No one forgets their first summer as a camp counselor. Like the first as a camper, the first summer of counselorhood is a rite of passage, and nobody comes out of it exactly as they went in. Luckily, most adults look back on it as a useful and highly entertaining chapter of growing up.
We have living proof that many young counselors turn out to be normal, even exemplary, adults. Quite a few of Chewonki’s year-round staff are veteran counselors or trip leaders from Chewonki summer programs. Among these are Reis Costello (Facilities) and Matthew Weeks (Traveling Natural History Program).
Reis was a Chewonki camper for two years; then went on a Wilderness Trip (Mariners); next, was a Guide (counselor-in-training); became a full-fledged counselor the following summer; and served in that role for six years. Matt spent six summers as a camper; one as a Guide; and nine as a counselor. These fellows know camp counseling. We sat down with them to find out what they remember about their first summer in the role. Pretty much everything, it turns out. Here are the big take-aways.
Campers worship counselors. Counselors should be worthy of worship.
Reis and Matt acknowledge that counselors have awesome power. Parents might spend years trying to teach their son to make his bed and fail, but when a counselor makes his own bed, that same boy will make his bed. Counselors are rock stars. Each develops his own style, and each can inspire in his own way. That’s a big responsibility for the counselor, say Matt and Reis, who vividly remember the counselors who made an important impression on them. They can (and do) list the names of every counselor who influenced what kind of counselor they themselves tried to be.
When you become a Chewonki counselor, Matt explains, you suddenly develop “a sense of duty to provide a great experience–giving back to the community that gave so much to you…You want to be a really good, memorable counselor, like the ones you remember.”
The trials make you a better counselor.
Reis’s first experience as a counselor took place in New Hall. He had the only bed set in the middle of the cabin floor. He was surrounded–perhaps flocked is a better word–by 10-year-old Owls. There was nowhere to hide. ”That’s where my real education happened,” says Reis. He says it was valuable preparation for whatever challenges arose in subsequent summers.
Matt got a lesson in homesickness during his first summer as counselor. In his cabin, there was a little seven-week camper who had never been away from home and was suffering from “debilitating homesickness. There’s no fix, no cure for that,” says Matt, “but time. For three weeks, he’d wake me up around 4:00 in the morning and we’d go walking, kicking pine cones, talking about his father, whom he missed incredibly.” It felt like a lot for a young counselor to handle, but Matt’s steady hand and encouragement eventually paid off–and the boy he stumbled onto kayaking, fell in love with it, and the homesickness was gone for good. (In fact, he came back for many summers and became a counselor himself.)
You discover things about yourself you never knew.
Matt had an epiphany: he discovered that he loved being on stage, at campfire, on the field, or in the cabin. He “loved being a pirate gravedigger, an ancient Greek, the Hunchback of Frog Pond, the Great Ninja.” (You won’t be surprised to learn that Matt became a theater major at Kenyon College.) “I made campfire skits mandatory every week,” he says.
Reis, who appears to nonchalant, discovered that he was “a strict counselor. I surprised myself.” As long as his boys were outside, they could could go nuts. But once inside the cabin, their shared space, he asked for order. (Maybe this was a reaction to the searing summer in New Hall.)
Thinking of becoming a camp counselor? Do it.
“I totally recommend camp and counseling,” says Matt. He agrees with the common wisdom that camp counseling amounts to training wheels for parenthood (not that he’s a parent yet, but he can imagine).
Reis waxes philosophical as he thinks back on what came from his first summer of counseling and the five that followed. It’s not just the fun of the moment, he says, although that’s great. “There’s a huge reward years later, when you see guys who were your campers, who remember who you are. You share with them specific memories of a special summer. It’s a slow, ongoing payback. I might not see a camper for years and then I do, I recognize them and they recognize me, and it’s amazing.” He enjoyed seeing Noah Stone (Boys Camp, 2003-04) during the Centennial Celebration at Chewonki in 2015. Noah remembered Reis’s bed in the middle of New Hall. “He had his own version of that summer,” chuckles Reis. “He thought it was hilarious.” (Noah went on to become a counselor 2011-2012.)
“Yeah, I would definitely recommend being here. Clearly I love this place.” Reis says being a counselor was “so important to my growing up. In spite of all the craziness. Especially for the craziness.”
Even as a year-round staff member, a counselor still feels a tug at the heart when camp begins.
Matt, an educator for Traveling Natural History Programs, enjoys making presentations to the campers each summer. “It’s fun because I still get to be in touch with camp a little bit,” he says. “I’ve become the Cool Owl Guy. My legend continues.” Reis always enjoys watching camp unfold but notes that he does see things differently now. The Mud Rove, which involves campers rolling around in the rich, black muck of the salt marsh, has slightly less appeal.
Do you known a promising young person who would make a great Chewonki counselor? We are currently seeking staff for the 2017 summer.