Working at Camp: An Essential Experience and the Ultimate Summer Job

February 1, 2021
Andy Pritikin
campers with their arms around a camp staff member

We all thought that camp was a vital experience before the pandemic. Now, we are an essential experience for the mental and emotional health of the young people working and attending our camp. We, as camp operators, have what society needs — so don’t be shy! Shout it out from the mountaintops and prepare to see applications from smart people who never considered camp until now. Here’s the kind of approach that I’m recommending to my colleagues:

“Hey you — high school student, college student, young teacher . . . 

  • How have your last 10 months been? Boring? Bizarre? Stagnant?
  • Are your eyeballs about to fall out of your head — staring at screens for most of your waking life?
  • What are you doing next summer? Yeah, I know, there’s so much “uncertainty” . . .

I’ll tell you what has a high level of certainty . . . the ultimate summer job of all time: working at camp.

If you’ve never been to summer camp, you likely have a picture in your head of rustic living, working alongside strangely overly happy people while taking care of children — and you’d be correct (on the surface). But check out why you really need to work at camp this summer:

  1. Real human connection. Zoom and such are great, and they saved us in many ways . . . but they are not substitutes for real human connection. Making and strengthening friendships, working as a mentor to young people, and being mentored yourself — the essence of camp is in the human relationships we forge, which is something we are all craving at this moment.
  2. Reacquaint yourself with nature. While society has been trapped indoors for the past year, the fact is that most of the world is outdoors. It is amazing and beautiful, and it fills our soul with happiness. From picture perfect days, to “liquid sunshine,” it’s real living — the way humans were meant to be. Our body yearns for it, and summer camp exists within it.
  3. Leadership boot camp. What’s been missing this past year from the local to federal level? Real leadership. The kind of leadership that’s not taught in books, classrooms, or TedTalks, but real, hands-on leadership that you can only learn by being in charge of a group of children. Camp provides leadership experience that will elevate your game for the rest of your life — at home, in school, and in your career.
  4. Impact on the future. Ever feel like what you do has no impact on the world? Not at camp, my friend. You’ll immediately become an integral part in the development of the next generation — playing a critical role in the emotional well-being of campers who have been locked down for the better part of the past year. You can become a summer leader that mentors and guides young people into contributing members of society. As a youth development professional, you can make the world a better place, one camper at a time, many times each day!”

Put yourself into the shoes of the potential job applicants out there, and you’ll see that we are at a unique moment in time in which our proposition or working at camp completely matches what these folks need in their lives.

This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job’s efforts to help camps recruit, hire, and retain staff. 

Photo courtesy of Camp Romaca in Hinsdale, Massachusetts

Andy Pritikin has worked in the summer camp industry for 25 years, most recently as the owner, operator, and founder of Liberty Lake Day Camp, in Bordentown, New Jersey, and a founding partner of Everwood Day Camp, in Sharon, Massachusetts — both camps that operated in summer 2020. He has proudly served in several top leadership roles for the American Camp Association, including president of NY/NJ, professional development chair, and chair of the Tri-State Camp Conference. Andy currently serves on the ACA Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee. He is known throughout the industry for facilitating cutting-edge workshops throughout the country, as well as being a keynote speaker at the first ever Chinese Camp Education Conference in Beijing in 2012. Andy's weekly Day Camp Podcast is listened to in over 40 countries, curating a wealth of best practices for the sake of raising the bar of excellence in the day camp profession.

Andy can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so that he can resume his recreational enjoyment of live music and sports. He’s enjoying his new empty-nester life, just outside Philadelphia, with his dynamo wife, Jill, who supports him in taking on so many simultaneous projects.