Camp is for Adults Too!

imageBy Sally Wright, Senior Naturalist for the Outdoor Center and Assistant Program Director for Summer Camp

When people hear the words summer camp they often think about young children and teenagers who spend a week or two in the woods each summer. People know that these kids participate in activities such as arts & crafts and swimming, and are aware of the positive impact that camp can has on children’s lives. But what most people don’t think about is the impact that camp can have on adults.

Every summer hundreds of young adults apply to be counselors at summer camp. Some of these counselors know exactly what they are getting into, as they are coming back to camp for their third or fourth summer, while others have never been to a camp and have no idea what to expect. In some ways the adults that work at camp every summer are not much different than the campers. Of course the counselors are more responsible than the campers and are ready to give campers the best summer they’ve ever had, but often counselors feel both anxious and excited before their first day at camp just like the campers.IMG_2559

On the first day of training, staff arrive at camp, move into cabins, and participate in name games and ice breakers to get to know one another. Just like the campers, the counselors have to navigate through the stages of getting to know one another, and at the end of the summer many of the staff leave camp with new life long friends. Also during the summer the counselors encourage their campers to step out of their comfort zones and try new activities, because as outdoor professionals we believe that children grow when they are outside their comfort zones. For a lot of campers this means participating in a high ropes element like the zip line. Stepping off the zip line platform takes a lot of courage, but also builds confidence and self-esteem. The impact of accomplishing something you weren’t sure you could do is just as powerful for adults as it is for children.

At the end of summer many parents pick up their children and discover that their son or daughter has grown into a better person. Many times parents comment that their child has become more independent or is more willing to help clear the table after a meal.  Camp Counselors (who are often college students) experience similar growth throughout the summer. These young adults become more independent, but in different ways. Counselors may step out of their comfort zones and conquer their fear of heights, but they also learn skills that will help them throughout life. Counselors leave camp knowing how to work both independently and as a team to accomplish a common goal. They put in long hours and are wildly creative when coming up with new fun and engaging activities for campers to participate in, much like entrepreneurs who invent new products. But most importantly, camp counselors leave knowing that they have the ability to make a positive and profound impact on someone else’s life.