For years we have talked about hiring “counselor heroes”. A friend unfamiliar with summer camps asked me to define what we mean by this and to explain what we do to get “heroes”. I thought you might appreciate how I responded.
Our heroes are young men and women committed to being exceptional role models to our campers. These are individuals whose talents justify easier hours and higher pay, but who understand the power of working with young people (of course, they also enjoy having an active and exciting summer). While these heroes teach the campers a great deal, they inevitably learn some powerful lessons themselves. They learn the 21st Century skills of communication, teamwork, work ethic, leadership and creative thinking as well the joy of serving others. They learn that hard work and great fun can go together.
I deeply believe that we could run a great camp on an acre of asphalt if we have the right staff. Camp truly begins and ends with the role models and relationships. Happily, Camp Champions is a LOT nicer than an acre of asphalt, but we always keep this in mind.
How do we go about gathering these heroes? We start with a very clear idea of who we are looking for. Our counselors do not all have the same personality type (for example, it is important to have both rambunctious and soothing counselors at camp), but they do need to have certain characteristics. They must have a positive, optimistic bias towards life – they look for solutions rather than focus on problems. They must enjoy children. They must be fun. They must have an interest in excellence. With this in mind, we go on the road.
Each year, we spend over five months recruiting. We visit campuses, travel internationally to meet applicants from other countries and encourage our existing counselors to recruit their friends. [Note: I love the fact that most of our counselors will recommend only a small percentage of their friends, because most “are good enough to be friends, but not good enough for Champions”.]
Typically, we travel to London and Scotland to meet and hire international counselors. We are not willing to hire them if we do not meet them (given some of our strict standards), so did not start to hire many internationals until about 7 years ago. When we go to England, we have had more people interview to work with us than the next 6 camps put together. We have garnered a reputation as the place to go if you want the most intense, but also most rewarding experience. A few of our internationals were already here before the travel and visa bans kicked in, so we still have some great variety, but we miss our internationals.
But as I mentioned previously, what we lost in international counselors, we have picked up from great counselors who have had their plans change. This is a great group.
Once we identify great candidates, we put them through a rigorous selection process highlighted with interviews that last 1-2 hours each. We also require them to commit to some strict behavioral guidelines, including a strict anti-alcohol policy (the policy is not a neo-prohibitionist stance on our part, but is instead a way to assure that our counselors are focused on our campers and not on their nights off). Once we have found individuals that are fun, talented and committed, we put them through a 12-day orientation (the longest we are aware of) to make sure that they have the skills to work with your child.
Through this process, we create the magic of camp. We believe that you can have a wonderful camp on an acre of asphalt if you have the right counselors. Of course, if you have a beautiful site on Lake LBJ with countless activities and great equipment, that only makes the experience greater. But it all comes down to the counselors. I hope you take the time to get to know your camper’s counselor this summer (you might even write his or her a letter just for fun).