Last week, I discussed the rhythm of a session. Today, let me talk a little about the pattern of the summer.  More specifically, let me tell you about how this summer’s counselors have helped me UNLEARN what I “knew” about the pattern of a summer at a resident camp.

Summer camp jobs usually follow a well-worn path. The latter half of the summer benefits from having more experienced instructors, but the energy level is generally lower as the counselors have been teaching the same activities for quite a while and some of the novelty has worn off.  It is not a bad trade-off, but I thought it was an inevitable one.

This summer, we clearly have the increase in experience, but we seem to also have a group that remains on fire to be here. As I see the counselors today, I see a group that is simply pumped up about camp. 

The reason we have continued excitement is a little counter-intuitive to me, so let me explain. 

One of the great advantages that Camp Champions enjoys is one of the highest counselor retention rates in the camp industry. Each summer, between 70-75% of our staff has been with us before either as a counselor or a Senior Camper (our high school leadership program).  Having so many returners enables us to maintain a culture that is focused on our mission that also abides by our behavioral standards (including eschewing alcohol and tech devices).

I always enjoyed bringing in new counselors, but we loved having a substantial number of our Senior Camper graduates as counselors. The challenge with the Senior Campers is that they typically could only work one session because they were getting ready for college and often have orientations and family trips.

We also avoided hiring many foreign counselors because of our behavioral rules.  I worried that a counselor from England might assume that our non-drinking policy was not really serious and I hated the idea of firing someone who would then have to change a flight and return to London.  To be clear, I am not saying that people from other countries are less likely to follow the guidelines, but the impact of a termination is clearly higher.

Three years ago, Leah Ma’am (our girls director) came to us with two ideas.  The first idea would require counselors to work at least two sessions. Since our orientation lasts 2 weeks, she thought it was silly to train a counselor for 14 days so that she or he could work 14 or 21.  Further, she suggested that a person who had attended the same session as a camper for 7 or 8 years might have a difficulty making the transition to being a counselor/having a job. 

Her second suggestion was to allow her to fly to London for a camp counselor recruiting fair.

She went that year and has gone twice since. She has become a bit of a celebrity at the fair although she’s too modest to admit it.  I have learned that Camp Champions is the camp of choice at these fairs (she also goes to Edinburgh as well).  At the fair, the other 25-30 camps have 8-10 candidates standing in line to interview.  Our line has over 100!

As a result, we get great counselors from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  These counselors are typically more mature and have often held other jobs or even other resident camp jobs before. They truly see camp as a “job”. Sure, it is an inspirational and fun job, but they embrace the responsibilities that a first-time 18 year-old might not fully appreciate.

The combination of these two policies has had some profound effects that really became obvious this summer.  Our average counselor is about 1 year older than a few years ago. This counselor is far more likely to have some previous job experience.  Finally, this counselor will work an average of 7.5 weeks rather than 5.5 weeks, thus assuring that more counselors are “up the learning curve”.

This summer, we have over 25 international staff from her efforts. 

The final bit of good news is the fact that our retention rate has remained incredibly high.  We are getting many of the internationals back as well as other former counselors. 

So having more maturity AND higher retention seems to have combined to keep the staff ready and excited about camp. This summer has been our best yet!


Steve Sir


Want more like this? See: