Few fields combine such a variety of backgrounds and disciplines as the camp field. Management roles in camps, outdoor education centers, or conference/retreat centers require some know-how and background in very technical fields such as human resources, nutrition and health care, food service, facility and business management; it also necessitates the blending of the principles of youth development and social group work, recreation, physical education, psychology, and education. Camp careers provide the opportunity to integrate these disciplines by working with people in a stimulating outdoor setting. As ACA's mission confirms, working at camp gives you the opportunity "to enrich lives and change the world." While often referred to as summer camp work, today's camp careers are frequently year-round positions.
Opportunities in Summer Camp Careers
To help you distinguish "organized camps," camping, and the camp experience from simply "an individual going camping," the American Camping Association has set forth the following definitions:
- Camp: A sustained camp experience that provides creative, recreational, and educational opportunities in group living in the outdoors. It utilizes trained leadership and the resources of natural surroundings to contribute to each camper's mental, physical, social, and spiritual growth.
- Camping: A term that is commonly used to describe the activity of "camping" by individuals or families who choose to camp on their own (often at a campground with RVs or campers) without planned programming by trained leadership staff.
- Day camps: Sessions range from five days to multiple weeks in length and are operated and staffed by the camp. Campers go home to parents or guardians each night, except for occasional overnight.
- Resident camps: Sessions range from five days (4 nights) to multiple weeks in length. Campers stay overnight, and the camp staff are responsible for campers twenty-four hours a day.
- Trip and Travel Camp Program: A resident camp program of three nights or more, often without a base location. Program activities are based upon environments encountered as the group moves from location to location. May be a program run as an extension of resident or day camp or may be an exclusive trip and travel camp specializing in only trip, travel, or tour programs.
- Family camps or retreats: The sessions include organized programming specifically for families in a resident camp setting; it does not refer to family campgrounds where only facilities are offered to transient campers.
- Outdoor/environmental education: The client group often includes schools; the curriculum includes a group experience and offers many of the same programs found in an organized camp.
Careers at Camp
The description of a full-time position in the organized camp field is no longer simply "director of a children's summer camp." Today, organized camps encompasse all ages — children, adults, senior citizens, families; all settings — day, resident, travel, trip, specialty, outdoor education, conferences; all year — every season of the year. Full-time positions found in the camp industry include:
- Camp director ordinarily refers to a person who is directly involved with the operation and management of a camp program and whose duties cover both administration and program.
- Camp administrator ordinarily refers to a person who administers more than one camp program and coordinates administrative functions, relying on support from the onsite director or program director. Director of outdoor programs or some variation may be used to specify the person who administers various programs in the outdoor field — day and/or resident camps, outdoor education, conferences and retreats, outdoor events, troop camps, etc. This position more often involves coordinating, planning, and administrative responsibilities.
- Associate or assistant director is the person who assists the administrator and is often responsible for an aspect of camp or for directing a specific program such as environmental education or the camp/conference center.
- Trip leader is the person who, under various titles, leads groups on expeditions, trips, and outdoor experiences, usually for extended periods.
- Site and facilities manager is the person who oversees the maintenance and upkeep of the campsite and facilities.
- Food service director has the responsibility to plan, direct, and supervise the camp's food service.
The setting and circumstances of camp positions can range from the director and/or other camp staff who live on a resident campsite year-round, to the administrator, who operates out of a metropolitan office and only visits camps. Many positions at camp require a staff person to spend time in the following administrative functions other than program:
- budgeting, sometimes fund raising
- staffing: employing or recruiting volunteers, training, and supervising
- working with a policy-setting body
- coordinating functions
- meeting legal requirements
- writing and complying with ACA standards
- managing the administration of other program areas
- developing strategic plans
Advanced degrees are helpful but not always essential. A B.A. or B.S. degree is usually required and is helpful in the areas of:
- recreation, with emphasis in camp
- youth development or group work
- liberal arts education
- outdoor education and/or camping
Training usually includes the following:
- a broad liberal education
- camp administration
Knowledge of: American Camp Association's standards program
Annual salaries range from an average of $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the position held. Fringe benefits often include housing and meals during part or all of the year, depending on the operation of the camp. Many camps offer health insurance and retirement benefits. Private camps sometimes provide an opportunity to gradually buy into the business.
A person with director experience may move into other positions such as:
- Not-for-profit Agency: Executive Director, camp director of a larger camp, regional or national administrator on a metropolitan or district basis, consultant, or staff of American Camping Association.
- Private: A person can often move into full or part ownership of a camp or conference center.
How to Prepare for a Career at Camp
Take available courses in the area of:
- camp counseling
- camp administration
- outdoor education
- adventure programming
- business management
- personnel management/human relations
- community development
Gain as much experience as possible by working in camps:
- in different positions
- under different sponsorships (private, agency, religious, etc.)
- of different types (resident, day, etc.)
- with different clienteles (boys, girls, coed, specialized needs, etc.)
Attend and participate in camp-oriented meetings, workshops, seminars, and conferences. Such learning experiences are offered by colleges/universities, private enterprises, and various national and state associations including local ACA Offices.
Do your field work or internship in a camp/outdoor education setting.
Participate in American Camp Association professional development courses such as:
- New Director Orientation Course
- Camp Director Certificate Course
- Day Camp Director Certificate Course
ACA's Events Calendar provides dates, times, and descriptions for training courses, conferences, and workshops. (Also available in each issue of Camping Magazine).
How to Find Employment Opportunities
Positions with job descriptions that relate solely to organized camps are growing, but still are not plentiful. The following organizations offer various camp programs. When making contact, be specific in your request regarding employment information within their camp programs.
|Boy Scouts of America
1325 Walnut Hill Lane
P. O. Box 152079
Irving, TX 75015-2079
|4-H Extension Service
3860 S Building U.S.D.A.
Washington, D.C. 20250-0900
|Boys and Girls Clubs of America
771 First Avenue
New York, NY 10017
|Girl Scouts of U.S.A.
420 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10018-2702
4601 Madison Avenue
Kansas City, MO 64110
|Jewish Welfare Board
15 East 26th Street
New York, NY 10016
|Christian Camp and Conference Association
P.O. Box 62189
Colorado Springs, CO 80962-2189
|YMCA of the U.S.A.
101 North Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
Additional contacts might include:
- District or state church offices and state council of churches. Ask them if they are aware of or sponsor any church camp programs.
- State tourism departments and local chambers of commerce. This is an excellent source for names and addresses of camps and camp programs in the state and area.
- Local community service agencies, religious denominations or organizations, and societies.
- Day, resident, and family camp programs are often sponsored.
- Departments of education; outdoor education programs are often sponsored.
- College and university parks, recreation, leisure, and outdoor education departments.
The ACA's Online Camp Database provides information on private, agency, and church camps across the United States. It includes the name of the camp, address, name of the director, type of camp, programs and facilities available, and population served.
ACA Job-Search Tools
- Year-round Jobs @ Camp
A free, year-round, nationwide job service via e-mail.
- Summer Jobs @ Camp
Lists summer jobs available at day and resident camps.
- ACA's Camp Database
Compiled by the American Camp Association, it provides information on ACA-accredited private, agency, and church camps across the United States. It includes the name of the camp, address, name of the director, type of camp, programs and facilities available, and population served.
The Need for a Commitment
No other profession can as easily combine the satisfactions of working with people in an outdoor setting as the camp/conference center field. However, from the outset a person must recognize the need for personal commitment as well as an extensive commitment of time and energy.
In an organization, that personal commitment must parallel that of the sponsoring organization. In the private camp field, an individual has the opportunity to build the camp around their personal philosophy, and the commitment is no less important.
The camp field is built on personal relationships and value systems — a career well worth considering, for those individuals willing to make the commitment.