Working at Camp is a REAL Summer Job You Cannot Afford to Miss

As a child I fell in love with camp life. The best part of my summer was spending that week at camp. Followed by the worse part of the summer – the emotional crash when I came home because I missed camp and my friends so much.
So, it was no surprise that when I was old enough I couldn’t wait to work at camp. I can still remember receiving my very first staff application package in the mail and pouring over it. Making sure I thoughtfully answered every question and connected with my references. Then once I sent it in I remember anxiously waiting to hear back. I was a rare person in the camp world. I worked at camp for eight summers, including all throughout university.
I was often asked if I was going to get a “real summer” job. To which I would respond with bewilderment. Uhm…I already had a real summer job! I worked every summer at camp up until the summer before I got married, when I really had to adult.
Amazingly, working at camp during university wasn’t the end of the world. My tuition was still paid, and no, my parents didn’t pay for my tuition. I had a part time job during the year and put into use the time management skills I learned at camp. I didn’t spend the year living off ramen noodles and water. I was able to afford university and better yet, I had a summer job that I loved. Looking back at that time in my life, those eight summers at camp laid the foundation for my work ethic and developed my leadership skills.
Here’s what I learned.

All I need to know… I learned Working at Camp

Accept that you do not know everything. Be willing to learn. Don’t say it’s not my job. If you see something that needs to be done…guess what….it’s now your job. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it. Be empathetic – put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. You won’t always like everybody you meet but you do need to learn to live together. Add a little whimsy to your life. Better yet, add a little whimsy to somebody else’s life. You can learn to live off $50 week and still have money left over. Creative budgeting is a learned skill, not something you’re born with. Fruit is good. You can learn to function on little sleep. Never take for granted a good shower with water pressure. Time management is finding out at the last minute that you’re the campfire speaker. You learn to hone your public speaking skills on the fly and develop your creativity because nothing is worse than bombing in front of the entire camp! Camp is a safe place to make mistakes and learn from them. You are not perfect. Your actions affect other people. Your words are powerful. The friends you make at camp will become lifelong friends and your future networking connections. The independence you learn at camp will see you through those tough young adult years when many find it difficult to cope. Nothing teaches you responsibility like having to care for 7 kids in a cabin for a week. Teamwork makes the dream work. Being a role model is an important job. Don’t take yourself too seriously. God provides for your needs when you trust him!
If you’re a parent I encourage you to give your child the gift to learn these skills, and not push them into taking what you think is a “real summer job”. They will have plenty of time to adult and deal with what comes with that phase of life. You’ve done one of the harder parts of parenthood, raising them from infancy to young adulthood, and instilling solid morals and values, and seeds of faith. Now is the time for them to put into action everything you taught them, in an emotionally and physically safe community.
I can’t think of a better place to learn all those life skills. Maybe that’s why it’s so foreign to me when I hear the “get a real summer job” comment. Those lessons learned are still applicable to my life today. You need to look beyond the pay and see the skills you develop. Then you’ll realize that working at camp is an investment in character and leadership skills. Can you really put a price on that?


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Nicole Sivyer is a wife and a mom. When she’s not writing and working as a communications specialist she’s running her mom-Uber and enjoying a good cup of coffee.

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