Hey! My name is Emily, I’m 21 and work in a summer camp for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities. When I am not spending my summers at camp, I am a student studying Criminal Justice and Public Policy at the University of Guelph, Canada. I also work part-time as support staff in community living for adults with intellectual disabilities and I am a dispatcher at our campus police station.
In 2019, I decided I wanted to try something new over my summer and meet new people, so I decided to apply to a local summer camp. This was my first camp experience and I had never lived away from home before so everything was new and I didn’t really know what to expect.
I put through quite a straight forward application and had an interview set up shortly after. I was so happy when I was offered a role as a camp counsellor – I knew I was in for an exciting summer!
Being a camp counsellor, you’re responsible for taking care of your lodgers. At my camp, we had 10 cabins, each had two counsellors and eight lodgers where they would sleep. As a counsellor, you help with personal care, eating, entertaining and going to multiple programs throughout the day with your cabin for various activities. You are with your lodgers from sunrise to sunset, and it is one of the most rewarding jobs ever!
A typical day at camp starts at 7 am where we’d get ourselves up and dressed, as well as our lodgers. I found my lodgers were often super tired in the mornings, so myself and my co-counsellor, Leah would slowly help everybody get ready for the day. Once all the lodgers at the camp are ready, we’d head to our flag pole where we’d sing O Canada – the Canadian National Anthem. It is very normal in Canada to start school days or camp days by singing the National Anthem. Breakfast often consisted of eggs, cereal or a whole lot of pancakes. It would often be pretty busy and loud at eating times so it definitely woke us all up in the morning. Afterwards, everybody would finish getting ready and head to the first program of the day.
Each day consisted of six different programs! These changed daily but often were scavenger hunts, swimming, arts and crafts, or movies and tied into daily themes such as Superhero day or Harry Potter day. My favourite programs were usually ones with water involved as the lodgers loved them and all would get involved. Also, Canada gets super hot in the summer so water fights were essential!
After lunch, we’d have a ‘rest hour’. For most cabins, this meant a bit of downtime but myself and my co, Leah were in charge of the older ladies cabin. Us ladies loved our sleep so we would sleep throughout the whole hour every day. It was honestly much needed.
Afternoons consisted of snacks and more programs. Any meal was always chaotic but you knew downtime was coming at the end of the day as we would do evening programs. Evening programs usually consisted of campfires or roulette style games where each area had different activities. These were nice because you didn’t need to run all over the place when you’re tired and ready for bed yourself! They were a good chance to wind down for the day and get excited about tomorrows prospects!
Breaks were occasionally hard when you’re technically working 24/7, but you’d get a whole program off once a day and two smaller breaks at any time (communicated with your co). In the evenings, after the lodgers had gone to sleep, if you weren’t on patrol duty, you could spend a few hours up until the 11 pm curfew socialising with other counsellors and staff. This was definitely the most social time of the day for staff. We would all head down to the staff lounge, get to know everyone more, watch movies and eat snacks!
I got to go home each weekend, either for 24 hours or 48 hours depending on the week. Lots of staff would use the weekend to go on mini adventures but honestly I used my weekends to catch up on sleep!
My favourite part of the job was definitely all the jokes and memories we shared with the lodgers as well as building some brilliant friendships with them.
The most challenging part of the job had to be just maintaining my energy throughout the entire summer. Some days you just wanted to nap all day. You were always working so it was not rare to be run down by the end of the season.
After spending my summer at this wonderful camp, I wanted more opportunities working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. It influenced many of my choices. I’ve had opportunities to do so since then and been one of the best decisions ever. It was definitely the most rewarding job I have ever had as it helped me grow as a person and become kinder (and even funnier who knew that was possible).
Going to a place where you don’t know anybody is always intimidating at first – this was the same for camp. However, the ice breaks so quickly with everybody especially knowing you’re spending 2 months straight with this group of people. I had the chance to meet staff from all over the world and was lucky enough to meet my best friend in the UK. Despite it being 2 summers ago I was at camp, I still talk to the friends I made on an almost daily basis.
If someone wanted advice about whether to work in a summer camp or not, I’d just say go for it. It gave me the ability to meet people I would have never met if I didn’t go and provided the most priceless memories. I cannot wait to return!