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Why Did You Choose to Work at a Camp? 

click to enlarge HATIYE GARIP
  • hatiye garip

It takes a special kind of person to work at a summer camp. Whether it’s tending to skinned knees and bug bites or wrangling dozens of kids with different needs and interests, it’s not an easy job. On the other hand, spending the bulk of the summer swimming, exploring nature and making art seems like a pretty sweet deal. This month, we asked local camp directors and staff to tell us why they chose camp life and what they like about their job. Not surprisingly, many of them said their experience attending camp was a driving force behind working at one.

Camp Farnsworth (run by Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains), Thetford

I started going to Camp Farnsworth at the age of 9, and it has been my home away from home ever since. As a counselor, I really love being able to give campers the same enjoyable experience that I had as a camper. I want new and old campers alike to leave feeling more confident in themselves, having learned new skills and tried new things, as well as realize that there will always be a place for them there. The dynamic of the staff at Camp Farnsworth is something that is powerful and unique. We work together for just two months, but the friendships we make and the professional skills we acquire last a lifetime. I took on the counselor-in-training director position last summer because I wanted to provide a positive learning experience in which the oldest campers, who would soon become staff, feel confident and prepared to take on such an important job. 

Jessica "Sully" Gustafson, counselor-in-training director

University of Vermont Environmental Science Day Camp, Burlington

I feel everyone who lives on planet Earth should know something about the home they live on. I studied geology, but there are plenty of other "Earth-related" sciences too. Science education brings excitement and knowledge to people of all ages. What better way is there to instill a love of scientific inquiry than to start with young students?

Christine Massey, director

Smugglers' Notch Resort Summer Fun University, Jeffersonville

I started working at the Smugglers' Notch Summer Fun University when I was 16 years old as a junior camp counselor. I wanted a job where I could be outside playing with kids and sharing my passion for Vermont and our natural surroundings. I have since graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in recreation management, all while working at Smugglers'. I continue to enjoy working with children in our camp programs entering into my 29th summer!

Harley Johnson, director

Wingspan Studio, Burlington

I first started working with kids and running youth art camps as a resident artist at [the arts and cultural center] Glen Echo Park in Maryland, early in my career. The natural and historic setting there lent itself to combining nature with programs and supported my view of nature as our greatest teacher. I was tutoring in French, having lived in Paris and Yaoundé, Cameroon, and previously working in international development, so combining French came into it. Relocating to Vermont in 1999, after an art residency at the Vermont Studio Center, I opened Wingspan Studio and voilà! Our youth programs weave together the arts, French and nature-inspired projects. I love working with kids because of their curiosity and honesty. It's also super important to me to make programs accessible to all, thus the founding of Spread Your Wings!, our youth scholarship program.

Maggie Standley, director

Circus Smirkus Camp, Greensboro

After being a camper for six years, I knew that the summer I was old enough to work, I wanted to apply. Working now as a counselor is my way of giving back after so many years of receiving the "magic" that camp offers and doing my best to create my own magic for kids. Working alongside some of my best friends that I grew up with at camp makes it all the more meaningful.

Emma Steinert, counselor

University of Vermont Adventure Day Camp, Burlington

Since the age of 3, I have been attending day camps, and then sleepaway camps when I was old enough. Once I entered college and knew I wanted to be an educator, working for camps during the summer seemed like a natural (and fun) fit! I first began working as a counselor for UVM's Adventure Day Camp the summer going into my senior year. The next year I returned as the sports and games counselor. Then, after a few years working as a high school teacher, I missed it and returned as the assistant director last year, and this year as the director. ADC has become my happy place, and I can't imagine not returning.

Emily Gilmore, director

ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain Camps, Burlington

As a lifelong learner, I truly delight in sharing my passion for science, engineering and the natural world with others, especially inquisitive future scientists. ECHO camps provide that special place to let children's natural curiosity and creativity run wild.

Chris Whitaker, educator

Vermont Institute of Natural Science Nature Camp, Quechee

Summer camp has always been an important part of my life. I actually attended a VINS summer camp when it was located in Woodstock in the early '90s. I don't remember much, but I still have some very vivid memories of meeting an enormous snapping turtle face-to-face and running around outdoors. After that, I attended an overnight camp for girls for eight summers, then returned as a CIT and a counselor for four summers after that. The life-changing friendships I made and the sense of belonging and self-confidence that I cultivated during my summers at camp have instilled in me the enormous importance of summer camp experiences for all children. 

I never dreamed that I would be in charge of leading a summer camp; however, I absolutely love the job. I always loved working with kids and the natural world, and so combining the two in an environmental education degree was an obvious choice. Graduating from my master's program, I had no idea where my schooling would take me, but in a wonderful, coming-full-circle sort of way, the position with VINS Nature Camp was available, and I've been so grateful to be in this role for the past two and a half years.

Sarah Sincerbeaux, nature camp and adult programs lead

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