It’s spring break where I live. That means it’s time to make summer plans. I encourage young adults to consider spending the summer on staff at a summer camp site. Having worked as the Executive Director of a Lutheran camp and retreat ministry, I can think of no better preparation for the “real world” than a summer camp job. I’ve watched the tremendous emotional and mental growth summer camp jobs have had on both my daughters and now several of my grandchildren.
Twenty-three years ago this month I assured the new Executive Director of several Lutheran camps in Texas I could most certainly handle the job of Program and Site Director at one of those places. This was mostly bluffing on my part. I wanted to try, because I had so many positive experiences both attending and leading retreats. And I’d seen the great impact summer camp had on my daughters. I wanted to be part of providing that for my grandchildren.
More Determination Than Qualifications
Though I had zero experience in several critical areas of camp management, I was committed to being part of a team working to ensure summer camp would be available to my grandchildren and other children.
The director offered me the position while driving me back to the airport following two days of interviewing. If ever there was a situation in which the phrase, “Be careful what you pray for” applied, this was it. A year later I was in charge of a new 501C3 camping and retreat ministry. I had zero experience in commercial food management beyond a few summers working as a waitress at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. I had no experience managing a waterfront area beyond swimming in them. My HR experience was limited to recruiting volunteers and hiring babysitters, lawn people, and housekeepers. My experience managing a budget was limited to frequently futile efforts to balance my own checking account.
On the Job Training
Suddenly I was responsible for it all – soliciting donations to ensure the staff could cash their payroll checks; hiring, supervising and when necessary, firing staff; oversight for a commercial kitchen and two water recreation areas. The list was very long; my qualifications rather short. I did have commitment to the cause, determination to make the ministry survive and eventually thrive, and an enormous capacity to accept any and all offers of help. I also had a terrific team of staff and Board of Director members. I left that position in 2004. This summer half my grandchildren will be working there.
I am more committed than ever to the value of working at a summer camp. I am grateful that our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) supports 135 outdoor ministry sites through the United States and Puerto Rico.
Ten Good Reasons To Work At Camp
Here are my top 10 reasons why I believe every young person should spend at least one summer working at a camp.
- The friendships forged on a summer camp tend last a life time. One of my former summer staff guys is still in regular communication with a young man in New Zealand. They worked together at camp twenty years ago.
- A significant number of married couples met while working at camp.
- A summer camp job teaches team work. Summer staff help each other out and exchange ideas for songs, jokes, games, creative arts projects, and bedtime stories.
- Summer staff get paid to be silly and childlike. The goofier they are, the more the campers love it.
- Summer staff form a tight knit bond and they help one another get a romantic relationship break-up, bad news from home or college, or some other challenging life situation.
- Summer camp jobs often lead to future careers. Many of my former summer staff are now pastors, directors of non-profits, out on speaking tours to promote a book, and providing quality leadership in a myriad of places.
- Summer camp provides opportunities to practice new skills such as working in a commercial kitchen, caring for an aquatics center, supervising challenge course activities, leading sing-alongs and worship, teaching arts and crafts, and supervising children ranging in age from barely walking to nearly their same age. A summer camp job is good training for parenting.
- Summer camp positions teach ingenuity. How are you going to keep a dozen children occupied when the planned activity falls through?
- The summer camp community is a microcosm of communities in general. Personalities of all types pull together to keep the campers entertained and safe, while also ensuring both the facilities and programs run smoothly.
- Last, but not least, listing a job in a summer staff position is an impressive bullet point on a resume.
Lutheran Outdoor Ministries is a professional organization for camp and retreat center leaders. To learn about job openings visit www.lomnetwork.org.
American Camp Association is a community of camp professionals who have joined together to share knowledge and experience and to ensure the quality of camp programs. The ACA is a wealth of useful information about all aspects of camp and retreat centers. It is the official accrediting organization that certifies a site meets stringent standards for both programming and facilities. Learn more at www.acacamps.org.
Enjoy this earlier article I wrote about Family Camp – Lutherhill Style.