This summer I had as interesting internship to say the least. I learned a lot and now that I have been gone for a little over a week I have had some time to reflect. I would say it was the most unconventional job I have had in my life yet. I had a lot of freedom for personal development as well as certain skills such as cooking and childcare, etc…
Although I wasn’t totally sure of my responsibilities before I started the summer I was quickly made aware that I was going to be in charge of running the kitchen and all of the task/organization which revolved around it. I learned a lot about myself this summer in terms of by capabilities in the kitchen and my feelings towards dealing with children. I was glad I was mostly in the kitchen and not around the kids as much to be honest. It was a great escape from the heat and constant energy depriving kids. In saying this there were certain times of the day I would love interacting with the campers. However when other counselors had to continue supervising campers, I could move to the kitchen to start preparing for a meal.
This isn’t to say that running the kitchen wasn’t a lot of pressure. I have never cooked for fifty-seventy people nor run a kitchen crew. The first couple of weeks definitely took a while to get the hang of operations. For the first four or five weeks, before the county shut some of buildings down including my kitchen, I was working in an outdoor kitchen with a cabin storage/freezer/refrigerator cabin. I was given the responsibility of doing mass food orders through a company called Shamrock foods who deliver to restaurants etc… I would put in one or two orders a week of around $1,500-$2,500 worth of food which I deemed necessary for the camp. I was not given a strict budget and was given the loose instructions of “order enough food so the kids can eat until they aren’t hungry.” The owner of the camp, Danny’s fear was that if one child came home from the camp and said that he didn’t eat or the food wasn’t good that there would be many unhappy parents.
He was right. There were many parents entrusting their children with us with the hope that we would not only keep them happy and safe, but well-fed and fully accommodated. I agreed which was nice because I had no choice to.
This freedom to order ‘whatever’ I wanted (in the confines of the pre determined menus) allowed me to develop my cooking skills in myriad of ways. There were set meals, for example such as some sort of noodles and sauces, but every week I could tweak this to mean whatever I wanted. So if I wanted to make ravioli one week, a meat sauce, an Alfredo sauce, and garlic bread, I could. The next week for that same ‘noodle meal’ I might have just done a simple butter sauce, meat sauce and a vegetarian sauce.
For the more complex meals such as pizza making or asian bowls (which I had to learn from looking up recipes) I could use the same base each week and be creative with the rest. When I would do pizza making for example we would have the same base such as dough, sauce, cheese for the pizza but then could bring in some creativeness with different toppings such as mushrooms, peppers, sausages, or really whatever the kids wanted to use from the kitchen on their pies.
In terms of organizational skills, I had to work on mine a lot in order to ensure all the meals were prepared properly and on time. This was probably the most stressful aspect of the job as it required everybody involved in the food prep to be alert and helpful. I had to rally troops which sometimes meant radioing around the ranch to remind one of the counselors as they forgot they were on duty. For a meal such as burritos I would have to start preparing much earlier as I had to cook many things on the grill such as beef, chicken, peppers, and onions. Making sure everything was organized at the end of the meal and put away properly was just as important. I had to make sure nothing was left out during the day such as dairy/meats so they wouldn’t go bad. Having a structure was important as the counselor helping crew was always rotating so as I instilled my ways people started to pick up on it and start doing tasks without even having to ask me.
Relating my leadership studies to my internship was easy this summer. There were many power relationships and theories which could be applied from specifically my Theories and Models class. For instance, In Professor Goethals’ class we learned about the 5/10/15/25 year olds minds in terms of social interactions. I saw a lot of certain situations such as the younger kids (5 year old brain) only seeing certain situations or people as bad or good. The younger kids were very conservative and careful and almost scared in a new environment which is understanding. However they acted entirely different from the older campers who were twelve or thirteen. By this I mean the older kids were curious and eager to push boundaries. It was as if their curiosity caused them to distance themselves from the counselors in order to discuss whatever they were discussing in private. As campers changed each week it was interesting to see a similar pattern in age groups.
By the end of the summer we (the counselors) found we knew which age group of kids each of us liked/didn’t like. Some counselors may not have liked a certain age group but were extremely affective in dealing with them. One of my fellow counselors JD experienced this as he was put in charge of the youngest group of kids all summer. Although he would have preferred to work with the more easy going older kids, he knew that he was the best at getting the younger kids to calm down, or get them excited when the appropriate time came. I had a lot of respect for JD because I knew it drove him crazy but that he did it because he knew no one else could handle the kids better. I know personally that my patience with kids at the start of the summer was pretty low. I worked on it and watching people such as JD and other specific counselors I was able to relax and no allow the kids to drive me crazy. Dealing with kids who aren’t listening or misbehaving excessively is hard. So figuring out how to deal with them without cursing or yelling at them like you might your friends or younger brother was definitely a test.
Another theory which was immodestly clear to see was the Great Man Theory. Each week or session, new campers came in and had to deal with the ‘new school antics.’ It was immediately clear who were the leaders within the first couple hours of arrival. These ‘pre-determined leaders’ would without fail remain in some sort of leadership role throughout the week. Whether this was a male or female camper, these individuals presented intrinsic traits such as clear speaking, confidence, and communication.
Although I wasn’t consciously thinking about this phenomenon during camp, in retrospect it was amazing how quick we (the counselors) could tell who was going to be our problem leaders, respectable leaders, problem followers, and respectable followers. With kids everything seems to be more in the open. They have less boundaries and awareness of what should and shouldn’t be done in a social setting. However as they get older and into the age of the older campers, this awareness seems to blossom into curiosity. I was amazed at how these two theories and many others were so ‘in your face’ obvious.
Ajax Sleepaway Camp was a bit more stressful than I thought it would be. This may be because I wasn’t fully aware of the responsibility and work it takes to bring awesomeness to a fresh group of kid every week. Keeping enthusiasm throughout the summer was tough but necessary as every kids parent had paid the same and expected the same care. Personally I think I did my job at communicating direction and solving problems when they arose. This mostly revolved around the kitchen and timing of meals, but when a problem arose it all fell on me. Communication was the biggest struggle and biggest savior of Ajax this summer for me. As long as I could communicate what needed to be done and my feelings about decisions involving me, I could work in a relatively low stress environment.
I may have lacked in developing my skills with kids this summer but this was in large part to the hours demanded by my kitchen position. I hope that I served as a positive role model when I interacted with the campers as they looked up to us as we were their gods. I am not necessarily upset that I didn’t spend more time with the children this summer as a couple interactions a day such as breaking up a fight or leading a game of dodgeball gave me the satisfaction of influencing many campers’ lives.