Camp Jobs Change Lives

Summer Camp and Outdoor Education staff talk about how their jobs at camp have made them better people, better professionals, and better parents.

Be part of Katie's Interview Project

What did you learn about leadership from your camp supervisors?

What did camp leaders do to create a community of support and autonomy?

What leadership strengths did you learn at camp and how did you use them?

How has working at camp changed your life, personally or professionally?

Words are like toothpaste

Interview with Jean Spindler, Youth Programs Manager at the Ann Arbor Art Center, and former staff member at Kingsley Pines Camp

One of the biggest things I learned about leadership from the Directors is to allow people to make mistakes. Instead of a big, dramatic response to a mistake, the Camp Director just asked what was going on, pointed out what didn’t make sense, and asked what was needed to fix it.  They talked through it with you and helped you know how to handle it.  I’m sure they had opinions, but they didn’t share them.  That calm, non-judgmental approach worked really well.  Because of their support, you could take ideas and explore them.  You could change things around and improve or grow the program. 

There was a lot of time spent setting the tone of the environment.  In this case, it was an atmosphere of unity.  We were on the same page and there for the same reasons.  At staff meetings, we spent time being reminded of the important work we were doing every day for the campers.  We were valued as mentors.  We got tips for how to handle things and how to continue doing a better and better job.  We continued to gain skills and to improve throughout the summer.  There was huge support for us as counselors.  Even when there were situations that couldn’t be changed, we knew that people would be there to listen and to help us.

My job taught me how to think on the fly, how to be prepared and thing ahead, how to find a way to make things work with what you have.  Organization means things go smoothly and are less stressful.  So, you need to think things through and figure out how to do them in the most efficient way.  It’s a work in progress… you get better and better with each innovation.  It also taught me to roll with the punches and not to take things personally.    You can’t fixate on every little thing- fix it, move on, and then forget about it.  Focus on everyone around you- look to see who needs support and help them out.

As a leader, I focus on giving my staff power and ownership.  I’m a big believer in a strong staff training program.   When I plan training, I help staff anticipate everything they can as a way to avoid situations they don’t want to experience.   I try to mirror what I saw at camp: I allow my staff to try things out and to make mistakes.  I help them focus on action-consequences and teach them to think 10 steps ahead, because it’s way easier to do prevention than to fix an issue.  If people take on a job, it matters to them that it’s fun and that they’re involved.  I’ve learned the importance of oversight- trust people to do their job, and then check to see if it’s done right and give them feedback.  I can’t overstate the importance of in-the-moment feedback.

I’ve also learned not to say something without thinking first.  I learned that the hard way.  Now I play the question game and lead my staff to find the answers.  I don’t take what they say personally, I just listen to them.  I’m careful with words and the way people perceive what I’m saying.  Words are like toothpaste- you can’t put them back in once they’re out.   

You need to invest in your staff.  Never give up on people.  Continue to help them grow and learn.  Treat them right as a worker and a person.  Treat everyone fairly and value your staff.  Don’t say things without thinking.  Welcome staff back when they really want to return.  Wish them well and help them in their next endeavor when they move on.