Camp staff jobs build character in staffers and those they serve

I remember an advertising campaign a few years ago that touted the life-changing effects of being a McDonald’s employee. The fast-food giant was proud of changes they made in young people. I also remember comparing those claims to the growth I’d seen in young people who worked at summer camp. Some changes were similar, but camp trumps fast-food in many ways.

The McDonald’s ad focused on responsibility, as I remember it, and how the new employee took a shine to daily tasks and matured as they assumed responsibilities. Camp is no different; we certainly give young people responsibilities and see maturity blossom as a result…but we also ask them to be self-starting, motivated, energetic, caring, compassionate, and much more: we expect camp staff to be role models for younger Scouts.

Unlike working in a restaurant, camp staffers are always “on-stage” as role models. Their training tells them that everywhere they go, and everything they do, they are studied by younger Scouts, and their example learned. They carry the responsibility of showing younger Scouts what Scouting is all about, by example.

Camp staffers are self-starters. They get up early, ready for a full day and are on time to breakfast and everywhere else they go that day. They’re expected to be on their game at all times, and they carry through with a smile. When they see something that needs to be done, they do it right away…rather than waiting for someone to tell them to do it as might happen in other jobs. 

Staffers are part of a team, much more so than most jobs. The camp staff team comes together for one week of training and preparation, and then operates as a cohesive unit for many weeks afterward. They learn to work together and the team excels, providing a great camp experience for thousands of campers.

I’ve had countless parents speak with me about the changes they’ve seen in their child after a summer working at camp.

I’ve had countless parents speak with me about the changes they’ve seen in their child after a summer working at camp. Invariably it’s a story of incredible change, of seemingly sudden improvement. Truth be told, we’ve just given that young person some training and a vision, and let them carry it out. They’ve made the change on their own, in a supportful setting with an expectation of excellence. Sometimes, though, new staffers’ parents don’t see the big picture, and just look at camp as a summer job. They grimace at the trickle of a salary, but don’t recognize the tidal wave of experience, teamwork, job-satisfaction, training, and yes, fun, that their child receives by working at camp, not to mention the good they’re doing in service to younger youth.

I’ve even had a few applicants turn down a great summer camp job because their parents would rather them work a fast-food job, in my opinion a great loss. Yes, it’s hard to pay for college on camp staff pay, but having done it myself I believe the sacrifice is worth the outcome of life experience that any other in-town job cannot match.

McDonald’s does offer good first-time jobs. I’m not knocking them; lots of people got their start in fast-food. In fact, I’ve read that an estimated 10% of Americans’ first jobs were at McDonald’s, an impressive estimate. I do, however, believe that a better first-job experience waits for older Scouts at summer camp, and that they’ll be a better person because of the staffing experience.

Talk to the few best young people you can think of, and encourage them to work at summer camp

I implore leaders to think about young people that they know, to consider which ones could be those great role models, which ones you would be impressed with if they staffing at your camp this summer. Talk to the few best young people you can think of, and encourage them to work at summer camp. Ask these young people to visit, and download an application. We’d love to talk with them.

By Jim Hill, Cascade Pacific Council staff

[ Originally publshed in the 2008 Summer edition of the CPC Times, a summertime newspaper for summer camp leaders.  Republished with permission. ]

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