Staff Continuum

One Of Camp Ernst's Many Satisifed Customers

In 2006, 87 percent of YMCA Camp Ernst’s staff had once been campers themselves or were returning staff. According to the American Camping Association (ACA), the national average for return staff rate is only 40 to 50 percent.

How does Camp Ernst grow its own staff and keep members coming back? Easy! By taking the same progressive achievement program you probably already use for your campers and applying it to the staff.

Progressive Achievement Programs

“Camper, Adventurer, Mountaineer, Pioneer, Ernst Person, Ranger, Naturalist, Scout, Top Honor! Whoooo Hoooooooo!” This seemingly senseless group of words is chanted by hundreds of campers each year during the culminating ceremony for Camp Ernst’s camper progressive achievement program.

Campers from ages six to 15 work on a separate level of their “Honor Log.” The program ends by campers reaching the final level of “Top Honor” and being publicly recognized for their hard work. (The Honor Logs also spell out C.A.M.P. E.R.N.S.T.—pretty cool eh?).

Each log is more difficult to earn (increasing by age), and campers who achieve Top Honor are recognized for their achievement and seniority before the entire camp during the closing campfire. Every camper yells the levels of Honor Logs as the Top Honor recipients walk up steps (labeled for each level) and bang the honorary oil drum well hanging from a tree. Sound pretty weird? Well, it probably doesn’t sound too weird because you are all camp people, and most of you already employ an award program like this. These programs encourage campers to come back and be rewarded for their hard work and upstanding character.

Staff Continuum

In 2000, Jon Perry, YMCA Camp Ernst’s executive director, decided to take these principles and create a “Staff Continuum.” Each year staff members have a new job, new title and new responsibilities.

Ages 15 to 17

For example, when campers turn 15, they are eligible to volunteer for work on Camp Ernst’s crew. In this servant leadership program, crewmembers pay a minimum fee ($50) and work in the kitchens, clean the bathrooms, and help with maintenance. Believe it or not, this is one of our most popular programs. Last year we had more than 150 participants and had to turn away 30 more due to limited space. Crew serves as a great transition from campers (LITs) where camp is all about “you,” to staff where camp is all about “not you.”

After crew, our 16-year-olds are eligible to work on Camp Ernst’s E-Team. E-team counselors are activity counselors; they are not yet allowed in cabins, but they interact with the campers by facilitating activities. Both crew and E-team still allow for lots of hangout time and community. This is good for two different reasons:they bond and form strong, healthy friendships with like-minded teens. By not having them in the cabins with kids, we are not setting them up to do something stupid and end with a Monday morning call from a parent–probably about a 16-year-old teaching campers how to start a fire with bug spray while the Head Cabin Counselor was gone. The next level is a transition to counselor-hood. Both E-team and crew have their own special “leaders” who supervise their work and serve as pseudo-counselors.

The 17-year-olds are Junior Counselors and serve as role models to the E-team in good activity counseling. If they continue to succeed, they are placed in a cabin and given very minor roles and mostly observe and learn from the older counselors. The Junior Counselor checks in multiple times a week to see which new responsibility he or she has taken on, or what his or her goals are.

Ages 18 To 20

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