Same Job, Different Role

We are currently in week two of the second three-week session. My first session was the most difficult that I’ve had in my three years on staff. I knew going into first session that my cabin of ten twelve-year-old girls would be harder than a normal cabin because we had Vivien, a camper who has historically caused major social issues. Our campus head discretely described her to us as “just plain mean,” but she also told myself and my co-counselor, Fiona, that she had put us together with Vivien because she believed that we were the best pair to handle her. This empowered me because it showed how much faith my campus head had in me, but it also definitely made for a difficult session. While our campers are traditionally entrusted with more independence and freedom than in the outside world, we came to a point with Vivien where we could not entrust her with these privileges because of the need to protect our other campers. Normally, we play “zone defense” on our campers during unstructured time, but we started playing “man-to-man” on Vivien, meaning that she always had to be with a staff member, a responsibility that fell mostly on myself and Fiona. It was exhausting and frustrating to see so little change in Vivien for the amount of effort we put in. For the first time, I had a long-lasting problem with campers that no one could solve, but had to tolerate and appreciate the incremental progress. My leadership in the cabin became more about making campers feel safe than creating positive programming. It was definitely a challenge, as I pushed my patience, creativity, and communication skills to new limits.

However, the challenges I experienced during first session made my triumphs in this session so much sweeter. This session, I have an incredible group of eight 15- and 16-year old girls, the oldest in camp. My campers this session are truly the best of the best—they have all been here for multiple years, are the true leaders of the girls’ side, and are the envy of the rest of staff. Now, rather than constantly admonishing negative behavior and repeating directions, I see my role as more of a guiding force to help them grow as people and leaders and have an incredible last year. Throughout the last week, my co-counselor and I have been working with them on what kind of legacy they want to leave here. The first night, we set out guidelines on how they can make that happen, and they have been doing an incredible job at translating those into action. They know that their actions are contagious to the younger campers, and they have impressed me with their maturity. This session has also challenged my creativity. Because these girls are so experienced at camp, my co-counselor and I have been working to come up with “bucket list” items that our campers have never done before. We have encouraged them to think big, and I think it’s working. We have a few big surprises coming up this week for the rest of camp.

My role within the cabin has changed quite dramatically from session one to session two. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that I’ve done the same job in both sessions. This session, I have had to challenge myself to lead in a more “hands-off” way, which is not my natural tendency. I’ve found that when I do so, I am almost always impressed at what my campers can achieve on their own. It’s been incredibly rewarding. It’s been especially rewarding to watch how my campers have embraced their role as role models to set an example for other campers, even for other girls their age. I find that sometimes other staff request “olders” because they think that they are more self-sufficient, and therefore easier. While older girls may be more independent, I think that the work we do with them can be almost more important than any other age group. While in the past, I have loved working with the middle age groups, I think I’m starting to gravitate toward the older girls, and I look forward to help continue to grow the community among them.