Kids don’t have to outgrow camp when they become teenagers. There’s a world of creative fun and growth awaiting them. Here’s a sample of some of the diverse summer camp options available for teens this year:
EXPANDED CAMP OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEENS
YMCA of the Pines/Lake Stockwell Day Camp offers a co-ed Explorers program for rising 7th t0 10th graders where teens choose daily activities. “This fosters independence, confidence and enhances decision-making skills,” says Lynn Passarella, camp director. Weekly field trips and life skills tracks like vehicle maintenance and basic cooking add to the experience.
CIT, COUNSELOR AND LEADERSHIP PROGRAMS
In New Jersey, teens can work at a day camp starting at 16, as a junior counselor at an overnight camp at 17 and as an overnight cabin counselor at 18.
Camp opportunities are hard to beat—they help young adults hone their leadership skills, collaborate as part of a team and develop life-long friendships (not to mention a killer work ethic). For teens looking to make a difference, serve as a role model and impact the lives of young campers in a positive, meaningful way, working at a camp is a powerful, life-changing experience.
Camps provide orientations for new hires; training is typically 2-3 days long for day camps and 7-10 days for sleepaways but varies by camp.
Not every counselor requires first aid or CPR certification but waterfront positions require CPR, first aid and lifeguarding certification, which are offered by the Red Cross. Teens younger than 18 need working papers in New Jersey. Specific requirements are outlined during the job application process. Open camp positions can be found on a camp’s website or at acanynj.org or indeed.com. Most applications can be completed online.
There are four general areas of opportunity for teens at camps: waterfront (lifeguards and swimming instructors), group counselors, specialized activities instructors and kitchen/administrative staff. Many sleepaway camps employ teenagers for kitchen positions. Day camps also hire teenaged staff for maintenance or administrative tasks.
Jeff Lake Day Camp in Sussex County offers a Senior Campers program for rising 9th graders that includes four outings plus kayaking, canoeing, ninja warrior course on the lake, color wars and boot camp. “These activities challenge teens cognitively and physically, develop teamwork and resiliency, and promote social development,” says Director Susan Rynar.
Jeff Lake Day Camp also offers a Counselor in Training program (CIT) for rising 10th graders and a Junior Counselor program (a paid position) for rising 11th graders. Both jobs teach responsibility, creativity, social development, teamwork and how to think on your feet. Teens choose between working with a bunk or with a specialty like rope climbing. “This is a big growth year for the kids,” says Rynar. “It’s the first time many have been asked to take care of someone else’s needs before their own. In doing this, they learn cooperation, independence, social skills, empathy and resiliency. All that allows them to venture into college with a confident skill pack.”
Spring Lake in Ringwood’s Leadership Training Program is for rising 10th graders who are enrolled for at least six of the eight weeks. Working with children or becoming proficient in a specialty area, they develop leadership and cooperative skills. Participation in this program earns reduced tuition plus compensation, upon successfully completing the 8-week program.
YMCA of the Pines/Lake Stockwell Day Camp offers a very competitive 5-week CIT program for rising 10th graders. Participants are trained to lead activities for peers and younger campers.
YMCA of the Pines camps Ockanickon for young men ages 14-16 and Matollionequay for girls ages 13-15 are overnight camps that offer zip lining, boating, swimming, sports and CIT programs for 16-year-olds. In addition, Ockanickon offers Leadership Trials to campers, age 14-16. “These combine overnight camp experiences with activities that challenge and sharpen camper’s skills and character,” says Christine Giannobile, boys camp director.
Teens can also expand their camping horizons by choosing a specialty camp where they concentrate on a specific talent such as sports, robotics or theater.
ESF academic, enrichment and pre-college programs are interwoven with camp activities and team competitions. Also included are sports camps for basketball, tennis and soccer.
Camps for children with special circumstances include Happiness Is Camping for kids and teens with cancer (and their siblings); and Kiddie Keep Well Camp, for underprivileged and at-risk kids, teens and seniors. Usually, there is no charge for these camps.
TEEN TRAVEL TOURS
Travel is a great way for teens to see new places and meet different people while socializing with kids their own age.
Rein Teen Tours is a New Jersey-based teen travel organization offers a few options.
With Rein Teen Mini Tours, teens travel during the week to places like Hershey, PA, Boston and Williamsburg and spend week-ends at home. “This is a great first trip for younger teens,” says Norman Rein, founder.
Amy Nelson says the mini tour was the best thing that ever happened to her daughter Jemma, who was looking for an alternative to sleep away camp. “Jemma got to go away Monday through Friday, but still be home on the weekends,” says Nelson. “Plus, she made lots of friends.”
Rein Teen Tours for campers 13 to 17 take teens on extended trips (14 to 40 days) to places like Western U.S., Hawaii/Alaska, Europe, Australia and Ecuador. Teens travel by air and bus, have great accommodations and meals and are chaperoned by teachers.
“Jemma and the friends she made on the mini tour decided to take the 4-week tour out West the following year,” says Nelson. “She had the best time ever. Then, she and a friend took the Hawaii/Alaska tour. She saw things she’d never seen before—like the 24-hour daylight in Alaska. It broadened her world and helped her become more confident.”
Impressed with their sister’s travel, Nelson’s twin daughters, 8th graders Harlee and Lexi are considering a teen travel tour, too.
Nancy Held’s 17-year-old daughter would have probably been a counselor-in-training two years ago but COVID caused her to lose that year of camp. “Now, a senior in high school, she had only one summer to do something wonderful,” says Held, “so she chose the 28-day Hawaii/Alaska tour with Rein Teen Travel. She is very adventuresome and loves to travel. It was right up her alley. She will never again have the opportunity to see all those places for that length of time through the eyes of a child.”
Held said the teen tours built her daughter’s confidence and independence, introduced her to new friends and helped her learn responsibility. “She had to learn to manage her time and her money and live out of a suitcase.” The teen tour so impressed Held’s 15-year-old younger daughter that she plans to take the same tour this summer.
Rein Hybrid Volunteer/Travel Tours provide the adventure of traveling to Hawaii, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, California, Costa Rica and Thailand with cultural immersion, exploration and volunteer opportunities. Kids enjoy giving back and this is a great way to do it.
Overland offers 2 to 6 week trips to places like Cape Cod, Pacific Coast, Canadian Rockies, Europe and a 6-week bike trip across the USA. Activities vary but include biking, hiking, rafting and kayaking. Hiking tours in New England and Alaska include service projects, such as serving in food pantries, working on trails and community farms and with habitat restoration. Overland also offers courses in French while hiking in Switzerland, and Spanish in Costa Rica with service in schools and nature reserves.
The Maine Camp Experience is comprised of more than 35 overnight summer camps in Maine with a smart camp planning tool to help families choose the best camp for their kids. Adventures include camping under the stars, navigating water rapids, kayaking, hiking, performance and culinary arts—spread throughout the gorgeous landscapes of Maine.
And at the core of MCE, the mission is to reinforce positivity and add meaningful contributions to the lives of children by fostering traditions, community, individuality and life-long friendships.
If you have a budding marine scientist in the family, Sea Turtle Camp, which offers trips to North Carolina, the Florida Keys or Costa Rica, might be just the ticket. These fully-immersive, hands-on, feet-wet camps for 14- to 17-year-olds come with the simple mission to cultivate love and respect for the ocean, build confidence, develop character and inspire coastal conservation through safe and fun learning. Campers not only gain the unforgettable experience of working with marine life, but will receive community service hours by being a valuable member of the team, too.
No matter which path your teens choose, they are sure to have an unforgettable experience.
To find the right camp experience for your teen, check out the New Jersey Family camp directory (njfamily.com/camp) or listings on the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey website at acanynj.org or call 212.391.5208.