Two weeks from today, on June 27th, hundreds of excited children will arrive at Aloha, Hive and Lanakila on Opening Day, ready for weeks of fun away from home. A week or so later, Horizons Day Camp will welcome its first session of campers. As far as all these children know, the counselors and staff turned up just the day before, perhaps setting up tents, dusting off songbooks, unpacking some art supplies and waiting for campers to arrive. Little do campers, or even parents know, the amount of preparation that will have occurred to make our Fairlee, Vermont campuses ready for a “best summer ever.” The magic of a summer at one of the Aloha Camps is not only about the fun of each camp day, but also about the many ways that counselors work to emotionally support and nurture campers.
In the weeks before Opening Day, while parents are labeling camp clothing, packing trunks and finalizing travel plans, counselors from all over the country and from far-flung international destinations convene in Fairlee. The first ten days that staff gather in early to mid-June, are known as “Cert Week,” when anyone needing official certification for water safety, first aid and wilderness first aid would complete the tangible skills needed to keep campers safe in camp, and on the trail.
Following Certification Week, ten days of “Pre-Camp” begin for everyone working at camp, from tent counselors in their twenties, to kitchen staff in their forties and even for seasoned camp staff who count their time at the Alohas by the decade. Each camp’s community begins to form during the ten days that counselors spend setting up departments and readying the camp for its summer residents. As important as the housekeeping chores are, readying the departments and units at camp for a summer of fun and excellence, they are not nearly as significant as the Success Counseling sessions led by experienced staff and considered mandatory for all.
Each summer, through best practices and policies, the Aloha Camps set the highest standards for campers’ physical safety. In addition, each child’s emotional well-being is attended to, by training and use of Success Counseling to help children make effective and empowering choices. The intentional summer community that surrounds campers, ensures careful attention to the growth and development so important to a successful camp summer. The high return rate of counselors to our camps, more than 90% at Lanakila, contributes to the ease with which the counselors and staff connect and begin working together. Every summer that a counselor returns, their ability to connect and nurture campers grows.
Each of the directors has been through training focused on the skills and theory of Success Counseling, as well as having years of practical experience and examples to draw on. In an earlier blog post about Success Counseling, we used a quote from an article written by Lanakila Director, Barnes Boffey, Working as a camp counselor can be exciting, rewarding and enriching. But it’s hard work. Perhaps the most difficult task is dealing with a wide range of human behaviors. In most cases, counselors come to camp with some good natural instincts about working with children. But just as natural athletes need coaching and training to become consistent and disciplined, quality counseling must be developed through training and practice.
The ten days of Pre-Camp are an intensive, day and night immersion in the theories of Success Counseling. Although there are blocks of time for departments to set up their equipment and begin to establish expectations for the summer, even this time is treated as an opportunity to incorporate Success Counseling methods into the department expectations. Our camps’ staff works hard to not only understand the Success Counseling tenets, but to incorporate them as they form a strong community that sets the tone for the summer ahead. By the time your child arrives for their first day of camp, not only will the archery targets be in place, the rigging up on the sailboats and the art supplies at hand for projects, but your child’s counselor will have participated in community and team-building activities that will enhance the camp experience in many subtle, but significant ways.