Thoughts on the Cabin Counselor: An Appreciation
by Matt Radding, Summer Camp Director
Every summer thousands of college students commit to working at summer camps across the country, taking on the title of “cabin counselor.” To do this they are foregoing time at home, with friends, traveling, and being able to sleep in until noon, for a job that is often misunderstood.
Being a cabin counselor is not just a fun summer job, or even an easy one at that. It is demanding, exhausting and selfless. Counselors are in a position where they are constantly needed by their campers, and often awaken in the middle of the night for a variety of reasons. It is true, all of our staff would be more than qualified for an easier, summer internship in the A/C of a corporate office, working 9-5. But they have chosen to be here, working with our campers because of the impact they know they can have, and knowing they too will grow in areas and learn new skills that will equip them to be competitive in the workforce, and in life.
Here at Tecumseh, we hire around 130 seasonal staff each year for overnight camp. As the overnight camp director, I spend 9 months out of the year preparing for the 3 months that we run our program, and one of my primary duties is interviewing and hiring that important team. The opportunity to sit down with these young people who have a passion for service and who want to give back – to serve kids and to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually – has always been one of the greatest blessings of this position. I am constantly amazed by the caliber of individuals that Tecumseh attracts and the team we are able to put together each summer.
We talk about the growth that we see in our campers, but the growth that occurs in the life of our staff during the summer is just as powerful. And for me, being able to walk alongside our staff and to be part of that growth is humbling. When these college-aged staff members go back out into the world with newly acquired confidence in their leadership and communication skills, they are equipped to make the world around them a bit more like camp. Each summer, our staff represent the future teachers, doctors, lawyers, parents, politicians, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and so much more that our world needs right now. They all make camp a better place, and then leave camp to go out and continue that work.
It is hard to put into words the impact that a cabin counselor can have, and the lucky few that take on that challenge quickly learn that it is an experience that has the potential to change every aspect of their life. I truly believe that the heart of the Tecumseh experience lies within the cabin group. We are blessed here at Tecumseh to have some phenomenal facilities, two pools and a lake, slides, hiking trails, high ropes courses, and the list goes on, but at the end of the day those are merely the tools that we use to create a space where campers and counselors alike can connect with each other in a real and authentic way. At the end of the week, I love hearing from campers about their favorite part, and often I hear it was the time with their cabin, getting to know their counselors, or the down time with a new friend that really left the biggest impression.
The cabin counselors are responsible for not only the health and safety of their campers, which they train diligently to ensure, but also to create a culture within the cabin where the growth and development of the campers can be fostered. Counselors are trained to do the little things, to get down on the level of their campers, to actively listen and engage, to teach good communication and leadership skills, to resolve conflicts, and to coach campers through difficult situations and homesickness. Counselors are expected to be good leaders, encouragers, listeners, swim instructors, janitors, nurses, teachers, hair stylists, water bottle fillers, referees, high ropes experts, lifeguards, naturalists, nutritionists, story tellers, and much more. But ultimately, a strong role model and friend is what our campers need most. Being in a space where they can connect with someone they look up to and feel like they belong and are seen – that is the power of the camp counselor.
So as we look towards summer 2021, we ask that you continue to think about and pray for the young people that have dedicated their summer to serving our campers. I am constantly admiring those who choose to spend their summer doing this job, and I can’t wait for this year’s group to get here and get started.
Matt came to Tecumseh as a camper and then joined the summer staff in 2005, working seasonally for 5 years during college. He joined the full time staff in 2014 as the outdoor education director, and has been serving as summer camp director since 2019.