On Sunday, April 22, hundreds of teenagers from all over New York and New Jersey gathered at Bank Street College for the American Camp Association’s 2018 Teen LEADership Conference. As aspiring leaders, they attended seminars and presentations focused on the importance of a “counselor voice” as part of open communication in a professional environment.
Having been the head of the Bank Street Summer Camp’s Leadership Development Program last summer, I was especially excited to lead two seminars that focused on the transition of camper to counselor this year and, while personal inspiration has always permeated the conference, this year I really challenged myself to orient my presentation around my own experience as a young counselor.
Since I was four years old, I attended day camps, sleepaway camps and summer travel programs across Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. In fact, I attended the same trip my grandparents led in the 1950’s. Once I was too old to be a camper, I worked at several day camps and sleepaway camps, including the same camp my parents met at in 1979. In 2014, I started teaching and that same year I become a head counselor in Bank Street’s Lower Camp.
While I was never a counselor in training, my experience as a camper, counselor and teacher excited me to mentor the new group of possible counselors in the Leadership program. I loved sharing my enthusiasm for creating lasting memories, making new friends, and helping each of them discover something new about themselves as the next generation of role models. By working with such eager participants, it became clear that it’s the younger counselors that not only bridge the supportive camper and counselor culture but grow that culture out from the middle, making their participation in the process invaluable.
When I signed up for the LEADership conference, I couldn’t wait to help influence other bridges in other camps. At the conference, I spoke to teens about ways they can help foster a fun and supportive atmosphere when leading activities and attending to the needs of the group. I encouraged them to demonstrate their strengths and share their passions with their head counselors, so that they can help out in areas where they already feel strong. Campers will be trying many things out for the first time, including swimming in the deep end, climbing a rock wall at a ropes course or trying out a new science experiment and these young counselors will be the first person they go to for reassurance and guidance. Whether they are an LIT, Acting Junior Counselor or Junior Counselor, they will make a huge impact on their campers’ and other staff members experiences.
This summer, I am the new Unit Head for Bank Street’s Upper Camp and Middle Camp. I love working with staff, campers and families to create the kind of supportive environment that can only be found at Bank Street Summer Camp. As we continue to grow and the camp continues to evolve, I will be looking to the younger counselors to help set the bar for support and enthusiasm.