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Being a camp counselor - how much is too much?

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My son is a life scout, and will be 16 in two weeks. He is working his first paid job as a camp counselor (swim instructor) at our local council camp this summer.


the camp is short- staffed. Jon's best friend applied there just before school ended and Jon decided to apply just a week or so before staff week. I had no idea he wanted to be a camp counselor, but I had been a camp counselor myself for many years and had such great memories of the experiences, I encouraged him to go for it if he truly wanted to.


I was rather surprised that the Director would hire a 15 yr old (almost 16) who is not lifeguard certified nor has his lifesaving badge as a 'swim instructor. (though he does have Swimming, and almost all of the boating badges) I guessed that they had enough swimm staff that they wanted extras for safety and to rotate staff.


But this is not so. the Aquatics director is going to try and help Jon get his BSA lifeguard and Lifesaving badge while working at camp this summer - which is great - but they only have 3 staffers at the pool, and 2 at the boating waterfront - and the pool staff is 1 adult, Jon, and another 15 yr old who was a CIT last year.


they start with flag and breakfast at 7 am. they are at the pool from after breakfast to lunch, and after lunch to dinner, and after dinner too - often until 9 or 10 pm - unless it's 'OA call out'night, or all camp activity night, or final campfire friday when they have duties elsewhere for those events. They have no scheduled free time during the workday, and are not allowed to eat or snack around the pool or while 'on duty'in front of campers. (this is for all staff, not just the pool staff)


the no snacking thing bothers me because the staff are also strongly discouraged from going back for seconds at mealtimes - they want to make sure the campers get plenty before the staff do.


Meal portions are not bad and the camp food is good (our troop has been to this camp many times) but we are still talking about teenagers with bottomless appetites, high metabolisms, & working long and strenuous jobs. they NEED more than three basic meals a day!


they are also expected to help out in maintaining the camp - they did the labor to prep all the campsites during staff week (clearing brush, deadwood, mowing, tree trimming, cleaning and setting up latrines, clearing paths, cleaning program areas, etc) and do things like set up lights for ceremonies and plartform tents for troops that need them - one thursday night they were out until 11:30 PM setting up platform tents for a troop coming in the following week!


the staff is housed in rough cabins - 3 or 4 to a cabin. they do have electricity, so some have brought dorm fridges and small microwaves, tv's and stereos. But since they never get time off except to sleep, and they never have free time to return to their cabins, they can't get anything to eat outside of meals except at bedtime.


they get time off from around 10:30 am Sat(when the last campers are gone), until noon sunday. they are required to LEAVE camp at that time - which for Jon and his friend requires me or the other parent (we trade off)to drive two hours to camp on Sat AM - pick up the boys, two hours home - sleep & eat for 10 hours, drive the boys two hours back to camp, and then we drive two hours home. (8 hrs of driving for the adults, 4 for the boys)obviously, some staff live closer and some live farther. I think we are about average.


the boys have come home more than simply exhausted - I'm afraid that while Jon really like being at camp and especially seems to be enjoying the campers (the kids) he is going to be totally burned out from the grueling pace and will never want to return to camp - even another camp, as a counselor or otherwise - again.


Is this normal for Boy scout camp staff? a 15/ 16 yr old working 12 - 15 hr days with no breaks except basic meals? no free time? no chance to relax, hang with friends or make use of the amenities of camp himself once in awhile?


I have talked to Jon's bunkmates, his best friend, other counselors parents, and they all are hearing their boys say similar things - little food, no breaks, long, long days. Some program areas are understandably slower paced or less demanding than the pool - but they still have no scheduled breaks or free time, and not enough food for a typical constantly grazing teenager.


I e-mailed the camp director with my concerns - but have not yet had a reply. What do you all think? am i an overprotective mom? or do I have legitimate reasons to be worried about these boys?


As I mentioned, I spent many years as a camp counselor myself in Girl Scouts - and I worked at a few different camps. While they all had slightly different schedules and arrangements - I do distinctly remember getting at least one afternoon or evening off a week and an hour or two each day for personal time (laundry, planning, napping, reading, showers, etc.)


Girl scout camp was different - there were no adult leaders with the girls - WE lead the units and lived with the girls in 4 bunk platform tents just like they did. Our free time came when the girls in our unit were scheduled for swimming or other program areas and the program area counselors were responsible for them at those times. we could choose to stay with our unit at the program area, or leave them, and we usually traded off - some unit counselors staying, some taking free time. Depending on the size of our units, we would have 3 to 5 counselors per unit,( usuall about a ratio of 4-6 campers to 1 counselor; 20 to 30 girls in a unit) plus other staffers that 'lived' in tents in our unit (for more coverage at night) so each of us would be able to get an extended time off in the middle of each week and there would still be 2 - 4 counselors with the girls.(something like 3 or 4 hours - and afternoon or evening, etc.)


We never had food (or electricity!) in our tents - but we had a staff room somewhere that usually had a small kitchen, pop & candy machines, laundry facilities and informal furniture. we could relax, visit, read, etc. The main kitchen always had a fridge or designated place for leftovers or food we could raid or snack on anytime. Meals were served family-style at long tables - we ate at tables with our units - and the only limit to how many servings anyone, staff or camper, could have was the amount of food itself - and there was always unlimited PB&J, bug juice and milk.


I just don't understand the hours and restrictions placed on these boys for what is supposed to be a fun, and mostly volunteer, job. No adult would be able to work that schedule - or willing to - at their rate of pay, and not counting mealtimes, they are probably earning about $.90 / hr.


At the very least, I hope that this message opens some eyes to the dedication of some camp counselors - treat them well; they deserve it!


what do you folks think?



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My older son's experience as a camp counselor sounds very similar to your son's.


At 15, he was asked to work one week because of staff shortage and was assigned to the waterfront.


The next year he worked a full summer in the ecology department and taught many merit badges for which I felt he was not qualified (he hadn't actually earned some of them). But, he learned quickly and I was told he was one of the better staff members.


His days were exhausting and he, too, was required to leave camp on Saturday at noon and return Sunday noon. We also had to drive about 2 hours each way to pick him up and take him back. And, yes, he worked it out that he was earning somewhere around $.75/hour.


A difference in his experience is that he did have a free period every day, usually only an hour, but time to just sit and relax. But, his days began at 6:30 am and ran until 11:00 pm.


This is his fourth year working at camp - he is now the Ecology Director. The first week of camp he was under-staffed and had to fill in teaching some of the merit badges and conducting nature hikes. It was certainly a most exhausting week for him since he had no free time at all and his hours were even longer since he's the Director.


But, he is now fully staffed and gets a break during the day. Of course, his break is usually spent doing paper work. He does look forward to the daily staff vs. SPL ultimate frisbee game after lunch. He is also the inductions chairman for OA so he is up late Thursday and Friday nights for tap out and cermony.


All of the counselors arrive a week ahead of time for staff week, which includes not only learning their duties and outlining lesson plans for merit badges, but cleaning out all the adirondacks and cabins, bathrooms and shower houses and generally cleaning up all around camp. And, all of the counselors also take turns throughout the week in the dining hall serving meals to the campers. On the days they serve, they have very little time to eat themselves.


Older son drives home on Saturday afternoon, does his laundry, flops into bed around midnight and is up at 9:00 am to drive back to camp on Sunday.


Yes, working at camp is an exhausting and underpaid job. But, at least in his mind, that is outweighed by the experience itself.


I often wonder where he gets the energy to do his job day after day, week after week in 90-100 degree weather. Then I remember - oh yeah, he's 19!



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All I know about camp staff is what I see when I go to camp. What I see are dedicated kids who are very over-worked and very under-paid. What I also see are kids who love what they are doing, will sign up again next year and will be telling their own kids years from now how great it was to be a staffer. Time always has a way of enhancing the good memories and lightening the bad. But the bad memories will become points of pride too.


Many camps operate as cheaply as possible. I do agree that they need to give them at the very least an hour of free time per day and extra food treats.

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Child labor laws prohibit children under the age of 16 from working over 40 hours per week. Enough said.


If you are 14 or 15, you can work . . .


Outside school hours (after 7 a.m. and until 7 p.m.) Except from June 1 through Labor Day, when you can work until 9 p.m.


You can work no more than:

3 hours on a school day,

18 hours in a school week,

8 hours on a non-school day, and

40 hours in non-school week.


For this reason my 15 year old (Life Scout, NYLT SPL, six years of summer camp completed, etc.) was denied an opportunity to be on paid staff this summer. He will turn sixteen one week after summer camp ends. If your camp is working your 15 year old over 40 hrs in a week, they are breaking the law.


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My son is also working his first summer as a counselor. He worked as a Lead Scout at the camp last summer for 4 weeks so he knew what he was getting into. It is basically what you described, although I know he specifically did NOT want to work the waterfront, because I think he knew they tended to have longer hours.


The Lead Scout thing is where you get to PAY the camp for the opportunity to do all the things paid staff do. But the ranks of paid staff are usually chosen from scouts who have particiapted as a Lead Scout the year before, so it is kind of a prerequisite.


Yes, it's tough work. But after being a Lead Scout, my son couldn't wait to get on the paid staff. In fact it's not easy, nor a forgone conclusion if you apply your accepted. At our council camp, there is a high rate of returning staff and only a limited number of openings every year. As tough a job as it is, it is considered an honor and priviledge to serve as Camp staff. It is not at job where they take whoever shows up.


So far my son loves the idea of being on staff. We'll see how he feels in a few weeks. As noted by others, for reasons of their own these staff members frequently return for more year after year. They are truly dedicated scouts/scouters and enjoy being around others that share the same enthusiasm.


The weekly trek to Camp to pick him up on his one night off will be a bit of a pain frankly. But we have asked our son to see if he can find another staffer from our area to carpool with every other week to ease the effort a bit.


Acco is correct about the hours, but I note your son will turn 16 in a couple of weeks, so maybe they can limit his "hours" until then. A camp staff position is tough to work out hours though, because it's basically a 24 hour/day job with limited time for a break here and there.


If your son was not working at camp, what else would he be doing with his time?

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Working at camp is more than just a summer job. Don't fall into the trap of comparing it to life at McDonalds. Staffing a BSA Summer Camp is about hard work, a sense of purpose and camaraderie.


It doesn't matter what camp you're at, the boys & girls work hard. Very hard and with very long hours. In the end this may turn out the be the most meaningful experience of his young life. For most it is! That's why they come back year after year. Sure some hate it and never look back, but not everyone is cut out for a whole summer at camp.


Another thought about the long hours. Busy hands make busy minds, or if you prefer...... they don't have much time to get into trouble!


Give him a chance to enjoy the whole experience.



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I guess I know the answer is that summer camp staff is is expected to be much much more than, for example, a job at the local burger joint....with a time clock and 15 minute breaks and scheduled lunches.


I did it myself for a number of years - though I can't remember what was 'assigned hours' and what was 'volunteer'.... I just LIVED it.

However, as a unit counselor, I had 'downtime' when my unit had 'downtime' and a little time tomyself, besides.


I know that as a BSA camp, Jon's job is much different than the one I had as a Girl Scout unit leader. And I was older (17 - 21). At 15 / 16, I was strictly 'volunteer' at day camps that ended at 3 or 4 in the afternoon.


I talked to his camp director on the phone - the Director had NOT checked his e-mail, and three days have passed since I sent it. no reply, even after our phone discussion..


On the phone, the director was curt and unconcerned. his take was that the boys got lots more time off than he did, and first week of campers was a tough one because they were still 'shaking down' the routine. He's been directing this same camp for over 15 yrs, on staff for over 20. Jon IS supposed to get an hour off when his program area is closed; an hour before flag/dinner - IF the program area is cleaned and prepped for the next day or session. there are four nights that he is expected to 'participate' in as a staffer - Sunday opening campfire, tues all camp event, Wed OA callout ceremony and parents night (he is not in OA, but must help with the parents night / campfire program part),and Friday final campfire program,including prepping for skits,set-up, etc., for these events. they also do opening day registration (which for him is swim tests for all campers and leaders) and closing day campsite check-outs.


Ideally, this would mean that he gets an hour each day off, other than meals and sleep, and he gets Monday and thursday evenings free. I think the pool is open for some time after dinner, but not sure how much time or days. This would explain why they were putting up platform tents last thursday night until 11 pm for the next week's campers - it is the only 'free' night they had enough staff bodies available to do it.


It still seems like too much, and alot of it is probably not 'mandatory', but if he didn't participate, he would be ostracized by the rest of the staff. Peer pressure is a huge thing - especially when you have to LIVE with your peers 24/7.


After the camp director was so unsympathetic, and unhelpful ( and I didn't even mention the lack of food or the know-it-all, bossy, young 'cabin king' that has been making Jon's days miserable), Grandma wanted me to go out to camp today and bring Jon home.


However, Jon DOES have his cell phone ( though roaming and poor signal) and he could call me if he was really doing too badly. I know he is not a 'quitter' and will not like the idea of giving up. I am hoping that this second session will have them in a more 'regular' pattern and he is both getting used to the schedule and getting some downtime. I plan to talk to him myself when he comes home on Sat and find out how things are working out. If he wants to quit, I will support him; if he wants to stick it out I will support that, too.


Fourth session, July 9-15, will be the week his own troop is there, and also his 16th birthday, I plan to go out and visit him then and maybe take him out for dinner or some kind of off-camp treat; whether the director likes it or not! having his own buddies and leaders around him will be a morale booster, I think.


However, any advice anyone can give for me to pass on to him is welcome.....




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I have a few predictions. Jon will come home much more mature. He might even pick up after himself and be more self motivated to do tasks he is responsible for. He won't take things for granted as much as he used to. Also, he will be excited about returning next year to do it all again.


The Camp Director job is pretty much a 24/7 job. A pretty thankless job at that. I e-mailed a camp director a couple of weeks ago with questions about his camp because we are doing research into different camps to attend next year. He apologized for it taking so long to reply due to his responsibilities at camp. I e-mailed back that I understood and thanked him for taking the time to respond. Camp directors start working on enxt year when summer camp shuts down. They are responsible for EVERYTHING. Staff, angry SM's, snakes under platforms, strangers wandering thru camp, missing kids, plumbing problems, discipline problems, etc., etc., etc. I know you already know that and you are just being a momma bear. That is your job. I bet my predictions hold though! ;)

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Hello, Having been a lifetime Girl Scout and Day/Twilight Camp director for 10 years I can understand where you are coming from. ALL of my girl scouting activities have been considered volunteer(meaning I PAID for the privlage of working for the scouting movement that gave me many great memories and opportunies.

I have 3 kids so together with my husband we have made this a full time priority in our families lives. My children have been so involved with both the girl scouts and boy scouts it has taught everyone the importance to service to others. My olderst daughter got involved in Venturing 3 school years ago now. She was very excited to be selected to WORK on staff at the Jamboree last summer(even though it cost HER approx. $1000.For the camp fees, transportation, uniforms etc.)To help raise the money needed to go she got a job at the local (2 hoours away) girl scout camp.She started in the kitchen and because of a shortage she ended as a counselor. Yes she worked lonnnnnnnnnnng hours and slept in a tent in over 100 degree days in Texas but she came home ready and excited about her next opportunity of working at the Jamboree. When she got home from there some of the stories she told us of mentally and physically demanding days(she came home on crutches)made the hair on my neck stand up, the only reason she got something to eat many lunchs was because of kindness of scouts who would bring her a ice cream or so because she was told they were so short handed there wasn't time for her to get lunch or a break. She made memories of being the crazy 16 year old girl in a pink cowboy hat working in the disAbilities Merit Badge area.After getting home getting a good nights sleep, eating a family meal she told us she WILL be going back hands down to the Jamboree in 2010 and told us to start saving cause even with the chaoas she wants her younger sister, younger brother and dear old mom and dad to experiece the GREAT time she had.

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I think the best guide in this case is probably your son. How does HE feel about this? If he is feeling as though he is being taken advantage of, then there is a real need to step forward. If, on the other hand, he's tired but basically happy, then don't worry too much and let it be his experience.


I worked for years as a camp counselor and director(not at BSA camps though), through high school, college, and then some. It is long, hot, hard, tiring work, no doubt about it, and the boy scout camps in our area had a reputation of being harder on staff than most other camps. It was also a formative experience for me, in terms of learning to work hard, stay focused, and interact effectively (most of the time) with a wide variety of different types of people. And while I never liked camp food, I don't recall starving either - but I was always glad for a BIG home cooked meal or two on my day off. Chances are your son will have similar experiences.


That said - if he is exhausted to the point of illness or seriously short on food - these are health & safety concerns (both for him and for the boys on the waterfront who he is supposed to be supervising) and should be addressed. Just be careful about honestly deciding whether or not things have crossed the line between conditions that are simply less comfortable than he's used to, and conditions that are unacceptable. This is where he's your best guide.



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35+ years ago I served on staff at Boy Scout Camp. The first year it was a new camp and everything was still under construction, staff arrived two weeks before camp started. The first day we had to build the staff area so we would have a place to sleep that night. For the first week we ate b-fast in town and lunch and dinner in the dining hall by natural light because no electricity. We worked out tails off from sunup to sundown and didn't get to go home for 3 weeks. During camp we generally started classes at 9 and went to 5. At night there was one night a week that was staff night off and we left camp the other 5 nights something was going on that required us to be there. Staff ate with the campers family style so the amount of food was how much was available after everybody was served once. The bottom line is that Scout Camp Staff is doing whatever needs doing whenever needs doing to keep the camp going and meet the program of the campers. It is hard work.

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As noted, feedback is a gift.


With all due respect, I wouldn't be so hard on the Camp Director. He is probably paid proportionately a relatively small sum of money to take on what is essentially the job of Chief Operating Officer of an operation that may employ dozens and serves hundreds, maybe thousands of customers over the summer. It involves food service, accommodations, recreation activities, physical property, camp equipment repair and maintenance, payroll, taxes, child labor laws, OSHA and Environmental compliance, Human Resource issues, etc. It is his first session week for the season as well and is probably pulling his hair out trying to work out all the things that need to be fixed before the next weeks session. While I'm sure he hears from other campers, their parents and other staff, all to few probably send him a note or stop by to tell him what a great job he's doing, how great camp is, and that they sincerely appreciate his efforts as a Director. I'm sure if he wanted to he could find a much more financially rewarding job over the summer.


Just a couple of other thoughts, just short of physical abuse I would encourage that your son stick out the summer. He has made a commitment to the Director and fellow staff to serve for the summer. I can't imagine there is anything much more frustrating and disappointing to a camp director than a staff member who quits on him mid-summer. As others have noted, this is a great experience. Heck compared to a summer camp cabin, a college dorm room will seem like the Trump Palace. He will also be way ahead of his peers in deeling with roomate issues etc. If he really doesn't like the experience he can choose not to apply next year. But don't be suprised if he tells you how horrible everything was, but is first to get his application in for next year.


Finally, if he has a Birthday coming up, and I can understand your desire to take him out, one really great way to win friends at camp is to share a Birthday cake from home with your staff buddies. Buy a simple sheet cake from the gocery store and have them put Happy Birthday on it. Bring some paper plates and share the festivities.


I pick my son up after his first week on staff this weekend. He went in all psyched. We'll see how he made out.




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I spent a few summers as Camp Staff and then as Camp Director. We worked all day and then we had meetings and jobs at night. Our Swim guys usually cleaned the pool and had a splashfest at the end of most long days. I know because I went in with them. We almost always had extra food hidden throughout the Staff area that was shared. It didnt matter what we were given, we had enough. Usually somebody felt sorry for us and brought us more or took us into town for a movie where we bought a bunch of goo. Going to sleep was a problem because of the unscheduled activities, talks, and music. As Camp Director, I snuck off for a 30 minute nap in the afternoon. I was quickly found out and put right back to work by the Wasskley Wanger. Everyone was expected to carry his share and somebody elses and then we had some fun. FB

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