Camp Doublecreek is a summer day camp for campers ages 4–14 in Pflugerville, Texas.
As a seasonal business, it can be difficult to get staff to be invested and committed year after year. One of the very simple ways that this organically happens is campers who love camp so much then move into a counselor-in-training (CIT) role, and then into a staff role. “Home-grown” staff can be a summer camp’s bread and butter! However, there are other ways to create that drive an investment with your staff — even before the campers arrive on campus.
At Camp Doublecreek, we have tried several different tactics to gain a higher number of returning staff. Here are a couple that we have found to be very successful. Not every tactic will work well for every camp, but hopefully these will help you get started.
1. Offer Events
If you can, open your campus up to birthday parties, corporate team-building events, school field trips, or other events. Instead of facilitating these with year-round staff, reach out to our former staff members and invite them to return and work these events. They gain a little extra cash during the school year, and it keeps camp on the forefront of their brain.
2. Host Off-Season Sessions
Host winter and spring break camps. At our camp, the winter camps have changed each year, depending on the school calendar, but we like to do these in separate day segments with different themes. This allows for working parents to be able to accomplish their work day while the kids have something to do during their time off from school.
A very similar idea is to run a spring break camp during the week of spring break. When we begin accepting returning staff applications in November, we always have check boxes on the application for staff to sign up for winter or spring break camps. With events, we usually reach out to specific staff that we know are local to our area or with a specialty certification that we may need.
3. Offer Preseason Duties to Make Employment Periods Last Longer
For large camp facilities that may not have an official grounds person, it can be very challenging to maintain land and facilities. When springtime rolls around, it is often that the grass needs to be mowed more frequently, buildings need a fresh coat of paint, closets need to be sorted through and organized for summer, and supplies need to be inventoried. On top of camper registrations, staff hiring, and staff training, these responsibilities can add up!
As college kids start to return home for the summer, usually early May, try to lean on camp staff (new and returning) to help get facilities ready for summer. At our camp, we invite staff to schedule a day and time to come work on camp. We keep track of the hours and allow staff to use it as comp time during the summer for any time they need to take off.
We have found that this also helps staff to really feel like a part of camp even before their official job of hanging out with campers happens. They have pride in the facilities and then work hard to maintain the “clean and organized” feel throughout the summer.
Inviting staff to work events and winter/spring break camps and offering extra duties leading up to camp can increase engagement and buy-in with staff — both of which are beneficial long term.
Photo courtesy of Camp Manito-wish in Boulder Junction, WI
This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job, whose purpose is to support camps in their efforts to recruit, hire, and retain staff.
Rachel Chuey is the assistant director at Camp Doublecreek in Pflugerville, Texas. Camp Doublecreek is a summer day camp for campers ages 4–14. Rachel has worked at Doublecreek for 20 years and as the assistant director for 3 years. She manages the CIT program as well as staffing and overseeing many other aspects of camp. Rachel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.