Is your teen looking for a summer job? 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. Here’s what it takes:
REQUIREMENTS AND CERTIFICATIONS
At age 16, your child qualifies to work as a counselor at a day camp. At age 17, teens may become part of a sleepaway camp’s counselor in training (CIT) program but cannot become sleepaway camp counselors until they’re 18. Todd Rothman, owner and director of Deerkill Day Camp in Rockland County, NY, says camps don’t exclusively hire former CIT’s but participating in the program helps to get your foot in the door and makes for a seamless transition. Those who are new to camp also bring a unique experience to the job. “They have a deeper appreciation for what we do,” Rothman says. “Their first experience as a counselor is very much like the first experience of a camper in terms of their enthusiasm, and that’s hard to replace. It’s wonderful to have someone come from outside with a fresh perspective on things.”
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, according to Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ.
Not every counselor requires first aid or CPR certification, Rothman says, 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. Most applications can be completed online.
TYPES OF JOB OPPORTUNITIES
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. “Specialized activities are typically younger counselors; 16- and 17-year-olds can serve as assistants,” says Rothman. “So, for example, we have had some younger counselors that really have an interest in photography, they have taken a class at school and are considering whether to pursue it further in college, it’s a great opportunity for them to assist in our photo program.”
Many sleepaway camps employ teenagers for kitchen positions. “[Teens] might be working in the kitchen for part of the day, but at other times they might be with a group, so it gives them experience beyond just being a busboy in a local restaurant,” says Rothman. Day camps also hire teenaged staff for maintenance or administrative tasks.
RESPONSIBILITIES REAP REWARDS
Camp jobs provide young adults with a unique opportunity to make an impact and cultivate leadership skills. “[Being a counselor] is not just for future teachers,” Rothman says. “It’s not just for former campers. It’s really for anyone who’s looking for a challenging experience or resume builder, an opportunity to learn a little bit about themselves and to give back. Working at a camp as a teenager, you’re given a lot more respect and responsibility on a daily basis, and our teenagers are really empowered. That’s not something you can find in every job as a teenager.”
Having camp experience is really valued by college admissions officers, too. “We often tell our teens that are on the fence about working or interning somewhere that they would be surprised at the impact working as a counselor can have on their college resume,” Rothman says. “Most camp directors, including myself of course, when we have someone who gives their all into working for us, we make sure that we let their colleges know the impact they had. In terms of references, it goes a long way.’
In 2020, COVID cases at camps were minimal, says Lupert. “When there were cases, the camps were able to isolate and close and then quickly reopen. There were no superspreaders or anything of that nature,” she says.
Camps are mainly held outdoors and heavily regulated by the New Jersey Department of Health. “Camps feel very confident with the way that they ran last year, and our hope this year is that they run similarly, but also with less restrictions since we’re hoping we’re much further along in terms of vaccines,” Lupert says. “Day camps will operate safely as they did last summer. There’s an entire field guide anybody can read on the American Camp Association’s national website (acacamps.org), outlining best practices for how camps can operate.”
Teens should apply early to increase their chances of landing the position they want. “[Winter] is a great time to apply, and there’s typically more availability,” says Rothman. “Most day camps offer transportation to and from the camp, so for those teenagers who don’t have access to a car… there’s typically transportation provided by bus—door-to-door or to a local centralized pickup spot.”