Teens Transition from Camper to Counselor-in-Training

Some of the primary benefits of summer camp — including increased confidence and strengthened interpersonal skills — are multiplied many times over when young people make the leap from camper to counselor-in-training.

Not yet ready for the responsibility of full-fledged counseling, but no longer in need of constant supervision and assistance, older and experienced campers often look to leadership positions within their favorite summer programs to find a happy middle ground. A middle ground that offers opportunities for substantial personal growth and development … not to mention fun.

Not every summer program has a leadership training program, but the ones that do rave about the results. Taking into account the natural maturation of adolescent campers, apprentice or counselor-in-training (CIT) positions allow young people to learn about responsibility and leadership in a controlled, supportive environment.

With help from counselors and camp administrators, trainees develop skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Along the way, they provide an extra set of hands to assist with younger campers, giving camp staff members help when and where it’s most needed.

Adam Boyd, director of camps Merri-Mac and Timberlake in Black Mountain, N.C., describes the counselor-in-training options at Merri-Mac: “Our CIT program is designed to allow our girls to remain part of the camp family even when they are not yet ready to be counselors. Through their camper years, our girls are served by remarkable counselors, working 16-hour days and investing themselves in their campers’ lives. The CIT position is designed to help campers make the transition from someone who is being served constantly to someone who constantly serves.”

A similar option is offered by the summer programs of the YMCA of the Triangle Area, where a Campers in Leadership Training (CILT) option helps campers evolve into more mature members of the camp community.

According to Jennifer Nelson, the public relations director of the YMCA of the Triangle Area, campers in the CILT program learn “honesty, caring, respect, responsibility, faith in God, how to work with children, group control techniques, discipline techniques, how to function within a group, team work, compassion and hundreds of other things too numerous to mention.”

Furthermore, because they are closer in age to the campers than full counselors are, Nelson believes they make an important impact on the campers.

“Campers often think of their CILTs as mentors,” she explains. “Someone that they aspire to be like. So the relationships that are formed between campers and CILTs are special ones. Counselors are viewed more as the parental figures, while CILTs can be thought of as the older brother or sister.”

At Broadreach Summer Adventures, which operates out of Raleigh, the leadership development program is called the Divemaster Intern Program, and, according to Missy Cook, Broadreach’s marketing director, the training is intense.

“Our interns leave the program with their PADI Divemaster and/or Open Water Dive Instructor certification,” she explains. “With this certification, they can work professionally in the dive industry anywhere in the world. They also gain tremendous hard and soft skills that will help them be strong and effective leaders in any setting.”

But the interns aren’t the only ones who benefit, she says. “Broadreachers benefit from the assistance Divemaster candidates provide during dive training and other skill training, as well as the friendships they make with the interns.”

Kim Patterson at Camp Oak Hill in Oxford, N.C., describes their multi-level leadership training program as a progression: Advanced Camper Experience (ACE) for rising high school sophomores; Leaders in Training (LIT) for rising high school juniors; and Counselor Assistance Program (CAP) for rising high school seniors.

In addition to their participation in leadership development activities, all trainees at Camp Oak Hill work toward advanced Christian commitment, discipleship and servanthood. In these ways, they serve as role models for younger campers.

During their summer sessions, Patterson says, the trainees mature quite a bit. “Leadership campers really get a sense of what it takes to be a counselor and how they individually can improve their leadership abilities and skills,” she says.

Younger campers are eager to follow in their footsteps, says Patterson, and when leadership and responsibility become attractive goals for campers, everyone wins. “The other campers set this as a goal for themselves because they want be a leader one day,” explains Patterson. “Most of the campers know that if they have an interest in becoming a Camp Oak Hill counselor this is the best route to take.”

The best route, maybe. But being a counselor isn’t easy and neither is training to become one, says Boyd.

“About a week into each session,” he says, “I make a special point to ask our CITs what they think of their jobs. Almost without exception they will tell me that they don’t like it very much. It is simply more difficult than they expected. I then ask them the same question two weeks later; almost without exception they will tell me that it has been the best summer of their lives. These are now girls who are ready to come back and serve our campers as remarkable counselors, and simply put, this is the purpose of our CIT program — to help our girls make the transition from an exceptional camper to a remarkable counselor.”

Keep in Mind

• Most CIT positions are unpaid, but trainees often pay substantially reduced rates for participating in summer programs based on their service to the camp.

• Not all programs require that leadership trainees be former campers. Many camps will consider unknown candidates who have a proven track record of responsibility and maturity.

• The application process for leadership training programs varies from camp to camp. Call early to get the specifics about the camps your child is interested in.

Categories: Activities, Camps, Day Camps, Development, Health and Development, Overnight Camps, Things To Do, Track-out Camps, Tweens and Teens