I am a Camp Counselor

Wow! This post has been up for only one day and already I received four emails on it, a couple good and a couple not so good. Maybe I should explain what this is and why I wrote it.

I have worked for camps that focused on low-income children and I have worked for camps that cater to the wealthy. I was inspired to write the following after I got a call from a snobby, well-to-do parent who was looking to enroll her children. She asked a million ridiculous questions before she decided NOT to enroll them after realizing she had called the wrong camp. (I was wondering why she was asking if we’d still be serving Sushi for lunch this summer.) Let me say for the record that most of the parents that I come in contact with are great, wealthy or not. However, anyone who has worked for a camp, resident or day, that deals with wealthy families will find some truth in this “essay”. It’s all tongue-in-cheek. Please don’t read too much into it.

A lot is expected from camp staff. In fact, more is expected from us then from the camper’s own parents sometimes. While this writing is a humorous dig at parents who can be ridiculous and expect the impossible and unrealistic, it’s also an homage to camp counselors everywhere – past, present and future.

I am a Camp Counselor

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III. Thank you for choosing our camp to bring little Buffy and Therston IV to. I can see you’re standards are very high for your two children. In fact, I’m not sure any camp will be up to snuff, but we will try.

What’s that you say? You think all the staff should have advanced degrees in psychology, philosophy, medicine, education, team-building dynamics and engineering, as well as advanced ping pong? This is going to be a long summer, isn’t it? Who am I?

Let me introduce myself. I am a Camp Counselor. I understand that if your children do not have a good time it is all my fault. Your wildly unrealistic expectations are, of course, unquestionably valid.

Yes, it’s my fault that our day camp doesn’t have extended day care until 9pm at night, and yes, I understand that camp should start at 5am and provide a full breakfast at no additional cost. I am sorry.

I am a Camp Counselor. I am perfectly capable of escorting three screaming campers to the bathroom, leading a game of dodgeball, making sure Johnny doesn’t eat a roly poly, comforting homesick Hannah, making sure Tommy isn’t picking on Scotty, giving special attention to Susie (who has ADHD but is on “break”  from her meds while at camp), attending to Billy’s bee stings and starting a lanyard for Becky – ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Yes, I understand that your 5 year old son is mature for his age, so of course we can place him and his best friend in the same group as his 12 year old brother and his 14 year old sister, and yes, I understand that your son’s camp counselor last year was the best ever, and that the look on your face and the roll of your eyes means that you’re not thrilled little Johnny has me as his counselor this year. Thank you for believing in me, and for telling little Johnny, right in front of me, that he can text you if he’s not having fun and you’ll come pick him up.

Of course, I’ll be happy to find a camp shirt that doesn’t shrink or make your daughter look fat. Oh, and yes I realize that it is my fault that we are not serving your son’s favorite meal today, gluten-free macaroni and cheese (just like grandma makes) and a Tofurky hot dog with an organic bun. I am sorry.

Yes, our registrar was mistaken when she said there was no space available for this week of sleep-away camp, which starts today, and I can quickly construct several more cabins with indoor bathrooms, Tempur-Pedic beds, hypo-allergenic bedding, and Disney decor, and yes, I’ll make sure that he gets first choice of bunks.

I am a Camp Counselor. Yes, I have seen every Disney and DreamWorks film, and every Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network show and know them all by heart, even the songs, so yes, I will sing them with your daughter at lights out.

Of course, I am available whenever you need a babysitter or someone to lead games at your child’s birthday party. And yes, I do know how, and am willing to make balloon animals, do face painting, perform magic and juggle chainsaws all while wearing a Sponge Bob costume. Of course I know someone who will play Dora the Explorer to accompany me to the party. Sure, cake and ice cream as payment will be fine. Should I bring a gift, too?

Yes, I understand that you don’t have any money on you for camp store purchases and will pay me back for whatever your child buys, I trust you. No, your daughter doesn’t have to do any activity that requires the slightest bit of exertion if she’s tired, or thirsty, or bored, or hot, or cold, or having a bad hair day.

Of course I agree that if we want to survive as a camp we need to be like the other camp your child REALLY wanted to go to that has door-to-door party bus transportation, seventeen different bounce houses, a trapeze, Food Network chefs, circus animals, a professional movie studio, a roller coaster, a water slide, a Jedi training program, a pirate ship (with real pirates) and a herd of unicorns. I’ll speak with the director about that right away.

I am a Camp Counselor. I am expected to empathize, sympathize, compromise, console, discipline (but be a camper’s best friend at the same time), be a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a favorite uncle, an archer, a sailor, a rock-climber, a lanyard guru, a chef, a secret agent, a lifeguard, a teacher, a conservationist, a musician, a dancer, a singer, a magician, a juggler, a face painter, a storyteller, a naturalist, an actor, an athlete, a protector, a clown and a mentor – all on two hours sleep a night.



  • Hey, this is great! I love it, the tounge and cheek, dry sarcasm is awesome! I am camp director for the summer, and have been a counsellor to younger kids. I think this is funny, I even showed it to my boss, he laughed. Thanks for the laugh:)

    • Thanks for the nice comment. I really appreciate it. I’m glad someone is enjoying it. 🙂

  • That was hysterical! I hit on this after looking for gift ideas for the counselors who have my two girls this week at Girl Scout camp. Thanks for the validation that they truly deserve recognition!

  • Haha this was may have made my day! I am also a camp counselor and I can totally relate to some of these insane requests. (And at the same time there are those moments that make it so rewarding eh?)
    Anyways thanks for posting this 🙂

  • AMEN! After 4 years of being counselor to a group of teens, followed by 3 years of being a camp director, I think I have heard it all!!!
    This is a great site! So glad I finally found something out there in cyberspace for all of us camp groupies to “network!” Thanks for the blog!

    • 🙂 Thanks, Tammy, for the comment. It’s great to know that my work is appreciated, and that there are others out there who understand the good, the bad and the ridiculous of being a camp professional.

  • Thank you for this! We are currently planning our 2011 summer camp (in November!) and all got a great laugh out of this. I’m sending it to all my camp friends around the globe.

  • Just came across this website – I have been a camp counselor for 10 years and a camp director for one year – this was so hilarious as I’m now gearing up the planning for summer 2011 at yet another camp. Thank you for making me laugh and remember how multi-talented and strong in multi-tasking we all must be to get through summer camp! As thoroughly exhausting it is, it’s so incredibly worth it. Thanks for the laugh and you have some great ideas on the site! 🙂

  • This is so true! Thanks so much for this, I would love to hand this out at our summer camp orientation this year!

  • So I am almost a counselor. We have to go through the same thing. I am a Counselor-in-training of 2 years and have spent weeks with unit upon unit. It’s a girl scout camp for me though. So I have to deal with everything you do AND every counselor’s time clock synchronized. Then half the older girls get it for their first time AT CAMP. Yes. Freak-outs. This is really good piece of writing. Do you mind if I show my writing club? Because this is a perfect example of how frustrating being what I am is.

    • Yes…Foster…you can show this to whomever you like. I agree with you that it can be frustrating a times but working at camp is so worth it, so rewarding. Thanks for the comments.

  • This is great. I tell counselors who are attending a local college and in the outdoor recreation program that they should really major in psychology and minor in business, music, dance, and nursing. They should take a few culinary and survival classes as electives in their spare time!

    Do you mind if I read this during the “what is my job” session of staff training?

    • 🙂 You’re right about that, Aimee. A few sociology, theater, natural sciencs and education courses might help as well. And, yes, feel free to read it at staff training. I would just ask that you mention my site to the staff.

  • Oh my gosh this is funny! And soooo true! LOL
    Each year during training I share the “What is a camp counselor” poem with my staff… I think I’ll share this essay as well next year.
    The returning staff will really appreciate it.. haha
    I don’t know how I’ve missed this, I’ve been visiting your site for quite some time now!
    Thanks for the laugh! 🙂

    • Thanks, Patti. I’m glad you appreciate it. 🙂
      I have not heard of the “What is a Camp Counselor” poem. I’ll have to look it up.

  • Love this!…Everything I learned about being a Camp Director I learned from being a camp counselor….

    1. Learn to repeat yourself over and over and over again….
    2. Learn how to be a mediator in “the drama” of relationships.
    3. Never assume someone wants to be treated they way YOU want to be treated.
    4. How to be a lie detector.
    5. Giving the answer isn’t always the answer.
    6. Always follow through on what you say.
    7. A laugh can change everything.
    8. Don’t have someone do anything you are not willing to do yourself.
    9. Learn how to “fake” it with style.
    10. Be confident in all decisions.
    11. Learn when to say your sorry.
    12. Be open to suggestions.
    13. Plans don’t always go as planned.
    14. Give clear directions and ask for the understanding.
    15. Rules are for breaking, Values are for learning.

    Camp is my passion for over 17 years. Being a Camp Director for the last 12 years has shown me that the staff are now my campers and not much has changed with how I would mentor them. And just when you have made some great counselors, they move on and there is another generation of camp counselors to mentor.

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