By Harrison Manchel – Full-time MCE Camp Staff Member
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job that they dreamed of since the age of eight. I am one of the lucky ones. As a child, I was fortunate enough to have spent many amazing summers at my summer camp, located in beautiful Maine! Prior my first summer, I traveled from my home in Boston to Armonk, New York so I could meet with the owner of my camp. This would be the first of many meetings between the two of us over the last seventeen years. When you are a young child and you think of summer camps, you do not think about sitting in someone’s office during the winter, and at first, I was very nervous to meet the person who would be taking care of me during the summer. Fortunately for me, my camp’s owner is a uniquely warm person who knows exactly what an eight year old needs to hear in that situation. He asked me if I was excited to go to camp and I recall saying “I am not sure,” to which he replied, “that is ok,” with a huge smile on his face. With my family present, we spoke for almost an hour. He took the time to not only talk to me about why I would enjoy camp, but he took the time to hear and address my concerns.
Clearly the meeting went well, because I attended camp for the next six summers, and these were some of the best months of my life. After my final summer as a camper, it was not until after the first week of school that I realized, I could no longer say, “oh well I only have 300 some odd days until camp.” That feeling was gut wrenching, so I decided to do something about it. I reached out to the same owner I had met with years earlier and did something I had never done before. I asked for a job. I wanted to return to camp as a counselor. After many phone calls with both the owner and the staffing director I was hired as a counselor.
Almost all summer camps run some sort of a staff orientation prior to the camper’s arrival. Before the first orientation meeting I thought to myself, what could possibly be said that I have not already heard? I had grown up at camp and I felt as if I knew everything there was to know. I could not have been more wrong. By the time the first orientation meeting concluded, I realized that being camp counselor would not be a walk in the park. As a young camper, you simply do not have the worries that a camp director, or staff member has. By the end of the first orientation meeting, my way of looking at camp was very different. Like anyone doing something for the first time, I became more and more nervous as each meeting progressed. A few days into the orientation, the two people in charge of all the youngest campers pulled some of us young former campers aside. They spoke to us for maybe five minutes and after that meeting, I felt like I could be a successful camp counselor. They simply told us we needed to follow the protocols, give a great effort, and put the children’s needs before our own. When they broke hours upon hours of meetings down into those three tasks, I went from being scared to being excited for the upcoming summer.
Having been a camper and now working full time as an administrator and counselor, I have a greater appreciation for what camp can do for someone. A camp is made up of so many moving parts, and these parts move in all sorts of directions. I learned that in order to be successful counselor you must be a flexible team player. Being responsible for and living in a cabin with small children is not easy. It is not supposed to be easy. Dealing with a child having difficulties late at night after a long, hot, and seemingly never-ending day is certainly challenging. But this is what makes camp so special! After having done this job for many years, my love for camp and what it stands for has enabled me to enthusiastically help any camper who is struggling. I never knew that I would want to work with children for a career until I realized that I had the ability to actually help any camper who is in need of it. By focusing on those three simple tips my supervisors gave me in my first orientation, I was able to build on my childcare skills over the years.
Now when faced with difficult situations at camp, not only am I capable of addressing these issues, but I enjoy being able to solve problems. Camp is so much more than sports, swimming, and the arts, and I did not truly appreciate that until I helped out my first homesick child many years ago. I recall one of my campers was very emotional the first night of the summer. He was at camp for the first time and it was my job to help him. Using the skills I learned during the staff orientation, I worked very hard that night to help my emotional camper. In the morning he woke up in a great mood and acted as if nothing happened the previous night. Knowing that I had helped one of my kids through his difficult time made me feel very proud of myself. I learned that even if you do not have every tool to be a well-seasoned childcare provider at a young age, you can still make a profound impact on the campers. Children do not care what you know, as long as they know that you care.
One of the most devastating, yet enjoyable days of the year is the final day of camp. I am not ashamed to admit that I get very emotional on that day. I am not sad because camp is ending and I will not see most of these people for a year, but rather because I am very proud of how the campers have grown and progressed throughout the summer. Being able to play a role in helping the children to experience all of the valuable benefits of camp is a great honor. Each summer I say same thing when I am crying as the buses leaves camp and that is, “I am sad to see them go, but very proud of the work we have done.” The transition from camper to counselor is not an easy one. This ride has had many teachable moments. As I said before, it is not supposed to be an easy job. By working hard, caring, and putting others before you, you will
have success. I am very fortunate and grateful to be a part of the incredible team at the camp I grew up at.
Special Acknowledgements: My entire family, especially Grandma Sheila, and my wonderful and large camp family.
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge™, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.