Given the choice, the typical 10th grader would likely choose to have a carefree summer as a camper at sleepaway camp rather than work at one as a counselor. But 15-year-old Lukas Kroner of Burke, Virginia, isn’t your typical 10th grader.
While most of his friends will be traveling or playing video games, Kroner will be returning to Camp Twin Creeks in Marlington, West Virginia for his ninth summer — and his first as a counselor-in-training, or CIT. “I’m looking forward to making memories with my fellow CITs and working with the junior campers,” he says. “I can’t wait to teach them new things and to help them have a great time at camp.”
Kroner is confident in his abilities because he believes he works well with kids and knows what they think will be fun. Although he won’t be getting paid to be a CIT, tuition for the CIT program costs less than camper tuition, which, Kroner says, “I know my parents like.” Plus he’ll have the opportunity to participate in camp activities when he isn’t working as a CIT.
What makes a good CIT?
While CIT programs vary from camp to camp, the qualities that camp directors seek out in teenage hires tend to be similar, starting with the desire to work with children. “We can teach a lot of skills. We can teach them how to do most of their day-to-day things, but we can’t teach them to want to interact with kids,” says Phil Liebson, director of Camp JCC.
Ramzi Sifri, director of McDonogh Summer Camps in Owings Mills, Maryland, agrees. “We’re looking for people who are sincere in their desire to work with kids, as opposed to just getting a job,” he says.
Flexibility and patience are two additional key characteristics of a good counselor. “We plan everything every single day of camp, and then every possible change that could happen, does happen,” says Camp JCC’s assistant director, Aliza Glatter.
Interestingly, most camps aren’t just looking to hire super extroverted teens. As Liebson explains, campers who are less outgoing or may have wallflower tendencies aren’t likely to bond with loud, boisterous CITs.
“It takes all sorts of different personalities and style to make sure we’re able to reach every kid,” he says, using his own Pokémon-loving son as an example of the type of camper who connects with counselors who also aren’t as interested in sports.
The benefits add up
The most obvious benefit of being a CIT is that your teen will already know the camp’s culture and traditions when they return later on as a paid counselor — and that knowledge often fast tracks the interview process. “If we’re going to hire a young person, we’d like to hire somebody who’s taken our CIT program, who’s already been integrated into our camps and knows a lot about them,” says Sifri, explaining that CITs at McDonogh Summer Camps are given priority for interviews.
However, “there’s so much you can learn from being a camp counselor that is applicable to school life and job life,” says Sharon Rosenberg Safra, assistant director at Camp Ramah in Germantown, Maryland. She highlights communication skills, such as talking to kids, peers and supervisors as well as crucial problem-solving skills like the ability to think on one’s feet.
Then there’s the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. “When some of our teens come to us, they’re maybe focused on themselves as the priority,” explains Liebson. “Whereas once they’ve worked with kids, and once they’ve been part of camp, they have that perspective of ‘Well, this is why they’re saying this.’ Now they might be able to mediate conversations between friends or maybe they can help facilitate something that’s a little bit more collaborative.”
Camp JCC CITs also have the added responsibility of running the camp carnival, which teaches them program design. They’re learning everything from creating a budget and acquiring supplies to running the program and debriefing at the end, Liebson explains.
Sifri says that working at camp provides younger Generation Z kids the opportunity to put down their phones, spend some time in the sun and enjoy eclectic experiences such as art and science, computers and sports. “It just kind of helps them develop their personality and . . . as they get closer to the college level what their future interests might be,” he says.
For Michael Thompson, 19, working as a CIT at Camp Levine in Washington, D.C., and then as a counselor at Roundhouse Theatre and Imagination Stage camps, both in Bethesda, Maryland, helped him decide what he wanted to pursue as a career.
“It really solidified for me the fact that I want to work with kids for a living, most likely as a music teacher as I’m currently majoring in music at college and plan to get a master’s in education after,” he says.
This story originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Washington FAMILY.