Once a Camp Counselor, always a Camp Counselor

I think anyone who has ever worked as a counselor at Camp will identify that statement as truth. Somehow, the job never really leaves you. Sure, we discuss the value proposition of working at camp – the skills gained and developed, the leadership opportunities, the teambuilding, etc. – at length. We post articles, engage in dialogue, and write blog posts about how important the counselor role is in our camp community. But I’m not talking about these examples, here. I’m not talking about experiences or the tangible skills (though they are immeasurable and priceless!) I’m talking about the FEELING. I’m referring to the idea of being a caregiver for a (not-your-own) child, about the mindset of being responsible for the well-being and happiness of someone else (who isn’t that much younger than you), about the relationship you build with individual campers, about the love you have for them – and how none of that goes away at the end of the summer.

Any current-or-former Camp Counselor will have countless moments where they have felt these feels and endless stories and examples of their own camp-is-over-but-I’m-still-a-counselor experiences. It happens to me pretty much daily – like when I’m shopping and I overhear a child whine “but I’m borrrrrrrrrrrrreddd” and I have to remind myself not to offer to play a game to entertain this stranger. The frequency of this feeling may be different for everyone, but we all have it. I think it comes with the territory.

My first co-counselors and me - in 1999

My first co-counselors and me – in 1999

Now I’ve been working at camp for a really long time (18 summers), so I have had my fair share of these moments. Only recently, however, was I reminded that we are not the only ones who always feel this way. Our campers (or former campers) share this sentiment, and if we do our jobs well, carry that relationship with them, too. Last weekend, while in Toronto visiting my family for Pesach, I attended a celebration/fundraiser for URJ Camp George. Camp George was the first camp I worked at, and I spent 10 summers on staff there. This event was celebrating their 18th summer and served as a fundraiser to raise money for their new Mirpa’ah(Health Center). My family is still very involved in the Camp George community and my stepmother was the Event Chair, so we all went to support her. While at the event, I walked into a conversation that a number of my former campers were having. One of them used a less-than-favorable word and then immediately blushed and said, “Sorry Sas! Language, I know…” I laughed and assured him it was fine. He responded with, “Force of habit – it’s like you’ll always be my counselor. I see you that way.” I was dumbfounded! 8 years have passed since the summer where I was his counselor (or CIT Director, but semantics). He is in his 20s, has graduated college, has a non-camp job, and STILL thinks of me as his counselor. Well, THAT IS AWESOME!

My first cabin of campers, ever!

My first cabin of campers, ever!

How timely for this refresher! As I look toward Summer 2016, as we are putting the finishing touches on and fine-tuning our Staff Training schedules, this relationship reminder couldn’t have come at a better time. It reminds me of this lasting connection that we strive for our counselors to create and feel in partnership with the tangible and concrete skills their jobs at camp provide them. It helps us as we frame our sessions and work with our staff. I can’t wait for our first-time staff to begin this lifelong adventure and for our returning staff to continue building and strengthening these bonds.