If you’re responsible for hiring staff to work at day camp, you may be summing up today’s to-do list in one short phrase: Find more people!

Far from being the second choice for those who don’t want to or can’t go to overnight camp, day camps have a number of operational advantages. Among these are deep connections to the community and the ability to offer convenience, flexible scheduling, unique specialty programming, and cost-effective summer opportunities. By the very definition of their roots tying them to a handful of local communities, however, one thing day camps don’t have going for them is a large crowd of potential hires. Overcoming the challenges of local hiring so that staffing ratios are met is a big hill to climb, especially when many day camps see their camper spaces fill within hours of opening enrollment.

One of the most significant of these local hiring challenges is the competition for labor. Day camps have to compete with other local seasonal employers such as amusement parks, water parks, and municipal programs, which can limit the pool of employees (no pun intended). Competing with local nonseasonal employers — such as fast food and retail shops that are able to offer paid-on-day-one benefits and top-dollar hourly rates –– adds to the complication of wooing local prospects. Additionally depending on the specificity of the camp program, there may be a limited number of qualified specialists who have the necessary skills, experience, and even certifications to work at the camp. These among other reasons may be why a day camp would consider creative expansion of that hiring pool.

Before You Dive in to the Deep End

I spoke with many, many camp professionals, agency representatives, and both domestic and international staff who have experienced being hired by day camps across the US. I am exceptionally appreciative for everything that was shared. Almost everyone boiled down the hundreds of little details necessary to make expanded geographical hiring work well to one most important thing: the amount of time, attention, and care put in to developing the program before the out-of-town staff arrive.

I use the word program very intentionally here, because it became clear from my first conversation that choosing to bring staff to camp from outside the local environs is not something that can be successfully done on a whim. Over and over, I heard that there is no such thing as hiring folks from around (or out of) the country, bringing them to camp, and turning them loose at 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday — not to mention weekends. The list of considerations is long and includes:

  • Housing
  • Meals
  • Policies
  • Procedures
  • Supervision
  • Cultural opportunities
  • Transportation
  • Entertainment

The camp, in effect, becomes the host of a group of young adults, and to do that well, it must commit the necessary resources.

While the concept of expanded geographical hiring is neither simple nor straightforward, it is also not something to avoid considering just because of the potential challenges. One camp shared that despite the costs, the work involved, and the number of stumbles and “major tweaks” required along the way, they never looked back or hesitated before jumping into their second summer of expanded hiring. In fact, camps across the US credit their new hiring plan as the catalyst for positive, dynamic shifts in culture, staff engagement, enthusiasm, and retention, as well as available coverage, and camper return rate.

So although it may seem counterintuitive to consider residential staff at day camp, those camps able to think innovatively about staffing in this way may be able to benefit from the potential employees available in hundreds of other zip codes, area codes, and even country codes. This remains a cautious tale, however. While the potential benefits are immense, so are the complexities. Let’s take a closer look at both.

Potential Benefits of Expanded Geographical Hiring

The benefits of broadening the talent search go beyond just casting a wider net for candidates. First and foremost is increased diversity; hiring staff from different regions brings diverse perspectives and experiences to camp, enriching the environment and providing campers and staff with expansive learning opportunities. One camp candidly shared that their location is extremely rural and homogenous, so by offering room and board to staff, they began attracting candidates from big cities several hours away, which in turn created a significantly more diverse team. This helped to better match their staff demographic to their camper population, which was already significantly more diversified due to the large influx of summer-only residents from far-flung locations whose children attended camp.

A wider geographical range also expands the likelihood of being able to interview and choose from multiple candidates for positions requiring specialized skills. Being limited to one area may put a camp in the difficult position of deciding whether to hire the one or two local individuals who meet requirements for a role in camp but who may not be the best fit for other reasons. By expanding the search zone, the camp can also expand their qualified candidate pool.

Cultural exchange is possibly the most well-known benefit. Staff from different areas of the country — or from different countries — offer campers and local staff access to traditions, languages, and cultural experiences beyond their own backyard. This can also open up new marketing avenues for camper recruitment and may push your camp to the top of the list of options for local staff because of the importance this generation of young adults places on global connectedness.

We also know from research that our current workforce generation is looking for a flexible workplace. Many day camps have already found it necessary to shift from requiring staff to work a full schedule to job-sharing, week-sharing, and other creative ways to get staff in the door for some part of the summer. Hiring across a larger geographic range offers increased flexibility with scheduling for local members of staff and, as a bonus, allows the camp more leeway to adjust staffing levels based on demand or unexpected circumstances.

Several day camps referred to the unexpected side benefit of being able to once again offer late-stay or one-night overnight options that they had paused due to the difficulty in staffing them appropriately. To make ends meet, many local day camp staff often have second jobs that prevent them from staffing these additional camp programs (as a 16-year old counselor, I spent my evenings doing pharmacy deliveries — my white lab coat sometimes thrown on right over my staff shirt, though I made every effort to remove the face paint, bead necklaces, and other gifts my second-grade girls so kindly shared with me each day). However, J-1 Visa cultural exchange staff can work only for their camp and may appreciate the extra stipend/pocket money that additional coverage hours (including being a bus counselor, working extended days, and staffing overnights/late-stays) can provide.

Of course, the main benefit (and why most day camps would even consider hiring outside their area code) is to mitigate staff shortages. It’s a tough hiring world out there right now. Any operational advantage that minimizes the stressors and risks that come from being understaffed may be worth a try.

Considerations for Expanding Your Geographic Demographic

If you’re now thinking this might indeed be worth trying, know that many things beyond the benefits will need significant thought and planning. In no particular order, they include considerations such as:

  • Housing
  • Food/meals
  • Insurance and medical care
  • Budgeting
  • Supervision
  • Concerns with adjustment/homesickness
  • Mental health and well-being
  • Cultural experiences (required if the staff member is a J-1 visa participant)
  • Laundry

Let’s take a deeper look at just a few of these.


Staff will need a place to live — this is what makes them locally available hires. Several creative ways to offer residential options include repurposing a building on-site as a housing facility or building something new, utilizing host families in the community, renting housing available on the local market, or doing what seems to be the most popular: leasing a block of private school or college dormitories. Often empty during the summer, dorms can be negotiated for a reasonable rate, and your contract can include professional food service, access to campus amenities, furnished living space, and full-time campus security. While not an exhaustive list by any means, some of the pros and cons of these various options are shown in the table.

Table: Housing Options Pros and Cons

Housing Type

Potential Upsides (Pros)

Potential Downsides (Cons)

Additional Considerations

On-site Facility

Built specifically or repurposed

On-site (easy commute); from an ongoing costs perspective (not including facility build), it is likely the most cost-effective; offers full control of all policies and procedures, etc.

Having individuals living on-site may trigger additional regulations and legal requirements not previously required. Food service adds another layer of complexity. Limiting access to site amenities may be difficult.

What happens after hours when camp is shut down and one building has a bunch of staff staying there with nothing to do? Can staff swim / use sports equipment / use craft supplies? Are off-duty local staff allowed back on-site to hang out?

Short-term Rental Apartments/houses in the local market

Not responsible for facility management; comes furnished; allows for meal flexibility (you can stock the kitchen or offer staff a weekly food stipend).

Cost, especially in tourist-centric locations; availability (some renters won’t allow groups of young adults under age 25); possibility of becoming a party location for the whole staff; may need multiple locations, each of which will have a different setup and rental/lease contract.

Will this arrangement impact relations with neighbors / the local community? Who is responsible for housekeeping, deep cleaning, and potential damages? Is it within camp policy for staff to bring their pets if the place allows it? Are utilities, internet, laundry, etc., included?

Home Host

Staff stay with a local family (can be local camper or staff families only, or be open to local residents also)

Builds deeper connections with the local community; offers a room and provides meals, etc., for the staff member during their stay; provides a family-like feeling, which may appeal to younger staff or their parents/guardians; offers built-in supervision and accountability that comes with a family setting.

Creates a lot of entanglement with local residents, especially if the staff member doesn’t ultimately work out or the host/staff personality match is not the best; can complicate working relationships between staff or staff and campers. Hosts may be scattered far and wide, making it difficult for staff to connect with each other during off-time. Staff may want more independence.

How will host reimbursement work? Will you background check the host and others living in / routinely spending time at the host home (may be required by visa sponsor for international staff)? What policies need to be in place to prevent hosted staff from becoming a de facto nanny or doing unapproved domestic work outside of camp hours?

School Dormitory

Lease/rent at local private schools, colleges, or universities

Potentially low cost for a significant amount of amenities and safety; utilizes a model literally designed to do exactly what you’re using it for; includes built-in social and recreational spaces for staff; all out-of-area staff housed in one place

Will require long lead time for contract negotiations, including site visits; little to no control over food service menus/hours. The campus may host its own camps or have multiple groups on site. A “typical college feel” may lead to a typical college approach to downtime (drinking, partying, late nights).

What policies and procedures does the school have in place for guests, and do those match with your staff management culture? Are staff required to use the meal plan? What if roommates don’t get along? Does the school provide internet, laundry services, and other basic utilities?


To Supervise Or Not? (Yes, Please!)

While it may seem silly to worry about supervising counselors from further away when your local staff go home at the end of the day supervision-free, this goes back to the reality that you are running a program for staff, not just hiring employees. Hiring relatively young adults and taking them away from home is typically successful at overnight camp because there is so much scaffolding and structure built in to support them. So, whether or not your far-traveling staff are living on-site, they should have a go-to adult to help them facilitate the experience outside of camp hours.

The role is a mix of authority and caregiving, helping behind the scenes to make sure staff adjust well and have their needs met so they can wake up each day ready to be awesome at their job. This person can take a lot of delegated tasks off the camp director’s plate as well, organizing cultural events, coordinating transportation, and being a point of contact for all out-of-area staff. In fact, if you’re renting dorms at a school, your contract might require, at minimum, one 21+ supervisor to live on-site.

Filling Off-Time

During conversations about this not-insignificant piece of a staff person’s summer experience, there were many opinions on what camps can, should, and should not do with/for their residential day camp staff outside of work hours. While a few people adamantly expressed that staff should be able to do their own thing, just like locals do after camp ends for the day, the large majority expressed that out-of-area staff feel more supported, welcomed, and successful when there are structured social and recreational opportunities. These can be as simple as craft nights, pizza parties, coordinated trips for shopping (especially in rural areas), and so on. Several camps provide transportation to optional, costlier activities on the weekends, though staff pay for the activities themselves (i.e., tickets to a play or theme park).

A few camps shared suggestions for ensuring that local staff and out-of-area staff bonded during off-time to help proactively encourage a cohesive team during work hours. Some camps offered local counselors a small stipend to host dinners for a couple out-of-town staff members at their home. Others organized weekly events for both groups at a bowling alley or baseball game — or even at the dorm so the far-traveling staff could also be “hosts” from time to time.

Overnight camps automatically consider their staff’s downtime when creating schedules, policies, and procedure, but it’s not typical for day camps to do this to the same extent. As more than one director warned from lived experience, day camps shifting to housing their staff must critically examine what the negative impact could be on their local client base and reputation if they allow an unstructured free-for-all that spills over into public view.

The Director’s Role

Once a camp makes this leap, the director’s role changes. No longer once the last camper is safely off-site is the director “off duty” (whatever that may mean in today’s always-connected world with parent calls and emails). One director shared with me the significant and unexpected mental shift that came with suddenly having a work phone on them 24/7 because of the nine staff somewhere out there for whom she was now responsible. Had they gone to a movie? Were they back at their apartment? What if someone got hurt? Sick? In trouble? Overnight camps are used to supervising, providing for, accounting for, and caring for staff around the clock, and overnight directors know that this comes with the job during camp season. The day camp director, and other staff who will ultimately have responsibility for these young adults during the summer, need to have an active voice in the planning process to ensure their own needs and job expectations are also being met.

Final Thoughts

For camps with smaller staff teams that can reasonably fill their available roles locally, hiring within their area code will most likely continue to be more practical, efficient, and less expensive than sourcing staff from further away. However, as the camp industry evolves and we as professional stewards of our camps seek innovative and creative staffing strategies, some day camps just might find that staff traveling to the job from farther away bring unexpected benefits along with them when they settle in as new locals for the summer.

Photo courtesy of Day Camps at The J Stamford JCC, Stamford, CT

Author Note: The author extends her sincere gratitude and appreciation for all those who shared their knowledge, experience, opinions, and recommendations for this article. I have respected the majority’s request to generalize their helpful information rather than quoting individuals or directly naming camps. All advice shared here was provided by camps currently hiring far-traveling staff and/or by individuals who have had the opportunity to travel and live away from home for a day camp role.

Emily Golinsky, MS, provides training, consulting, and advocacy for camps, schools, and youth development organizations through her company Bright Moose LLC. Emily welcomes feedback and conversation at emily@brightmoosetraining.com.