Is your summer camp-loving child aging out as a camper but still too young to work as a camp counselor? A counselor-in-training (CIT) role might offer the perfect transition for those who want to prolong their fun camp time while also taking on more responsibilities and skills.
“CIT positions are often meant for a child’s final summer (before transitioning to a leadership role) at the camp they’ve been attending. These campers spend part of the day in camper mode, another part learning leadership skills,” says Renee Flax, camper placement specialist for the American Camp Association, NY and NJ (ACA), who notes that CITs are usually 15 years old and not paid; parents typically pay for their children to participate in a CIT program.
“Younger teenagers may have limited opportunities to find a meaningful summer experience,” says Flax. “Although working at a local store or babysitting might be rewarding, being a CIT in a camp environment is much more fulfilling. Your child will learn to become a leader while also experiencing the rewards of being part of a camp community. They will get leadership training, work with campers of all ages and potentially receive CPR and first aid certifications. If your child is interested in getting a job after the summer, these skills will be impressive on their resume.”
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Start by finding out if your child’s summer camp offers a CIT program and, if so, what the application and selection process involves. Ask questions. What skills and benefits will my child be getting? What is the program cost and duration? Is there a specific curriculum/structure? Who will be teaching/mentoring the CITs?
Talk to your teen. Ask what they know about CITs already and if it’s something they’d like to try. “Including your child in the decision-making process will ensure a ‘buy in’ from them,” says Ruth Ann Weiss, owner/director of Eagle’s Landing Day Camp in North Brunswick.
“Ask camp staff to answer any of your child’s questions so they feel comfortable with the whole process,” encourages Keith VanDerzee, CEO of YMCA Camp Mason in Hardwick. “If there is an application or interview to complete, support your child and offer to proofread or practice together.”
“Most teens won’t have years and years of experience or certifications,” says Sam Borek, co-owner/director of Woodmont Day Camp in New City, NY. “We look for someone who demonstrates an interest in working with children; we also look for experiences in a team setting like sports, clubs or class projects.”
CAST A WIDE NET
If your child’s camp doesn’t offer a CIT program or all the existing slots have been filled, ask camp staff if they can offer suggestions of other camps to try. You can also reach out to the ACA.
While CIT programs—generally for kids 12 to 16 years old—are as diverse as the camps that offer them, most are designed to help tweens and teens learn leadership skills, cooperate and collaborate, build resilience, help others through service, make friends and gain independence while providing fun and rewarding experience and memories.
Keeping your child’s age, personality, needs and preferences in mind will help you identify the best fit. “Don’t pick a program just because that’s where their friends go. Pick a camp based on your child’s interests and what they would like to get out of the program,” Weiss says.
“Most camps have a staff that works all year long to make camp happen each summer,” explains Borek. “That means camps are always accepting CIT applications.” Apply when you’re ready, but sooner is always better, Borek says.
“It’s never too early to start the search for a CIT spot at summer camp,” VanDerzee says. “Every camp has a different application process and timeline. Some camps will already have their application posted online, others will send you to a portal and some will send you the information on request. It’s a good idea to search camp websites and make a few calls as soon as possible because CIT programs can fill quickly.”
And don’t give up. “If your child doesn’t get a place in their first choice CIT program, it’s not all over,” VanDerzee says. “There might be another camp with a great program or another way to gain leadership skills, such as an adventure trip or expedition.”
—Nayda Rondon is a lifestyle, wellness and parenting writer, a children’s book author and a Hillsdale mom.