By James Smith, Assistant Director, Camp Joslin
The value of being a camp counselor is often overlooked. Their job is to promote positive and healthy living for their campers who look up to them in a very unique way. A camp counselor is often times seen by campers as an older and wiser version of themselves, which makes relating to them that much easier and also that much more important. Some of the best camp counselors were once campers themselves and can relate to the multiple perspectives of a diverse group of kids. Many campers model their future goals after their camp counselors, who during their camp session gave them such a positive and nurturing experience that it sticks with them for the rest of their lives.
Camp counselors are typically in high school or college when they begin their first session. This is the time when many young adults are thinking about what career path they would like to take. While they may love being a camp counselor, many young adults face difficult decisions when they must decide whether to continue with counseling or pursue an internship. At this age, time seems to be critical as the idea of college and a career-helping internship becomes compelling. Some are lucky enough to have a career path in mind; however, the majority of young adults are often on the fence between career ideas or are still unsure. This is where the counselor job helps those young adults. Spending all day and all night with children from all different backgrounds and struggles can equip a person with a widened perspective. Many think being a counselor is just a minor “summer job” where they babysit children for a specific time frame. What is not as recognized is how successful counselors put their heart into their campers’ experience. Counselors are there to help campers have a fun and positive experience at camp and to also help campers answer their tough growing-pains questions. Successful camp counselors have an amazing ability to adapt to the specific needs of each camper they come in contact with.
At camps that serve children with disabilities or special needs, compassionate counselors are especially critical as campers face various challenges. At the camps run by The Barton Center for Diabetes Education, this practice is prevalent. Their campers have experienced an early “speed bump” in their lives known as type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease where the pancreas produces little to no insulin—a hormone necessary for regulating blood sugar.
There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes; however, those who are diagnosed have the ability to live long and healthy lives with proper care and education. What seems to weigh more heavily on children with T1D, as is most likely the case with other conditions, is not the immense medical care which they need to learn in order to sustain a healthy life, but rather the social aspect of feeling different from their peers. Oftentimes, a child may be the only one in their school living with T1D. It’s not unusual for children to arrive at Barton programs ashamed of their pump sites wearing clothing to camouflage the sites and then parents arrive at pick up to see their children running around in shorts and tank tops with pump sites fully exposed. Over 90% of The Barton Center summer staff either has type 1 diabetes, or has worked with someone close to them who has the disease as well. When the campers attend a camp that is specifically curtailed to their needs, they benefit by learning they are not alone and by having a support system. The counselors they look up to are able to show just how “normal” they can be while living with T1D.
The camp counselor position is a job that not only educates, but also inspires counselors. Campers can leave large impressions on counselors after they work closely with them and often influence career decisions. Thomas Jacobsen, a junior education major at the University of Connecticut began his counselor career at age seventeen. Every summer since 2014 he has returned to his counselor role to help his campers grow, and his motivation, as he says, lies solely with the kids. “I think being able to work with kids has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but being with the kids at camp is such another level of impactful. Seeing their eyes light up when they learn something new about themselves or the world around them has always been a phenomenal moment. Empowering them to take control of their own lives, helping them learn to advocate for themselves, and watching them begin to transition into motivated and compassionate young adults is an experience I would not change for the world.” Thomas has been pursuing a career in teaching and believes that his camp experience will supplement him greatly in his classroom. “As important as it is for my future students to learn the core subject matter that I will be teaching them, it is exponentially more valuable for them to develop as people and citizens that can help others and change the world.”
Alan Shultz, MSN, CPNP is a nurse practitioner at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. He has had an incredible journey pursuing his career in pediatric diabetes care, and his experiences at Camp Joslin—a camp for boys with T1D in Charlton, MA, run by The Barton Center for Diabetes Education—has greatly contributed to his journey’s success. “Camp taught me how resilient children can be. I saw them manage type 1 diabetes—this difficult, chronic illness—and it inspired me to keep returning summer after summer and eventually pursue a career in pediatric diabetes. My camp experience gave me skills that I still use today as a clinician.”
Whether you have a teenager searching for their first job or a college student trying to build their resume, a counselor position is always a respectable job that will give the young adult in your life an immense amount of skills that making coffee and copies could never provide. The value behind being a camp counselor is immeasurable.