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Being a camp counselor - how much is too much?

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I just returned from camp today and have spent most of the week thinking about applying for camp staff next year. It will be the first year I've really been able due to sports, etc.


We'll just have to wait and see.

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Every camp is different, every director is different.


As I write this, my son is working at our Council's Bear Resident Camp. Much of what others have written applies. Of the Boy Scouts he's working with, all are Eagles or driving on Eagle. Most are honor campers in both OA and Mic-O-Say, the Tribesmen are all men of paint. The young ladies are Venturers with GSUSA backgrounds and have or are driving on their GSUSA Golds and various Venturing awards.


These young people love what they are doing. They have a great director and program director. If there is a better way to instill a high work ethic, I've not found it.


My biggest job right now is not to be a "helicopter Dad," but to give him room to grow.




(This message has been edited by John-in-KC)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Jon has decided to quit this weekend after the end of the 4th camp session.


there are a number of factors in this - some things came to light that I was not previously aware of - because of talking to other parents and leaders, & from visits to camp one full day during third session and another full day (10 AM to 11 pm) with our troop 4th session and actually seeing the 'program' in action.


If it were just my observations, that would be one thing - but the leaders & boys in our troop reported that Jon was not 'himself' when they saw him at the pool and at meals. Jon is usually outgoing, talks and jokes non-stop, laughing, the 'life of the party'. Because he is ADHD, he is usually hyper and often jugggling, or doing something with his hands - constant motion -never still. Instead, he was withdrawn, quiet, seemed tired and depressed, and more than one person, including his fellow scouts, recognised that he was very alone and lonely.


The nature of his job as a lifeguard, constant alertness, with no breaks or downtime for friends and fun, left him very isolated and worn out. Even after the Aquatics director switched to working the pool and the annoying know-it-all kid went to the waterfront, Jon was even more isolated - because the director spent most of the last two weeks trying to keep an ailing pool pump going, (and not working in the pool itself much) and because of a 10yr+ gap in age between Jon and the Aquatics director and the pool director - the only other staff he saw all day.


This camp is dying and our council is struggling to keep it open. it should probably give up and put all it's funding into ONE summer resident camp, instead of trying to run two.


As for pools - the reason both our camps have pools is because they have no waterfront - Lowden is located on the Rock river in Illinois - but they don't actually OWN the boating waterfront - they have access to the river on a portion of Lowden-Miller State park land - but can't swim there. The council's other camp (Canyon Camp) has only an ankle-deep stream which they dammed up for canoe tip-tests, but the 'pond' they created is only waist deep, muddy and smaller than my city-lot front yard. (about 3 canoe lengths at the widest) So both have swimming pools.


this lack of decent waterfront is a large factor in why our council is losing campers by the troopfull to neighboring councils much nicer camps, and why our camps are dying.


What I saw at the camp was that while the staff was busy in their program areas, they all had 'downtime'as part of their workday - except for the aquatic staff. Time to visit with fellow staff, laugh, joke, work on their own projects & skits, spend time within their program areas getting to know campers and other staff WHILE they were manning their areas. Much of the staff - other than the area directors - were very poorly qualified and untrained. Example - a nature staff who could not recognize poison ivy after being there 5 weeks - and the camp is literally covered in the stuff! The craft area was VERY busy with woodcarvers and various projects - yet the staff had time to work on their own whittling projects and crafts in between counseling campers. While the shooting sports staff kept pretty much to themselves, like the aquatics staff, the other areas interacted quite a bit - Scoutcraft, crafts and nature have alot of areas that overlap. The shooting areas were only open between breakfast and dinner, and for a once-a-week demonstration tuesday nights - whereas the pool was open for mile swimm practice at 6:00 am every morning before breakfast and open for free swim after dinner most days.


the 'Nature Center' is pitiful. their 'newest' materials are at least 20 yrs old - faded, torn, dusty and falling apart - and they don't have much even, of that. The Craft area is not much better - while they have tools for the badgework - there are no 'original' craft items - everything is purchased BSA kits. no imagination. Scoutcraft is similar - except that they have only shade flys for their 'base' - not buildings. None of the staff in these areas was given much, if any, training in their particular areas, other than badgework they themselves had done. 'staff week' was more cleaning & labor than training. Everything is bare-bones - most of the badgework is 'talked' not 'active'.


All of the staff were required to serve meals (no family-style), clean up afterwards (hoppers simply collected dishes, they did not clean and rack them) and clean the mess hall after meals. The staff also has to bleach the mess hall floors after meals, and clean other camp buildings. I seem to remember as a camper, staffer, and as leader at other scout camps, that the SCOUT TROOPS had many of these cleaning duties - like scrubbing the mess hall floor & sweeping the main lodge hall, etc.


I remember as a scout myself, washing down the shower house, cleaning latrines not in our unit, cleaning and raking the beach, Cleaning stables, raking the riding ring, cleaning and racking canoes, washing down floors and tables in various camp buildings, refilling fire buckets daily (whatever happened to those???) all sorts of 'chores' that our unit was assigned to do as part of our regular camp routine. Why are the troop campers not required to do these kinds of chores, too?


Being a 'Hopper' meant alot more than just setting and clearing the table: Meals were served family style, and Hoppers brought food and utensils back and forth. At Napawon, campers even pre-washed (in large garbage cans full of bleachwater) and stacked all the dishes before they went into the commercial dishwasher.... At girl scout camp, Hoppers washed them in dishpans at table, and then stacked them in dishwasher trays to be run thru the machine. so why is the already overworked STAFF doing all of this?


Besides - when serving 200 campers cafeteria style - by the time the last camper goes thru the lines, the first half is already back in line for seconds - and the last ones served (the counselors not serving for that meal) can't get seconds, because they put the food away too fast!


I remember the meals being better in past years, too - the meals I was served this year at Lowden were pitiful - served two ways - undercooked, or overcooked! CAmp food is usually not that bad - but this stuff was BAD!


I did bring Jon a birthday cake and ice cream for the staff for his birthday - and the camp director made them wait to have it until 9:30 at night! (probably would have been later, but a rainstorm cancelled the Archery demonstation scheduled for that evening, and they finished up early.)


Actually, I brought enough to share with his troop, too - who was there for camp that week. Jon was really glad to see his friends - but dissappointed,too- because he got to SEE them, but was not given opportunity to talk to them. First, because he was lifeguarding and not allowed to 'visit' while working (understandable), but also because of a camp staff rule that he was only allowed to share ONE meal all week with his own troop when they were at camp. something about not wanting a counselor to be monopolized by his own troop.


I understand that being camp director is not an easy job - and especially at a camp that is struggling as badly as our camp is - but it isn't going to help the camp stay alive if it does so by bleeding the heart out of it's staff!


He also flat- out lied to Jon, as he told Jon via e-mail that Jon's hours "would be 30 - 40 hrs a week - from 9 to 12, and 2-5 each day, and would be expected to participate in some evening programs"


Jon's friend Will is staying - as he is with the high adventure program, being camp staff for Will is much like being SPL of the older boys in the troop - only it lasts all summer. Will has been SPL of our troop a couple of times, has his Eagle, and is an experienced and trained Jr Asst SM. For Will, while it is a tiring schedule, it still has enough elements of fun and enjoyment that 're-charge' him. Will he has also made new friends both in the staff and with his campers, and he's gotten the opportunity to do a variety of things that are both a responsibility and fun.


But Will understands that the job Jon has is draining Jon - and he supported Jon in quitting. (Aquatics wasn't even an area Jon applied for, they put him there because they were so desperate for staff.) Jon has no variety, no comraderie, no relaxation, no 'fun' and no opportunity to 're-charge'.


It's just a shame that the camp director can't see that the counselors are just as important as the campers - and that many of them are still just kids themselves, and can't work that way.


sorry this is so long - but thanks for listening.





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I'd been wondering how your son was doing. Sorry to hear that things didn't improve for him. I agree, based on your descriptions, this is pretty excessive. Hopefully he'll have a chance to enjoy a better camp experience somewhere else next summer.



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I've been told that when room and board are factored in, the minimum wage rule is satisfied. One of our perennial complaints is the lack of qualified and motivated camp staff. I think this illustrates why. In order to give staff adequate time off, you would need to run two shifts...hence more bodies on staff.


What's the answer? The bottom line is that no one wants to pay $500-1200 a week for scout camp, which is the going rate for a non-scout camp (spend some time on Google if you don't believe me). Ours this year was $180 per scout and parents griped about the $20 increase. You get what you pay for.

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The reason our Troop never goes to our council's camp, is because of the Staff and many other factors. They receive little pay and are overworked. Many quit after the first week and more continue to quit throughout the summer. The next year, a younger and brand new Staff. Inexperienced and low in knowledge, I'm sure they do their best, but it doesn't provide an outstanding program.

So, now that Jon has quit, whose going to cover his responsibilities? I guess the remaining pool/waterfront/aquatics staff?

As Scoutmaster, we review several camps throughout the year, and let our Scouts choose. It's usually a camp at Blue Ridge Mountains Council in Virginia. Outstanding program, Staff, and facilities.

It's about the Scouts.



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My two sons have both been on camp staffs.


Son #1 was a CIT the first year and loved it. He worked kitchen last year. His kitchen day typically began at 6:00 a.m. so that "early" breakfast was ready for staff, followed by "everyone else" breakfast, then ended after clean-up from staff snack around 10:00 p.m.


He slept in a canvas tent just like almost everyone else. He did have an hour break in the morning and one in the afternoon - chance to roam, relax, or get a shower(!).


This year he decided to work maintenance at a nearby resort. It pays more and he gets his own bed every night.


My other son is in his 4th year on staff at a Cub Scout camp. the first year was as a "staff kid" on the archery range (he was "adopted" by a family friend on staff), the next as a CIT, and the last two as waterfront staff (he earned BSA Lifeguard his during staff week his first year after CIT). He puts in long, tiring days. He's also sleeping in a canvas tent with whatever pack happens to be there that week. When not on duty at the waterfront (which is also serving a day camp), he helps out with any number of other tasks that need to be done.


When asked about the long days, low pay, tiring work, he says (always with a smile on his face), "You work summer camp because you love Scouting; the paycheck is just a fringe benefit."


The boys worked at camps in opposite directions from home. Yes it was trying. They generally were free to go after 10:00 on Saturday morning and had to be back by 10:00 Sunday morning (one was 9:00 and 9:00). A chance to do laundry, check email, phone a friend, SLEEP, and start all over again.


During staff week they were putting up tents, moving platforms from one site to another, clearing brush, putting in docks at the waterfront, preparing program areas, and all sorts of things that are necessary to get the camp ready to operate for the summer. During the closing staff week, they'll be taking things down, putting them away, etc. It has to be done. We do have some volunteers and the OA to do some of this, but the staff plays an integral part in the total success of the camps.


Did my boys complain about the work/hours/fatigue? A little. But my wife and I did not baby them. Instead, we praised their decisions to work at camp and encouraged them simply to live up to the Scout Oath and Law.


What do/did they get out of the experience? A real sense of accomplishment. Pride in their ability. A strong work ethic. A sense they they were helping other people have a good time. They grew as a result.


The hours: long

The pay: minimal

The experience: Priceless

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As a youth, I worked for $2.00/hr at a job I enjoyed - line service at a small regional airport. I answered the phone, scheduled instructional flights, closed and opened the airport, cut grass, burned trash, gassed up the planes, changed oil, etc. I worked 14 hr days (sun up to sun down in the summer usually from 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM in the MIssouri heat and humidity. I worked two days and then had two days off. Anyway, I had an offer to work for the huge sum of $2.50/hr (night shift working on cleaning crew of a fast food restaurant). The primary purpose of my summer work was to earn money for the next year of college (I paid my own way). Even though I enjoyed my airport job much more I needed the money offered at the other job. So, I went to my manager at the airport and told them of my plans and gave them a one week notice. Well luckily, on my last day they offered to up my pay to $2.50 so I stayed.


Luckily, when my teenage kids look for a job, they will have the luxury to weigh in with not only "how much" but "doing what." Summer camp work in Scouts may be very rewarding in some respects but not financially. My oldest just got done serving as staff for NYLT training (he was the SPL - lead youth staffer) and only had to pay $20 for the privilege! Pay was terrible (nothing) but what he learned was priceless.

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Sorry to hear your son's staff experience was as bad as it was. Like yours, my son has finished his 4th week in staff, but is not on the waterfront staff, and does not have the schedule you described. He does get some down time and a chance to interact with other staff his age or a little older. While he seems to be enjoying the experience, I don't get the impression he's having as much fun as last year when he was a CIT. This year he has more responsibility. He's a lead instructor for several MBs, not just an assistant. He has to keep attendance, record who completes what requirements, keep records etc. He takes his job responsibilities seriously and I can tell it weighs on him a bit. I'll be curious to see if he wants to work staff again next year.


By way of comparison our council camp costs around $265 for the week per camper. Still a bargain compared to other private camps. Our camp does have a beautiful lake, that is exclusively for the scouts. The water is clean and warm and there is a full waterfront with canoes, rowboats, sailboats and sailboards. The camp is very active and serves around 400-500 scouts/week.


Laura, I hope your son recovers a bit and has a chance to enjoy the rest of the summer.



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I think each situation has to be assessed on it's own merits. It sounds like Laura's son was hit harder than usual. My son, too, was on camp staff for three years. He put in tremendously long hours, with the year has 50-mile hike ranger hitting an all-time intensity level. However, HE thought it was wonderful. He said, "Ma, I hike all week long to the highest peaks. I do what I like doing most in the world, and at the end of the week, they give me a paycheck and say it was work." (Yes, he calls me Ma.) His day typically began at 5 AM & he went to bed at 11 PM. Even at night, he was responsible for his crew. He fed off this situation. However, it sounds like Jon's isolation was different & more intense in its own way. Just as not every boy is meant to be in Scouts, not every Scout is meant to be camp staff.


Staff week consisted of preparing camp (setting up tents, building tent platforms, and the last year -- scouting out, lumbering, & remarking the 50-mile trail (it had been through a devastating forest fire.) The campers take 5 days on this trail. He scouted it, carrying a chain saw & personal gear, in two. They also train for their position, as well as train on how to put on their public face, YPT, CPR, etc. One year, staff week ended with a hurried evacuation of camp due to a fire moving in on them. That year, we were moved into the periphery of another council camp & held sessions there as best we could. MY son still loved it, but you have to be sold on the program & be made of pretty stern internal stuff to love the intenisty.


So I think Laura's son made the right choice for him. My eldest made the right choice for him. My middle wants nothing to do with being camp staff. That is the right choice for him. (I'm considering applying for camp director next year...guess where oldest son gets his insanity? lol)


We each have our niche to fill. The job is to find it. Thank goodness there are people who like to do the paperwork, run concession stands, and act as secretary & treasurer. If everyone wanted to do the outdoor stuff (or be on camp staff), there wouldn't be anyone left to do the other "stuff".


Hang in there -- whatever you & your family's choices are.


Ma Scout

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi all -


I haven't been able to check the site in quite awhile - it's been a busy summer.


I do want to say that I appreciate the support and consideration you have all given me with Jon's situation - even if you disagreed with me, you did it with courtesy and thoughtfullness - a true 'scout' quality that I really appreciate.


I also thrived on the long hours and hard work of camp when I was a teen - But I have also learned that even the toughest, nastiest jobs can be endured with a smile when shared by good friends who can lift your spirits in adversity. I think that was the main element that was missing from Jon's experience.


I also want to add that while I may not agree with some of the camp director's methods, I understand that I don't have to work in his shoes and probably don't know all that he is faced with. It's a tough Job that I do NOT feel qualified to do - Bless him for doing what he can.




Less than a week after Jon returned from camp, our Scoutmaster, Paul McKay was killed in a car accident. Paul's son, 'Will', is Jon's best friend mentioned above. Will has long been more than a friend - he is part of our family. Will had to return early from camp, too - to try and arrange his Father's funeral.


Paul's death is whole different story - probably a thread on it somewhere else here on the board by others in our troop who post here - so I won't go into it in depth here.


One thing Will & Jon's Camp Director did that greatly touched & impressed me - at a time that devastated Will, this camp director brought the ENTIRE camp staff 2 hrs across the state to attend the wake of Will's Dad - to show their support for a fellow staffer and friend. It was fortunate that the wake fell between camp sessions so that they were able to attend, but nevertheless, it was an action that went WAY, WAY above and beyond the call of duty for the director and all the staff. They were extremely courteous and kind to Will, Jon and the rest of our troop's boys, who had all been to camp themselves just a week before.


It was a wonderful thing to do.


Thanks again for listening -



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