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North Hills Monthly

Camp Jobs: It’s Not All about Fun and Games

Feb 27, 2015 06:39PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch
When kids think of summer camp, they tend to think it’s all about suntans, making friends and time away from mom and dad. But those who work at camps gain even more from the experience—including professional skills that stay with them throughout their adulthood and careers.

“I am who I am because of the time I spent at camp as a kid,” said American Camp Association (ACA) Chief Foundation and Funds Development Officer Tom Holland. “Not only did I attend camp, but I went on to work as a camp counselor when I was 19. That job taught me so many skills that I have been able to use in other parts of my life, including negotiation, patience, flexibility, leadership and responsibility.”

Tim Murphy, associate executive director of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer, echoes Holland’s sentiments. “We’re not the camp you see in movies; we are a youth development organization. And all camp work is very important work. Our staff members learn how to be role models and mentors to the kids they are trusted to care for, and they have to understand the seriousness of that responsibility. The core of where all of that starts is learning accountability for themselves and taking responsibility. How can you take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself first?”

Murphy explained that Camp Kon-O-Kwee is made up of approximately 60 percent former staff members (from counselors to van drivers to maintenance workers and cooks), and 40 percent new hires. This split provides a strong balance of experience and fresh ideas. When hiring, Murphy focuses on whether each person’s values are aligned with the camp’s mission. “At the YMCA, we base our development on four core values: caring, honestly, respect and responsibility. What I look for when hiring someone is whether they have a strong desire to make today’s youth better people through fun and exciting programs, while teaching and demonstrating our values.”

Holland stressed the importance of mission-driven work while working with children. “We want to hire staff that desires to be a part of a team that works together as a team,” he added.

Camps are also looking for future employees to be committed to the job. “Yes, you’re going to have fun, but you are also going to work hard,” said Holland. “This is a serious job and not for the faint of heart—we want you doing this for all of the right reasons.”

Camp-Kon-O-Kwee’s staff training is an intense, week-long mix of learning how to be a role model, along with typical fun camp activities. “Our staff members are the most important people because they make everything happen, so we invest time in them,” Murphy said. “We care for the campers, but we care for our staff as well.”

In fact, Murphy has developed a class to give back to camp staff, where he teaches them how to transfer camp skills to a resume. “We want our staff to be able to recognize their own growth and potential that comes from this work,” he said. “Every single thing they do here is important.”

Both Holland and Murphy emphasize that being a camp employee, especially a counselor, is a rewarding and life-changing experience which benefits both campers and staff. “Camp is a place of camaraderie and immense teamwork, and, really, it’s just plain fun!” said Holland. “But when you can care for eight to 12 children, ages 11 to 13, day after day…you can feel confident that you’re going to be ready for that first professional meeting straight out of college. Adults are easy compared to this work!”

For more information about Camp-Kon-O-Kwee or the ACA, visit them online at, and