wanted to work with different people, and at Camp Joy, he had this experience. “Joy,” said Chris, “gave me the chance to see what the real world is like.”

Staff Training

Kids are kids and people are people no matter what their background or color. Our core value is respect, and we expect all staff and campers to act accordingly. The major focus of our staff training is to help our staff learn who our campers are, what their specific needs are, and how we can all be sensitive to each other. We accomplish this in a variety of ways.

Each staff member receives a questionnaire before camp and is asked to list a talent that he or she can share during staff training. Each person has ten minutes to teach a talent to the rest of the staff. These talents range from double-dutch to chess strategies. This is a great icebreaker and a very successful approach to removing barriers.

We close our week of training with a diversity piece. Staff members participate in an exercise in which they create their own gibberish language and then communicate this new language to others. This exercise teaches the staff a great deal about body language, gestures, and slang. Communication is an essential part of the camp environment.

We also do a powerful exercise called “Cross the Line.” The exercise requires that all staff members stand on one line in complete silence. The facilitator then reads a statement, and if that statement applies to you, you walk to the other line in complete silence. The statements range from family questions, to background questions, to personal beliefs. This activity is very eye opening and brings our staff closer together. The entire workshop is extremely emotional and teaches the staff to appreciate and accept each other's differences.

Benefits of Camp

Why do minorities want to work at a camp?
Each year, and from season to season, we experience small steps and great milestones in the lives of our staff and our campers. LaTrice had a magical moment when one of her former campers returned to camp this summer after having missed last summer. LaTrice asked her why she had missed camp, and the girl explained that she had been pregnant. The camper told LaTrice, “I want to raise her like you have been a counselor to me, with lots of love.” LaTrice feels that it is very important to expose campers to a variety of people. Since many of the campers come from tough backgrounds, she feels that it is very important to expose campers to African Americans with goals and values.

Christopher always wanted to work with children and felt that camp was a great opportunity for him. Camp was also a place for him to share his beliefs with the children. Joy is a non-denominational camp, and we encourage people to apply from all backgrounds. Chris is a very devout Christian and was reading his book, Trust in God Even When Life Hurts by Jeff Bridges. The campers questioned him about the book and gathered around to learn about his beliefs. Because Chris was brave enough to share his beliefs, the campers began to listen and respect each other.

The Power of Camp
The intrinsic rewards of working at camp are the key factors in attracting quality staff members. Camp directors need to begin early recruiting the staff they want to reflect the camp population they are targeting. Talk to the past summer's staff and offer a $50 finder's fee for helping you find next year's staff members. Network with the local high schools and colleges, especially the minority classes and clubs. Create an internship program for minority students. Find a means to make a counselor position more than just a summer job. Create an internship for a marketing student to create your scrapbook, brochures, and newsletter. Offer an internship for psychology students to create a mediation position that helps those campers who do not always make the best choices. When you are recruiting and hiring, remember to let potential staff know the power of camp. Camp is not just a fun summer job — but a life-changing event.

Amy Krehbiel was the Camping and Retreats Associate Director for Joy Outdoor Education Center. She discovered her passion for camp after two inspirational years at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. Amy received her bachelor's degree in Outdoor Education from Ohio University and is currently at the University of North Carolina studying for a Master's in Recreation Management.

Camp Joy serves a variety of youth ages six to fifteen from the greater Cincinnati area. Joy runs five resident camp sessions for 110 campers. Joy also runs seven day- camp sessions for fifty to sixty campers a week. The resident and day-camp programs run Monday through Friday. Joy collaborates with a number of agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club, National Conference for Community and Justice, and Children's Services. Joy hires fifty full-time staff members and twenty volunteers and leaders-in-training. Joy staff members are primarily from the Ohio area, but the camp also draws a few from the East Coast and Chicago area.

Camp Joy provides a sense of belonging and family — not only for campers but for staff as well. Camp Joy is a source of stability and growth for many campers and staff. They often consider Camp Joy to be their home and their family.

Originally published in the 2001 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

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