Signing on the Dotted Line: Commitment Is a Two-Way Street

Kim Aycock, MST
May 2018

Congratulations! You committed to working at camp this summer, and the director and/or team who hired you have been anticipating your arrival since you signed on the dotted line! It is completely normal to have cold feet and wonder if you made the right decision to spend your summer at camp, similar to the feelings of the campers you will soon meet who will be embarking on this adventure as well. Before the butterflies in your stomach get the best of you, know that commitment is a two-way street. Yes, you made a commitment to camp, and camp also made a commitment to you (whether it is your first summer or eighth summer on staff).

Working at camp is a real job and should be treated in the same manner as employment or obligation anywhere else. Because you will be taking care of other people’s kids, the hiring process to work at camp is rigorous. Your application was screened; you were interviewed (sometimes more than once and by multiple people); your references were contacted; and background and other related checks were run before you were even offered a job. Steps were taken for returning staff to be rehired as well. Not everyone is cut out to work with kids, but you have been carefully selected and trusted to become an integral part of a camp community.

One of the main reasons you were hired is because of your strong moral character, which means being responsible, having integrity, and staying true to your word. Thorough consideration has been given to where you will fit in the bigger puzzle of the staff team. Don’t be that person who bails on your commitment! If you are new to camp this summer, you may not know the people you are coming to work for and with very well (if at all). Please know they are counting on you to fulfill the contract you signed.

It is possible you made the decision to work at camp several months ago, and other opportunities may have presented themselves to you in that time that could get in the way of fulfilling your commitment. Weddings, family reunions or vacations, taking classes to catch up or get ahead, sorority/fraternity rush, etc., may lure you to rethink your commitment to camp. If something has come up since you signed your contract that would affect your ability to stick it out, it is best to talk to your camp director sooner rather than later to explore options. The courteous thing to do is to set up a time to discuss in person. Texting is not the best way to deliver the news. Worse yet is telling your camp director about your plans at the last minute instead of asking permission in advance.

Policies and Procedures

As you learned during the hiring process, the camp you are now part of has policies and procedures you are expected to follow as part of signing on the dotted line to be a counselor, teach program activities, prepare meals, ensure camper/staff health, take care of facility needs, or work in another vital area of camp. Camps are in the relationship business and want you to thrive in your role this summer — whatever that may be. It takes all hands on deck to ensure the camp community functions at the highest level possible. The commitment to you in return is having things in place that will set you up to succeed from the get-go and help you be your best self.

You Don’t Need to Know Everything

First off, you need to know that you are not expected to know everything about working with kids or your area of expertise upon arrival to camp. The orientation training period will acclimate you to the job you are about to do. You will get the “lay of the land” on a camp tour so you are familiar with the location of meeting places, activity and work areas, and other important landmarks. You will learn the camp schedule, routines, and traditions, how to work with youth in their varying ages/stages of development, how to keep campers physically and emotionally healthy and safe, techniques for teaching various activities, and fun ways for keeping campers engaged with available resources.

Camp is experiential and dynamic, so don’t worry, you will learn the ins and outs of your role through the use of interactive and innovative methods. This deliberate training will model great ways for you to teach and engage with campers. Leadership development will continue throughout the summer as you will be given opportunities to further advance your knowledge and skills through ongoing training and mentorship. As a bonus to you, any certifications and specialized training you receive to do your job at camp are yours to keep — they may help you land work at home or school in a wide range of settings.

The Coolest People Around

Secondly, you will get to know some of the coolest people around! Because the people you will work with have also made the decision to work at camp, you automatically have something in common. Granted, they may not be the people you would choose to hang out with at home or school, but because everyone came to camp with the idea of being a role model for kids, it is inevitable you will meet some really awesome folks. Camp often provides a global experience without the expense of long-distance travel; it is not uncommon for staff (and campers) to be from a variety of places and cultural perspectives from around the US and world. You could very well have friends to visit in new and exciting places for future travel opportunities.

You will be astounded at how quickly your staff team will unite around the mission to create a memorable experience for the campers arriving for their turn to be at camp. Camps are very intentional about this process, and in a short period of time, the people you meet during training will be your new friends, and may eventually even feel like family. You will probably wonder how you could have ever lived without knowing them and will be sad to part ways come August.

Fear of Missing Out

If you are feeling a bit nervous about “unplugging” this summer and not being on your devices as frequently as you are at home or school, that, too, is understandable. The fear of missing out (FOMO) on things happening with your family and friends while at camp, especially if you will be on staff at a resident camp, may be the cause of some anxiety. All of the things you rely on your mobile device to provide in terms of being connected to friends at home can be experienced in real time and real space at camp. Give yourself permission to take a break from being tethered to technology. Allow yourself to be present and “in the moment;” you will be amazed at how awesome it is to enjoy the people and place(s) around you.

The Nature of the Job

If thoughts about the long hours are running through your mind, you can put them to rest. Because of the nature of your job camp, there will be a commitment to you to ensure breaks and time off. It is important for you to have a chance to relax and recharge. Your commitment to camp is to use that time wisely and to engage in activities that allow you to come back rested and ready to be fully engaged with your campers. Take advantage of a lounge or game room that is designated for staff use only. Participate in intramural sports, movie nights, or other appropriate opportunities to socialize with fellow staff.

You’re Not Alone

You should also know that once campers arrive, you are not expected to do this job solo. Camps have multiple layers of staff and leadership, and you will have one or more go-to people for questions or concerns with campers, program/support areas, health matters, and other circumstances. More than likely, your camp director and/or leadership team will want you to talk to them right away if any issues arise that you are uncertain how to handle, especially if you experience something that varies from the “norm” of what is covered during staff training. Your being proactive rather than reactive usually nips things in the bud before situations become difficult to manage for everyone involved.

There is a good chance you will be asked to set goals at the beginning of the summer and have a conversation with a supervisor about how progress will be monitored. Various times throughout the summer will be designated for formal feedback to be given from camp leaders so you know your areas of strength and are also aware of growth opportunities for the weeks ahead. Informal feedback is ongoing and should help you know what to do more or less of so you can be your best. Embrace the chance to fine-tune and develop your skill set.

Believe It or Not

Believe it or not, you will learn many skills that are transferable to just about any career. Communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and contribution, which are critical for success in today’s world, are developed and practiced at camp; they are skills and traits that can draw employers’ attention to your resume. Also good to know is that camp directors/leaders write great letters of recommendation because they take the time to get to know you as an individual and see you in action on a daily basis.

You may sometimes be asked for input on the camp program and leadership. One of my favorite feedback questions came with a bill after eating dinner at a Chuy’s Restaurant. As a customer I was asked to comment on “what is one thing we can do better?” Feedback is also a two-way street, and your thoughtful perspective and suggestions on doing things better are appreciated. You may see a way to make the traffic in the dining hall more efficient, offer a new idea for a theme event, or suggest a twist in the schedule to accommodate a camper request for a cabin hike.

Be sure to let your supervisor know if you have any questions (even if you think they are silly). I remember a counselor telling me she didn’t wash clothes for three weeks her first summer because she was embarrassed to ask where to find washing machines and dryers. From that point forward, the laundry room was included on the camp tour. The health center is a place you should also be familiar with for when you have sick/injured campers, but also in the event you aren’t feeling well. Medical staff are there to help keep the camp community healthy — staff included.

Camp Is a Job

Hopefully, you get the idea that while working at camp is a job, it is unlike any other employment experience you will ever have. At the end of the day, you will earn a paycheck and may receive other benefits such as room and board if working at a resident camp (where housing, meals, laundry, utilities, and other living expenses are usually covered). This may mean extra money in your pocket at the end of the camp season when returning to school (or looking for another job). Regardless of working at a resident or day camp, you will typically get paid a base salary with add-ons for experience, certifications, leadership roles, extra duties, etc. A bonus for completing your contract may even be included. Working at camp can be a great way to save most of your earnings.

Commitment to you beyond the paycheck comes in the form of innovative training, intentional opportunities to connect with the people you will work with, and support every step of the way. What you may not realize is working at camp has many benefits that will last long after the summer is over. This commitment to you will not only help you be successful in your career choice but also in life. Commitment is a two-way street. Thank you for keeping your commitment to camp — it is a win-win for both you and the camp that is fortunate to have you this summer.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does signing on the dotted line mean in terms of your commitment to the camp who hired you?
  2. In what ways will commitment be reciprocated?
  3. Where can you turn for help should you have questions regarding your role at camp?

What are three goals you can set now that will help you become the best version of yourself while working at camp this summer?

Photo courtesy of Camp Skylemar, Naples, Maine.

Kim Aycock, MST, has more than 30 years of experience blending the skills of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert. She trains camp staff at all levels and speaks professionally at regional and national conferences. More information can be found on her website: kimaycock.com. Kim may be contacted at kimdaycock@gmail.com.