The rewards of working as a camp counsellor are many: you’ll enjoy working outdoors while making a difference in the lives of countless kids. But if you’re interested in earning a fat paycheque, well, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
“If you want to earn big bucks, work in a factory or a fast food restaurant,” says Catherine Ross of the Canadian Camping Association and author of How to be a Camp Counsellor, available for purchase on the Ontario Camps Association website.
“Camp directors try to weed out self-centered candidates only interested in how much time off they’ll receive and how much money they’ll earn. Personally, if a parent phoned on behalf of their child, I would also cross that candidate’s name off my list,” says Ross, past president of the Society of Camp Directors.
When hiring counsellors throughout her career, Ross sought a mix of personalities. “We need good listeners, people who are thoughtful and caring,” she says. “They should show some creativity and must be energetic. You need to get up every morning with a smile on your face. You must also be physically fit, as the job is physically demanding.”
The want ads for camp counsellors will vary from camp to camp, but most seek candidates no younger than 17 to 19 years. First aid and CPR certifications are a definite plus. If you’re applying to a waterfront camp or one with a pool, swim instructor and lifeguard certification is another bonus.
The bulk of counsellors at Camp Alexo with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Red Deer, Alta., are university or college students studying education, recreation, arts, kinesiology or social work, says program manager Les Waite. They must successfully complete an enrollment process that includes a police check.
“Many of the counsellors we hire have attended our camps and completed our counsellors-in-training program. They’re coming back to pay it forward while earning money,” Waite says. He looks for candidates passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and youth.
“Counsellors must be energetic and able to maintain a positive attitude for extended periods of time. You’re going to work long hours,” he says.
Creativity is also appreciated. “Counsellors need to be able to make their job fun because the more fun they’re having, the more fun the kids will have. They need to bring the magic to camp.”
Attention to detail is crucial, as counsellors must be in tune to how campers are doing emotionally and physically. “Counsellors must also be responsible and remember that they’re caring for someone’s most precious possession — their child,” Waite says.
Professionalism is invaluable, as counsellors work in close quarters with the same people, day in and day out. “Don’t gossip and don’t let things build up. Otherwise your summer is going to be long,” Waite says.
Camp and camp association websites typically post positions for camp counsellors.
Still weighing the rewards of working as a counsellor with the paycheque you’ll earn? Remember that residential camp counsellors have virtually no expenses and can return home at the end of the summer with their paycheque almost untouched.
Best of all, they’ll also have a host of skills and incredible memories, says Ross. “They’re learning leadership and co-operation skills, and to work as a member of a team. They’re also learning organizational skills and compromise — all skills that are needed in the workplace … It’s a real growth experience.”