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The benefits of becoming a summer camp leader

In 1997, I applied to be a Day Camp Counsellor at the newly opened Crowfoot YMCA (now the Melcor YMCA) and was fortunate enough to be part of the first summer day camp team (my camp name was “Summit”). I loved it so much that I was a returning leader for the next three summers with the YMCA, then led the summer volunteer program at Westside Recreation Centre, spent a summer as a Camp Counsellor at Summit Camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and supervised The City of Calgary Park n’ Play as a Recreation Program Specialist. I had no idea that my first full-time summer job would be the start of a recreation career spanning 25 years (and counting!).

Here are a few of the benefits your child can look forward to if they become a summer camp leader:

1. Gaining valuable life skills. Many of the skills I use every day can be traced back to being a summer camp leader - from finding creative problem-solving to managing conflict to being a good team player (plus, I have a large repertoire of camp songs, which come in handy now as a parent!).

As Jorja Forshaw, Recreation Leader, Canadian Forces Base Edmonton notes, “Being a summer camp leader gave me a sense of responsibility, helped me build time management skills, and allowed me to develop relationships with my co-workers.”

Being a summer camp leader gives youth the ultimate opportunity to learn and practice (just to name a few):

  • time management skills
  • adaptability
  • taking initiative
  • effective communication
  • problem-solving skills
  • teamwork

2. Finding amazing friends. One of the best parts of being a summer camp leader is finding amazing lifelong friends, some of which I have been friends with for over 20 years! By the nature of the job, summer camp teams are made up of other young people who are passionate about working with children, ready to have fun, and always up for adventure.

“My co-workers were amazing, and the camp had such a positive energy! That feeling was what kept me motivated to do my best every day,” says Vivian Leadbeader, Senior Play Camp Leader, Town of High River.

3. Making a difference. Beyond being a summer job, a summer camp leader becomes a caregiver, a role model, a coach, and a cheerleader to the children in their group. In fact, research shows the biggest reason why children stay engaged in sport and recreation for the long-term is the caring leaders that made a difference in their lives (HIGH FIVE, 2021).

Laura Evans, Assistant Principal with Calgary Catholic School Division, reflects back on her time as a summer camp leader by sharing, “Working and helping others has always been a passion for me. I have always said that I want to be a little bit of light that a child has in a day. My start at day camps has only inspired my journey to keep being that light as a teacher and now as an administrator.” 

4. Getting paid to play. Being a summer camp leader is an opportunity to get paid to play! When I look back on some of my experiences as a summer camp leader, from taking kids on overnight tenting trips to scavenger hunts through parks to playing field games out in the warm summer sun, most of the time I forgot I was working!

Jen Smith, former Camp Coordinator at Easter Seals Camp Horizon, reflects on her camp experience by sharing, “I got to hang out with an amazing staff, meet so many great people, and play outside all year long. There is nothing better than that!”

Beyond this list, there are many benefits to taking on one of the most rewarding (and challenging!) summer jobs out there; it will teach your child more about themselves than they ever imagined!

Is your child ‘too old for camp’ but too young to meet the hiring age requirements?

A volunteer or Junior Leader position may be the perfect fit.

Tracy Morgan, Customer Service and Programmer Supervisor at the Town of High River notes, “For volunteers, summer camp is their first job-like experience and they quite often move up into camp leader roles or job opportunities within our department.”

Bobbi Thomas, Preschool, Children’s, and Youth Programmer, The City of Airdrie, says, “90 percent of our recreation leaders started as volunteers in our program. It is a fantastic way to gain experience, confidence, and leadership skills to prepare for any type of employment.”

Not only do these summer roles give youth an opportunity to gain valuable experience for their resume and opportunities for employment down the road, but they also often come with flexible schedules, making it easier to still enjoy longer summer family vacations!

Is your child interested in a camp leader or volunteer opportunity this summer?

Some great places in Calgary to start include:

  • Recreation organizations (i.e., The City of Calgary, YMCA Calgary)
  • Sports groups (i.e., WinSport, Repsol, minor sports organizations)
  • Post-secondary institutions (i.e., MRU, U of C, SAIT)
  • Local attractions (i.e., Butterfield Acres, TELUS Spark, Wilder Institute / Calgary Zoo)
  • Home Owners and/or Residents Associations
  • Camps your child attended in the past (i.e., Camp Cadicasu, Camp Kiwanis)
  • Calgary Youth Employment Centre

I hope this article has provided you with a greater understanding of the value, importance, opportunities, and potential that working in a camp environment offers your child now, and for years to come. 

Jen is a mom of twins, an avid adventurer, and co-owner of WordPLAY Consulting. She has worked in education, sport, and recreation for over 25 years as a teacher, leader, and advocate for positive child and youth development. For more information, visit wordplaycanada.com

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