The Magic of a Summer as a Sleepaway Camp Counselor

Ella Spitz, Opinion Editor

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Ella Spitz
Pictured: The sleep-away camp where Ella Spitz worked this summer.

When I tell people at home that my experience working at a summer sleepaway camp was life-changing, they usually respond with a disbelieving laugh and smile or simply a confused stare. They don’t understand the endless working hours, the constant caring for others, or the extremely challenging emotional and physical labor that comes with being a camp counselor. They don’t understand the remembering-a-million-things-at-once, the late-night trips to the infirmary, or even what an “infirmary” is. I don’t blame them, because they have never experienced it. It is hard to grasp how special being a camp counselor is without being one, but I want to make it a little easier for the unknowing.

The greatest perk of being a camp counselor is the responsibility.”

Let me start off by saying that no one is prepared to become a camp counselor before they actually become one. Why? Purely for the reason that counselors have acquired the skill of working tirelessly without showing to the campers that they are tired. As a previous camper, not once did I think about the extent of my counselor’s job. I saw her in the morning for wake-up, at meals, in some cabin activities, and at night before bed. Those were only the times when I saw her, and they were the times when she was smiling, energetic, upbeat, and lively. Now that I have been a camp counselor, I understand that this is not how counselors are all the time. This isn’t to say that counselors are deceiving or fake, but that they are mature and experienced enough to know that it isn’t appropriate to share all of their lives with campers. Counselors have to walk a thin, shaky line; sharing enough of their lives to connect with their campers and to be seen as human, but not enough to cross the line into the inappropriate zone, where the campers know too much and see all of the counselor’s flaws. Knowing how to create boundaries with any person is an important life skill and being a counselor is a great way to learn it.

Although working as a camp counselor may seem excruciatingly difficult, the tradeoffs are surely worth it. The greatest perk of being a camp counselor is the responsibility. This is an umbrella term for time-management, planning, accountability, and holding yourself to high expectations.

In most cases, camp counselors are teenagers. Teenagers that are responsible? I know, it’s true. These teenagers take care of children, run their activities, and set rules and expectations for them while still making camp a fun and amazing place to be.

So yes, some scoff, the ones who do Microsoft internships or train for a sport over the summer, but are they getting the training they need to be good people? Are they actively caring for others from 6 AM to 10 PM? The answer, almost 100% of the time, is no. While working at Google over the summer or training for crew may prepare people for their futures, the best way to prepare for life is to learn how to be a good person. So, put all shame aside, swallow your pride, and be a camp counselor.

This piece also appears in our September 2019 print edition.