Counselor Excellence at Vermont’s Aloha Camps

Aloha Camp ArcheryJust over a month from now, residential and day campers will pile out of airplanes, cars and buses on Opening Day at Aloha, Hive, Lanakila and Horizons, ready for all the fun that makes up a camp summer in Fairlee, Vermont.  Every camper will be warmly greeted by loving and enthusiastic counselors, prepared to enfold each child into a special, close-knit, summer camp community.  As effortless as camper-counselor relationships may appear, they are actually consciously and carefully created and nurtured.  Each summer, every counselor and staff member staff is trained in Success Counseling prior to Opening Day in best practices and methods in the ways to support campers.  Counselor excellence is a top priority in Aloha’s pre-camp training.

The high return rate of Aloha Camps’ counselors and staff is a testament to the value that employment at camp provides them.  Last May, blogger Dan Fleshler wrote in the New York Times about negotiating with his daughter about working for a third summer as a camp Lanakila Campers Counselorcounselor.  In his piece,  The Camp Counselor vs. the Intern, Fleshler explains how he wanted his college-aged daughter to consider professional summer work that could possibly enhance her future career.  Fleshler’s daughter insists on returning as a counselor at her traditional summer camp. Fleshler explains, “… she is resisting considerable pressure to join the throngs of anxious fellow collegians (she’s finishing her junior year) who will pad their résumés with summer internships in corporations, charities, law firms and other employers that, according to conventional wisdom, offer better preparation for the brutal economy than a summer camp.”

What Fleshler, and many others don’t understand is how valuable and rewarding camp counseling is.  Fleshler’s daughter responds simply, “’What I do there matters,’ she insisted.”  Camp counselors do matter, and their skills and energy translate into magic for campers.  Fleshler acknowledges, “I had no answer, because I couldn’t come up with anything more important. Nor could I dispute her additional point that the work was incomparable preparation for the future, requiring the skills to manage group projects and motivate individuals, set goals and juggle tight schedules, and stay available for 24 hours a day, six days a week, in sickness and in health.”

Success Counseling at Vermont's Aloha campsCounselors at the Aloha Camps learn how to build close connections with tent families, units and age groups, providing multiple ways for campers to feel deeply linked, enfolded and safe during their summers.  To campers, the conscious community-building must simply feel like fun, but there is deliberate work going on behind the scenes, by hardworking counselors.  Fleshler eventually concedes his daughter’s choice, “If I wake up with those fears this summer, I will try to tell myself that in a society where great camp counselors — like great teachers — are absurdly undervalued, her insistence on going back to camp demonstrates a great deal of toughness.”  We couldn’t agree more!

Laura Gillespie is the Director of Communications at The Aloha Foundation, an alumna of Aloha Hive and Aloha Camp, and has been a Horizons and Lanakila parent.