November 22, 2019

Camp Is the Best Professional Development

By Brooks Weaver

This is my favorite time of year in the EKC office. We’re in the process of building our team for this summer and as we travel to the many universities visiting our staff, I find myself having the same conversation over and over. It usually goes something like, “I really want to work at camp this summer, but I need to do something that’s going to translate to my resume and prepare me for a real job.”  Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Working at camp is an invaluable experience that gives you opportunities to grow as an individual and develop job skills that equip you for any future career.

I went to business school and studied finance and accounting. This may be surprising, but there were many summers where camp wasn’t always in my plan. However, I was always confident that the work experience I was receiving at camp was valuable, maybe even more valuable, than the experience I could get working elsewhere. Jaynie Levinson, Young Adult Development Officer at the Jewish Federation in Cincinnati, and former EKC camper and staff member, says it best:

“Camp in my opinion is the best way to test your “adult readiness.” The skills I learned at camp were huge in marketing myself in job interviews. I learned the most about myself at camp, and at the time that is something I didn’t feel I could experience at a desk job. I realized the impact I had on others, and that was the most humbling and rewarding feeling in the world.”

There are the obvious reasons why camp is a great job. It’s fun, you get to work with kids, you get to work with your friends, make new friends, and make a difference in the lives of others, to name just a few. While all of this is important, the staff experience at EKC offers much more than just that. Working at camp prepares you for life’s journeys, not just socially and emotionally, but professionally as well.

In particular, camp develops “21st century skills” such as communication, leadership, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and work ethic. These skills are often referred to as non-cognitive skills or soft skills and are considered by most employers to be required (and currently lacking in most applicants) to be successful in today’s world. Many of these skills can’t be learned in a classroom setting, by reading a book, or by observing others. They can only be developed by experience and there is no place better to get this experience than camp. Where else are you forced to create a rainy day program on a moment’s notice, at the same time you’re trying to figure out what materials and spaces you have, and trying to help your camper find their rain jacket, and make sure the clothes line gets cleared before the downpour comes. That’s critical thinking and quick problem solving at its best.  Not to mention, you’re doing all of this while probably tired, dirty and sweaty. That’s developing work ethic! I believe that if you can be successful in a camp environment, you can adapt to just about any workplace environment.

So how do we ensure we are developing these skills within our staff so that they are best prepared to handle any situation? We enlist the help and expertise of e21. E21 is a training resource with a focus on staff management.  They offer a professional development curriculum that focuses on developing those “21st century skills”. How exactly do these skills we gain at camp benefit us in our future careers? Noah Jordan, an attorney at Rothman Gordon and longtime EKC camper and staff member said:

“I was surprised to discover in my early years of practicing law just how much my time working at camp prepared me for my career. As part of my job as a union-side labor lawyer, I frequently am asked to speak to large groups of union members in order to educate them on a particular area of the law or to present aspects of proposed agreements.  Prior to working at camp, public speaking, and even just the thought of it, terrified me.  After many years of leading staff meetings and staff training sessions, I not only became comfortable with public speaking, but even came to enjoy it. Additionally, my time both as a counselor and Unit Head forced me to be able to build consensus within groups (a cabin of campers or the staff in my unit).  This skill also has been vital in my practice, specifically when it comes to negotiating collective bargaining agreements and developing strategy when handling grievance matters. Pretty much everything I do in terms of my practice in both Labor and Employment law can be related to some work I did during my time at camp.”

We appreciate and understand the investment our staff has made in camp, and that’s why we believe in investing in them.  We want to invest in our staff so much that we’ve created a new full-time position at EKC, Director of Staff Engagement. We want our staff to be inspired, encouraged, and supported not just during camp, but all year-round as well. We will accomplish this by developing  best-in-class staff training to equip our staff with the skills necessary to help them succeed at camp and beyond.  We also understand that our staff have complex lives outside of camp, and it’s important for us provide the best care possible. Staff, like campers, need to have fun too. We are committed to providing fun experiences for our staff such as trivia night, sports tournaments, campfires, chopped, and even drag-queen bingo! We also support our staff by giving them the opportunity to spend time with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as needed throughout the summer.

Camp is a unique place where so much can be accomplished. It’s a place for continued growth and learning, whether you are a camper, SIT, Counselor, or Camp Director. We understand that everyone’s camp journey looks different, and ultimately we always want what’s best for our staff. Sometimes that includes camp, and sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s ok too. Jaynie Levinson says it best,

“I always remember “We Are Family.”  Think about what the means. Camp friends are best friends.  Relationships we create with our camp friends, counselors, specialists and other staff can last a lifetime.  The EKC network is far and wide.   Having “work friends,” “school friends” and “camp friends” is something special that we shouldn’t take for granted.  Camp has had an amazing impact on me and shaped me into the person and professional I am today. I am so fortunate to have the EKC family by my side and so many of these lasting relationships, all because I said “yes” to working at camp during my college years.”

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