Memory Makers

a. Prospective counselors are given the camp’s policies and procedures. This will be the first of four times they will see this document, be asked to read it, and sign it.

b. A commitment-to-excellence agreement is read and signed. This document will also be read and signed three times before the summer begins.

2. Contact is maintained with incoming staff in a fun and energizing way.

a. A welcome letter and a CD of camp songs are sent.

b. Fellow staff member information is shared for counselor-to-counselor contacts before staff training, which reduces the anxiety of the first day.

c. Countdown e-mails that also include the latest camp news are sent.

d. Opportunities to come to camp for weekends are provided, which give new staff a familiarity with the camp and its grounds.

3. First day of staff training lives up to the build-up/hype and brings the counselors a magical, detail-oriented experience.

a. Themes are brought into focus on the first day. They should be tied into training and create a fun, competitive spirit among the staff.

b. The theme and the role-playing continue throughout the week.

c. At week’s end the theme is tied to the training and intention of creating counselors for campers.

4. Fun staff activities are balanced with educational expectations.

a. The staff members compete against each other in groups. Groups have photo tours of camp and show them during the staff dinner.

b. The staff members play the camper games until they know them and understand them.

c. The staff wakes before dawn and hikes to a point to watch the sun rise while making hot chocolate over a fire. A memory-making moment.

5. Counselor input and creativity are encouraged from the beginning through the end of training and hold true for the summer.

a. Counselors present ideas that are incorporated into the program.

b. Counselors are encouraged to take ownership and to participate in cabin games, songs, cheers and schedule changes.

6. Outside the schedule, flexibility is encouraged and a skill worked on.

a. Schedules are handed out at the beginning of staff training.

b. Activities around and within the schedule are demonstrated.

7. The highest level of “Kids-First” mentality is placed on the staff.

a. Counselors are continually reminded that the first question ever to be asked from a supervisor will be, “Where was the effect on the kids’ experience in your thinking and processing?”

b. Counselors are told that mistakes will happen, but they must have the kids in the forefront of their thinking.

Staff training is a stressful time for camp directors. We attempt to fill the week with every possible training angle we can. Keep in mind that summer camp is an active, moving-around entity. Keep that idea anchored in your staff training so as not to create a weeklong lecture series. Also, do not go to the extreme of turning the week into a work project for setting up camp, delivered under the guise of team building.

They must learn. They must be motivated. They must feel safe enough to share who they are. Only then will they be the best counselors your children have ever had.

Jeff Merhige is the Executive Director of YMCA Camp Kern, Dayton YMCA, Dayton, Ohio. He can be reached via e-mail at jeffmerhige@daytonymca.org.

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  1. Summer of Surprises
  2. Staff Conscious
  3. The Recognition Factor
  4. Staff Marketing
  5. Three-Step Program

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