Counselor Blog

October 9, 2012

Special thanks to Allison Lee, an archery counselor at Camp Chinqueka, for submitting our last counselor story of the year! Have a great fall — summer will be here again soon!

I don't even know how to narrow my summer down to one favorite memory. There are just too many! Having recently just worked at camp for my second year, I know 100 percent it will not be my last. As soon as I walked back into camp for the second time, I knew was back at home, my real home, a place where I feel completely comfortable to be myself and let go of all the stress and worries that comes with real life.

This year, the whole staff waited in anticipation for two weeks before the bright, happy, and excited campers came running through our gates. Honestly, the feeling is indescribable. I still get goosebumps now when I think about it. It felt as if the previous nine months back at home didn't exist and as if I’d never left camp!

There were campfires weekly where we would dress up as crazy as possible. The evening activities ranged from a talent show one night to running around camp trying to collect gold for your tribe the next! Oh, and you can't forget the socials with the boys. I will always remember the time when the social was postponed for a few days due to bad weather and I literally had a couple of girls in my cabin in tears!

One of my favorite things at camp is something called candlelight. This has been a tradition for over fifty years, and it’s one of the most beautiful things you could ever witness. The senior girls spend their mornings and afternoons practicing a synchronized swimming routine to perform in front of the entire camp. When the time is right and the sun has gone down for the day on the last Friday of session two, all the lights are turned off on camp and everyone makes their way down to the waterfront in complete silence. The girls start their routine, and all you can see are their hands holding a candle up in the air, moving gracefully in the water. It is a very emotional night, and you can be nothing but proud of the girls for all the hard work that they put into it.

But it seems as soon as camp starts, it’s time for it to come to an end for another year. After what feels like thousands of hugs and tears shed, all the campers are gone and the camp is empty again. All you are left with are the most amazing memories and friendships of another fabulous summer and the excitement of another summer at camp next year.

I've put my life at home in Sydney, Australia on hold two years in a row, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. At camp you meet the most amazing kids that really do change your life. They are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet — and so are the other counselors. At camp, I got to meet people from all over the world, and even though we only worked together for ten weeks, the friendships we made will last forever!

October 4, 2012

Thank you, Kyle Lefler, for sharing your summer story! Did staff at your camp overcome any obstacles this summer? Share your favorite memory with media@ACAcamps.org.

Along with much of the East Coast, our little summer camp was devastated by the thunderstorms the weekend of July 4th. Mar Lu Ridge (MLR) is a Lutheran summer camp located in the mountains of Frederick County, Maryland. The storms came quickly and hit our little mountain hard, felling trees, taking out the power (and water!), and leaving debris everywhere.

As a staff, we slowly made our way down the road and through the woods to investigate the damage. Much to our relief, our newly renovated dining hall was totally untouched, as was our 50-year-old A-frame chapel, which is entirely fronted in glass. What a blessing! Unfortunately, the road was impassable and camp would have to make some major adjustments.

In the wake of the storm, we rallied — campers were set to arrive the next day. A huge group effort moved as many supplies as we could down to our retreat center, which had been mostly untouched by the winds and rain. Our biggest week of the summer was a success, thanks to a lot of hard work and creativity on the part of the staff. Campers relished the new adventures and an opportunity to stay at a usually “off limits” part of camp. Nature hikes became grand excursions to a "hidden pond" and the lawn became our chapel. The work of our year-round staff and some awesome volunteers allowed us back on the mountain by Friday night closing — just a week after the storm!

That week, lovingly referred to as Chaos Camp, was such a testament to the love of the MLR community. There is a special sort of magic at summer camp — where anything is truly possible with the right amount of dedication. We met our challenge as a community, and proved something my director always emphasized during my first few summers on staff: Without the community, the LOVE of staff and campers alike, this place would just be a bunch of buildings on a mountain. Beautiful? Yes. But special? Not without those who gather here.

That loving community has shaped my life (I just finished my fifth summer as a counselor) and the lives of countless others. Long live summer camp!

Photo courtesy of Skyline Camp and Retreat Center, Almont, Michigan 
 

October 1, 2012

A big thanks to Hannah (Tom Tom) Wiese from Camp Chinqueka for this summer story! What did your summer at camp teach you? Send your stories to media@ACAcamps.org and you might see them here!

As soon as the car rounds the bend and Bantam Lake comes into view, I smile and bounce up and down in anticipation for I know that I am almost at my summer home. I know that as soon as the car pulls on to the gravel drive, there will be my summer family, waiting to greet me with happy screams and lots of hugs. This was only my second summer at sunny Camp Chinqueka, but from the moment I stepped out of the car and my feet hit the ground, I felt like I was back home.

At camp, I’ve learned many lessons — things I could have never learned in school. Lessons such as, if you use a leaf blower to clean your cabin, you’ll probably set off the smoke detector. And, that if you let a CIT drive the golf cart, there’s a 90 percent chance she or another CIT will fall off it. I also learned to NEVER tip the waste toner cartridge from the copy machine, unless you want to wind up covering yourself and everything else in the room in a cloud of toner dust.

But, as it is camp, these lessons, however messy they might be, are never learned alone, but instead alongside at least one giggling friend. Instead of being sources of embarrassment, these stories turn into “camp legends” of sorts, stories to be shared by campfires for years to come. And that, I think, is the beauty of camp. Summer camp gives everyone — counselors and kids — a chance to be their own crazy, goofy selves.

At camp, it’s cool to wear underwear on your head and swimsuits over your neon spandex to campfires. It’s cool to make up a song about a “free-spirited pigeon” and belt it out while floating down the river in an inner tube. It’s cool to wear mismatched flip-flops and go days without shaving your legs because you’re having too much fun to be bothered with small details like that.

Camp is a place to relish the small things: ice cream sundaes; the whisper of the wind as it blows through the tall, stately pine trees; and the hug from a camper who just accomplished something she didn’t think she could do. Yes, at camp, the campers grow up, but so do the counselors as camp help shapes them into the people they want to be.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
 

September 26, 2012

Are you interested in one day having a profession in the camp or youth development industry? Attend an ACA Student Camp Leadership Academy (SCLA) weekend retreat!

SCLA brings students together with camp professionals to take an in-depth look at options for a profession in the camp field. It also helps students build skills to prepare for a career in camp.

Choose from 4 locations:

  • Midwest Register Now!
  • West — Register Now!
  • South
  • Southeastern — details coming soon 

 

My time at SCLA was one of the best professional development opportunities that I have been given. I could tell right off the bat that everyone there was truly invested in my future as a camp professional, and I made connections that have lasted me well beyond the weekend of the event. Even today, years later, whenever I see someone who was there with me, we stop and say “hi” and talk about that weekend.

You’re taught a lot about what it takes to be a camp professional and the best way to go about getting your foot in the door. Not only are you learning invaluable information, but you’re having fun and meeting new people the whole time.

One of the most unique aspects of SCLA is just how intimate it is. You can be taught a lot of things, but I think one of my favorite things about SCLA was the ability to sit down at dinner with people who were doing exactly what I want to be doing and have a conversation with them — and ask them questions!

We have all seen summer staff who don’t come back because they find what they call a “real” job. SCLA is an essential experience for anyone who is considering finding that “real” job at camp.

Anthony Bates, 2010 SCLA attendee

 

Learn more about Student Camp Leadership Academy!

September 20, 2012

Many thanks to Lynne Murphy from Ireland for this fun memory! Lynne was the evening program coordinator and Web manager at Camp Chinqueka in Connecticut this summer. Send YOUR summer story to media@ACAcamps.org.

As I look around my bedroom, a wall-to-wall shrine dedicated to camp memories, it is almost impossible to select one highlight of camp or explain how much camp means to me. It is a place where I feel more at home than I do in the house I was raised in; a place I have met the most spectacular people and children I will ever meet; and a place where I have grown, changed, and loved.

It was just two years ago that my life changed at sunny Camp Chinqueka. I had found a place where I could be myself and be happier than I have ever been. This summer was phenomenal! Despite the fact that every day at camp is packed with fun-filled activities, there is always one day that stands out in my mind. WATERSPORTS DAY!!! These are two words that are uttered with pure excitement and anticipation from the very first day at camp, even though it isn’t held until week six! 

Camp Chinqueka is an all-girls camp; however, we also have a brother camp, Camp Awosting. On this very special day, we join together and have a massive swim meet for our campers. Each year, each camp has a theme for Watersports Day. It is a great excuse to get everyone excited, pumped up, and dressed up! This year, we were Egyptians (queue “Walk Like an Egyptian” — a song that will be forever stuck in my mind because of this day!), and the boys were Romans. The week building up to this day, we spent hours making costumes, building a giant pyramid and sarcophagus, and most importantly, singing songs and learning new chants to cheer on our girls and scare off the boys! It is incredible seeing all the campers become even more spirited than they usually are (which is truly saying something!).

Watersports Day isn’t just a day of swimming competitions, it is also very important for another reason: WAR CANOE — a test of speed, technique, and distance against the boys. The girls and boys train so hard each summer, and each summer we cheer them on until the entire camp has lost their voices! Even now I catch myself singing “I SAID, LET ME SEE YOUR WAR CANOE!” Win or lose, we are always so proud of them.

After many hours of swimming, cheering and excitement, we have a delicious feast, and the campers dance the evening away at a social! I’ll never get sick of joining in as the entire camp does the “Cupid Shuffle”!

Not only is this day full of fun, dressing up, and an excuse to get in the water on a hot Connecticut day, it is a day that shows what Camp Chinqueka is all about. Our campers learn all about working as a team, supporting one another, being proud of yourself knowing you’ve done your best, and being yourself — but most of all, having FUN! It was a spectacular day, one I will ever never forget, and it’s just one of my many, many cherished memories of my time at Camp Chinqueka.

Photo courtesy of Camp Chinqueka, Litchfield, Connecticut

September 18, 2012

Thanks, Krista White, for sharing this summer story! Krista is a head counselor at Eagle's Nest Camp in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. Send your summer memory to media@ACAcamps.org.

The moment that had the most impact for me this summer happened on my first day at camp. A group of five of us were starting a week of lifeguard training. Our instructor was a no-nonsense kind of guy, and we set straight to work. After basic introductions, it was down to the lake for the swim test. We spent the rest of the day doing laps, watching videos, and learning techniques. With about an hour left before dinner, we took a quick bathroom break before attempting to watch one last video. I took that chance to pull the cell phone that I had ignored all day out of my backpack and check if I had any messages. My only text message was from my husband — it read “Please call me as soon as you can.” I stepped outside to call him and that’s when he told me that my father-in-law had had a heart attack that morning at the finish line of a 10k race. My husband did not have much information other than that he had been defibrillated and taken in an ambulance to the ICU.

My knees gave way and I collapsed on the porch of the building in tears. When I got off the phone, not much explanation was needed as the entire class had seen my reaction and knew something big was wrong. I told them what had happened through sobs and felt like a trapped dear looking wildly around not really knowing what to do next. The lifeguard instructor started listing several percentages of heart attack survival rates in an attempt to reassure me, but it was the camp counselor who stepped forward and pulled me into a bear hug who did. This stranger who I had known for less than 24 hours was not afraid to hold me tight and hold me up until my world stopped spinning.

An hour later I was on the road to the hospital with my toothbrush and clean underwear packed. I realized later that I also brought with me the strength and compassion of my summer camp family. I spent some very scary days in the ICU with my family and I often found myself remembering that bear hug. I drew strength from the love and support I felt from my camp family who loved me even before they knew me. After a week sleeping in hospital chairs, my father-in-law was stable enough for me to return to camp — in time for all-staff orientation. It was a blessing for me after such a painful experience to be able to return to a place full of such loving and positive individuals. I truly believe that the best young people in the world work as summer camp counselors and I am privileged to get to work with them each summer.

Photo courtesy of Camp Robbinswold, Lilliwaup, Washington 

 

September 14, 2012

Thanks Angela Marks for the latest entry on the Counselor Blog! Send your favorite summer memory to media@ACAcamps.org!

My week with Rising Abilities was full of great stories and memories, but one story stands out the most. There was an adolescent camper with Autism who was so excited to catch a fish to cook himself that he spent every day asking his group to go fishing for all of their activity choices. On the last evening of camp, he finally caught one big enough to keep. Just down the stream, there was a five-year-old boy who was trying really hard to catch a fish, but was having trouble. The older boy looked at the younger boy and said, "Don't be sad — you can have my fish." Then he dumped his fish into the other boy’s bucket and walked back to the cabins. It was in that moment that I realized my campers had learned a great social skill: Kindness.

Photo courtesy of Rising Abilities, Lebanon, Missouri

September 10, 2012

Here's another counselor's summer story — all the way from Australia! Thanks Nicola Hadskis Gordon for this one! Share your story with media@ACAcamps.org!

I first worked at YMCA Camp Weaver in North Carolina in the summer of 2011. I am from Australia, so I sadly had to return back to my family. This year, 2012, I missed camp so much I decided I needed to go back, even if it was just to volunteer for a month. A week after I arrived I had decided that I needed to stay the whole summer, so I volunteered the entire 3 months and I am returning for sure next year.

Camp is in my blood — I know that camp is my true home and where I can truly be me. And I feel as though each day I am helping a child overcome a fear, whether it is homesickness, swimming, or mosquitoes. Camp Weaver is my home.

This is my story, where my heart is and forever shall be.

Photo courtesy of Lutherhill Ministries, La Grange, Texas

September 6, 2012

Today's story comes from Katelyn Gillum, who now works for her camp fulltime! Send your story from the summer to media@ACAcamps.org.

If you would have told me nearly four years ago that being a camp counselor was going to change my life, I never would have believed you. I walked into my first summer at Camp Walden in Diamond Point, New York, thinking that it was merely going to be a two-month experience that would give me the opportunity to work with kids and boost my resume as a prospective teacher. What I didn't know is that it would change my world forever.

Having never gone to a sleep away camp as a child, I entered the camp world knowing nothing aside from what I had learned through movies such as The Parent Trap and shows like Bug Juice. I was expecting to find campers sneaking out of bunks, being sent to isolation cabins, and playing poker without any adult supervision. What I did find, however, was quite the opposite — an environment where people take care of each other, where long-lasting friendships are created, and where being yourself and trying new things is strongly encouraged.

After experiencing the beauty of sleep away camp, I began to wonder why everyone wasn't involved in summer camps. The sense of family, the amount of growth, and the ability to be 100% yourself is enough to make anyone want to spend two months in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Try explaining that to someone who has never been to a summer camp before, and the idea of it all seems a bit whimsical and unrealistic. That's when it suddenly dawned on me that part of what makes the sleep away camp experience so special is the fact that only a small percentage of us really understand the impact it has.

It's not only the special bonds created between campers and counselors alike, but it's the lessons learned and the ability to give and share with others that truly makes the camp setting unlike any other. I know that I would not be the person that I am today if not for my time at Camp Walden. Walden has allowed me to create lasting relationships with my campers and co-staff and has allowed me to find another place that I can call "home." I don't think I will ever truly be able to repay Walden for what it has given me, but I do know that I can share my experiences and encourage others to experience what the camp setting is all about!

Happy camping . . .

Photo courtesy of Camp Aranzazu, Rockport, Texas

September 4, 2012

Here's another camp counselor story! Thanks, Victoria, for sharing! Send your story to media@ACAcamps.org.

Ever since my first year at camp twelve summers ago, I’ve come to realize that camp can only be completely understood through experience. The following is my defense of a continued obsession with the experience called "camp" — for anyone who might not understand why I work as a camp counselor, including my dad.

“Working at Camp Howe is wonderful, but please don't delude yourself into thinking that it is all just fun and games (although there are definitely a lot of both). The truth about my employment at camp is that I work hard for excessive hours each day for very little money — the same principle that applies to most people in their own everyday jobs in the 'real world.'

The job world — like life, and society in general — brings competition, disorganization, and situations that we have to learn to rise above. As a testament to the wonderful upbringing I have received, and the experiences that I have gone through, I feel confident in my ability to make the right choices. I am confident in my ability to use the resources that I have been given, to overcome obstacles, brain storm, and solve problems. I am confident in myself. I foresee unforeseeable walls that I will come up against. I can overcome them. Or if I can't, I will learn how to do so. I am independent, resourceful, and armed with a strong belief in my abilities.

Camp Howe has given me that belief in myself. Camp has raised me to a level that a very select group of teenagers my age can say they’ve been at. Likewise, camp has taught me to shoulder responsibilities that some people, many years my senior, have yet to carry. Camp brought me to that level, creating an environment where I not only do well but excel. I'm young, willing to learn, make mistakes, and fall down if need be. I'm a strong believer that life is the choices you make. And I have continued to choose Camp Howe for many reasons: the experiences, the connections, the ability to be part of the team, to work with children, to understand myself and others, to gain confidence, to learn to be compassionate, and so much more. 

But most importantly, I choose Camp Howe because it is my second home, and I love it. You can't put a price tag on the experiences that have helped make me who I am. It is because of experiences like the ones I have made at camp that I am so confident in my abilities today. I know you don't always see eye to eye with me about my decision to work at camp. I wanted to share with you how profound an impact camp has had on me. I know that someday I'll have to give it up and move on.  Maybe someday soon. Who knows? But I will never regret giving up a few summers to do something special for kids who were a lot like me when I was younger. It is something I will never forget.”

***

Victoria Ware has spent twelve summers at camp, three of those on staff. This year, her roles included farm manager, lifeguard, cabin counselor, and laughter enthusiast.

Photo courtesy of Skyline Camp and Retreat Center, Almont, Michigan
 

August 31, 2012

Here's our first summer story! A big thank you to Justina Lau for submitting. Keep the stories coming! (Send them to media@ACAcamps.org.)

I spent my summer with the Diabetic Youth Foundation. During camp, we do midnight check of campers’ blood sugar levels. Before one particular midnight checking, it was my rotation to watch the kiddos and to put them to sleep. Well, I had no idea what I was up against! I was in a room filled with twelve campers by myself! They were shouting, laughing, farting, and causing chaos as young campers do!

After telling them that pool time would be taken away if they didn't get into their own bunks, they were immediately quiet. I asked if they would like music, and all of them agreed they wanted to listen to some. I played a variety of piano songs off of my iTouch. One of my campers surprised me when he recognized “Canon in D.” The other campers enjoyed the soothing melodies. Soon I had a request to play a lullaby, and the only one I had was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Soon, snores became the only noise in the cabin.

I sat down on an empty bunk waiting for my co-counselors to return for midnight checking when I heard a loud shout, “HEY GUYS!” I was so frightened . . . and then I realized it was just one of my campers sleep talking. He mumbled something I didn’t understand, and then another camper above the bunk I was sitting on, also fast asleep, started responding to his mumbles. Pretty soon the mumbling conversation ended with, “Okay, bye guys!” I laughed to myself at how silly my campers were. They were sleep talking to each other!

Then, it was time to do midnight checking. There was one camper that I checked every night. He talked a lot in his sleep, too. While I was trying to check his blood levels, he talked to me like I was someone else. It was funny but a struggle. He finally snapped out of it and apologized for thinking I was someone else.

The next morning, all three of my campers had no recollection of what I experienced. It was a very interesting night — a night I still tell my friends and family about.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado

August 30, 2012

No doubt your camp counselor experience this summer included some awesome campers, co-workers, and even a “lesson learned” or two.

We want to collect the best camp counselor stories from across the country and share them here! Tell us about your favorite memory, camper, day at camp, boss, activity, etc. Write it up in 500 words or less and send it to us at media@ACAcamps.org, and you might just see it on the blog.

Congratulations on a “summer well-spent,” and good luck with your fall adventures!

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
 

August 14, 2012

Here’s a fun nature activity that you can do with your campers. No equipment or supplies necessary!

This exercise is valuable in helping campers become aware of the common habit of looking without seeing.

Without explaining why, ask group members to look in one direction for 60 seconds. Then, have them close their eyes and ask them questions about the area they just viewed. For example:

  • Were there clouds in the sky?
  • Did they notice any animal signs?
  • How many colors did they see?
  • What was the largest thing they saw?
  • What was the smallest?

Participants may then open their eyes and take another look at the area. Ask them what they see this time that they didn’t notice the first time. Repeat the exercise and you will find that the campers have become much more observant.

Find this and more in 101 Nature Activities for Kids, by Jane Sanborn and Elizabeth Rundle, in the ACA Bookstore. (Also available for digital download.)

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe in Goshen, Massachusetts

August 9, 2012

Update October 2012: Camping Magazine Featured by NicheMedia for outstanding use of camp photograpy!

Did you take some awesome photos at camp this summer? Enter them into Camping Magazine's 2013 Golden Lens Contest!

You could win a $150 cash prize and your photo could be on the cover of the next May/June Camping Magazine!

Just send your favorite photos that depict the camp experience (and represent the best practices in the field) to magazine@ACAcamps.org.

Before you submit your photos, make sure to fill out the online photo release!

Include your name, camp name, contact address, and phone number in the e-mail.

(Photos must be .tif or .jpeg files and at least 300 dpi. For cover considerations, please don’t crop photos.)

The deadline to submit photos is November 30, 2012.

Check out previous Golden Lens winners and honorable mentions.

Submit your photos today!
 

August 7, 2012

Songs are some of the best traditions at camp! Whether you sing at meal time, bedtime, campfire, or between activities, your campers enjoy having something that unites them as a group. And they love teaching camp songs to their parents and friends — allowing their experiences and memories to live on, even when they’re at home!

What's YOUR favorite camp song? Share it with us in the comments below!

Try singing this song at camp — you might already know it! Find this and more than 170 other songs in Sing — a guide to camp songs! (Available for digital download. Comes with a CD of 99 selected songs.)


 

Syndicate content