Category: Open New Doors in 2-4

Making the Transition from Woodland Camper to Counselor

There’s no doubt that working as a Woodland counselor is the most purposeful, fun, and growth-filled way to spend your summer (but don’t just take it from us!). We recently spent time having a Zoom conversation with the 2023 first year staff members who graduated from our CIT program as we wanted to hear directly from them about their experience being a counselor for the very first time.

We took a deep dive into the transition that occurs each summer for a group of girls who are typically longtime and extremely loyal campers. This group of 6 was no exception! They all started camp in 2014 (around the age of 9-10 yrs old) and spent 8 consecutive summers as a camper/CIT and 1 year on staff 2023. For those of you who are already doing the math in your head, you probably came to the conclusion that this entire group will be celebrating their 10th summer in the Northwoods on Sand Lake, and you would be absolutely correct. JoAnne, please make sure we have restocked our Woodland 10 yr blanket supply!

Please join us in our engaging and enlightening conversation:

What is your first year of college like? What is a superpower you have because you went to/worked at camp?

  • Monica: I live in a triple with two other girls, and one of the other girls was also a camp counselor. We talk about how being at camp teaches you how to live with other people outside of your family and how to respect boundaries and live with people in a new environment.
  • Molly: It makes me more open minded to meeting other people and meeting new types of people. A lot of my friends from home are pretty similar, so meeting many different people at camp teaches me a great skill to apply at school or wherever I go.
  • Tori: Teamwork is no stranger to me, including trusting other people to get things done. I also know how to communicate with other people and understand the delicate balance between taking the lead and knowing when to take a step back.

What made you decide to apply to work on staff after 8 summers as a camper?

  • Molly: As a camper I realized that I was building up to something; not being a counselor would have left me feeling incomplete. It was the natural next step.
  • Katherine: I want to teach in the future, so working at camp is good experience for a field like that.
  • Monica: I always looked up to my counselors so much, and coming to camp as a staff member is a way I can give back to the wonderful role models I had growing up.

Describe your summer on staff in a ONE word:

  • Katherine: NEW. I felt this way with CIT years too, each change at camp is different. Even with all of the things you are familiar with each summer, you are also thinking about different things and have a different mindset.
  • Aubrie: CHALLENGING. I agree with Katherine’s word, “new”, and when things are new they are challenging. Experiencing things is how you figure out what to do, so it’s challenging to be in a new experience. And, there is no way to fully prepare.
  • Molly: REWARDING. Building off the previous words of new and challenging, it also takes a little bit to get acclimated. The relationships with campers and co-counselors was so worth it and so rewarding.
  • Isa: – ENERGETIC. For me this summer was filled with energy. I was always trying to be bright and uplifting for the campers. I used a lot of energy in everything I did. 

Being on staff is pretty different from being a camper! What advice do you have on the transition from camper to counselor?

  • Monica: I was told that you won’t get to see your friends as much. I realized the main difference is going to camp for yourself as a camper and thinking about what camp can do for you. You will now think about what you can do to help camp.
  • Tori: It is common to be nervous, but also important to be confident. If you act nervous, it creates a cycle going in that direction. Being confident makes it easier for campers to be on the right path and follow the expectations of group living. 
  • Aubrie:  You will not only taking care of campers, but you will also be building a relationship and bonding with them. It easy to remember to just to take care of them and get them going to what is happening next. Without that  relationship; however, you would miss a lot of things. I found it is really important to do both.
  • Katherine: – I remember the 1st day campers arrive that it was awkward and that this develops naturally over time. If a camper is really nervous at the start, it takes time for them to feel comfortable with you.
  • Isa: Remember that you were also a camper and try to remember yourself at their age. It helped me with my new campers telling them that what they were feeling was totally normal and that I went through the same my first year. It also helped to remember what counselors where like when I was a certain age and what things I liked and what things I didn’t. It is like being the counselor that you needed at your age but for them. An example for me was at swimming lessons; I tried to make it fun because I remember what it was like being 9 and going into the cold lake to swim. 

Was there anything that surprised you about working on staff for the first time or anything you wish you knew about being a counselor but didn’t?

  • Isa: It’s honestly going to be easier than you think. In my case, coming back as a counselor after so many years and after being a second year CIT was not as intimidating as I thought it would be. At the beginning, it’s funny that you’re the one in charge and it feels like you’re in the wrong place, but then you get used to it. Coming after being a CIT I thought that it wasn’t going to be more of a change but it’s also very tiring at times. You need to look after yourself and really take advantage of your time off to reset. 
  • Monica: It is good to remember that each camper is unique in their own way with their development.
  • Molly: Sometimes it is OK just to let campers do certain things. I found myself trying hard to keep campers from being close friends with another camper because I didn’t want other girls to feel left out. Then I realized that it is OK to have closer friends as long as you are not being exclusive to the other girls and that you also spend time with the whole cabin group. 

Jackie and I were super impressed with the maturity of this group and are excited to have them back on staff for 2024! They have a profound love for camp and truly want to create a special experience for their campers, both in the cabin and in activities. They have already identified things they will do differently this summer based on their experience this past summer. The fact that they are taking their growth opportunities from 2023 in order to make future improvements speaks volumes! Without question they will be good mentors for the group of counselors making the transition from being a camper to a first year staff member in just a few months. We know that Nat, Cuau, Isabella, Anna, Maya, and Tess will leave their own AMAZING footprint on the “Open New Doors in ’24” summer ahead and can’t wait to have them as counselors!

I HEART CAMP DAY 2024

Our favorite time of year (during the winter) is almost here!! February 1st (this Thursday) is National “I Heart Camp” Day! We would love your help to spread the word on the importance the summer camp experience. Your camper may remember those funny pictures we took of her with the “I Heart Camp” poster/sign over the past summers? The “I Heart Camp” photos taken in 2023 have been living in a SUPER SECRET FOLDER, and this Thursday Camp Woodland campers, parents, staff, and alumni are encouraged to post their favorite “I heart Camp” photo on various social media platforms.

Here are a few ideas to show the world (or just your family & friends) how much camp means to you (even if you don’t use social media!):

  • Print it out and hang your favorite photo on your fridge or in your daughter’s locker at school
  • Make it a screen saver on your computer or phone
  • Facebook Profile
  • Instagram
  • Be sure to include the appropriate tags (#Woodland4Girls #Iheartcamp) when posting

Click the link to retrieve your daughter’s photos for 2024: I heart Camp Woodland Photos Link

Don’t see a photo of your daughter with the “I Heart Camp” sign? ANY camp photo will do!

Need your son’s photo too? Click the link to your son’s (Towering Pines) photos for 2024: I heart TP Photos link

All you have to do is: 1- find your picture, 2- download it by clicking the download tab on the bottom right of the photo, 3-Post it on Thursday, February 1!

Check out our archives of “I Heart Camp” Day. It is fun to see how we have grown over the years!:

 

So, What Do We Do The Rest of the Year?

This is a loaded question camp directors often get asked once summer has ended, especially now that it is the middle of winter. It brings laughter for some (and tears for others) as most people can’t imagine what we could possibly be doing in the “off-season” since it appears that the majority of our “work” happens in June, July and August. I will be the first to tell you that there is nothing “off” about the off-season. Sure, the leadership team takes some much needed and well deserved time to get our lives back together. We all move back to our respective homes in varying locations across the country AC (after camp) and pick up where we left off in the spring BC (before camp) with family, friends, routines, etc. But, after that, it’s GAME ON planning for the next summer!

How do we plan for a new summer? What a question! How much time do you have?! (JK) It’s exciting and something we love doing (as it means that campers and staff will be coming back to camp soon!). Planning for the summer takes all year. We get especially excited once the calendar turns a new page as the CWTP camp season is no longer NEXT year, but it is now THIS year!

This past summer, camp officially closed out the season on August 6, and before the 2023 summer was over, the CWTP Leadership Team was already meeting about our 2024 summer (can you believe it?!). By late August when you were just starting back to school, our year-round team quickly returned to our routine of regular meetings as we started to brainstorm about the upcoming summer. It is truly amazing how quickly we transition from one summer to the next, as it takes an entire 9 months to prepare for your arrival!

So how do we actually plan for a new summer? Read on to find out how all the pieces come together to make the BEST SUMMER EVER for our camp community:

Read all the surveys:

We start by reading the surveys. We have surveys from campers, parents, and staff. We read them all. And then…we read them again. All the suggestions are divided into categories that we then sort through, finding similar suggestions (we often have repeat ideas!). After sorting everything, we combine the suggestions with the notes we (as a Leadership Team) took throughout the summer to decide what we want to think about, and possibly change, for the upcoming summer.

Meet new families:

We are always grateful for the referrals you send our way, and we also enjoy meeting new families who find out about us through a Google search, social media, or some other means. We kickoff our reunion/camp show season with the CWTP Gathering for the Chicago area right before Thanksgiving and travel to various cities to visit campers and staff in January-April. Want to bring camp to your town? Let us know HERE!

Decide on facility projects:

Every year we are improving the Woodland and Towering Pines properties, and part of planning for a new summer is deciding on which improvements to tackle. For some projects, we decide years in advance (for bigger rennovations) while other projects are based on necessity or a last-minute opportunity (like adding a tent for outdoor covered eating, replacing the roof on a cabin when a tree falls during a spring storm, or repairing the fence at the riding arena). Our upcoming program plans also contribute to this list; we want to be ready for activities each summer!

Start hiring the staff:

The summer couldn’t happen without our staff, so kicking off the hiring process is always a big part of our planning for the year. We open our staff applications for new staff and returning staff a few weeks after the summer ends as we want to find the very BEST counselors for the upcoming summer. Jackie focuses on the first year staff who are former campers, Calla meets with veteran staff wanting to come back to camp, and Kim interviews any staff who are brand new to Woodland. Calla and Lee are teaming up to make sure our international staff are set with visas and travel, and JoAnne handles the contracts for all staff in addition to hiring the kitchen, medical, and facility staff. For the 2024 season, we already have applications coming in and will continue to hire throughout the year until we’ve assembled the most amazing summer team ever!

Take advantage of Professional Development Opportunities:

JoAnne attended the Camp Owners and Directors (CODA) Wisconsin Fall Tour of Camps in September and the Midwest Association of Independent Camps (MAIC) Fall Conference in October. Both events offered great opportunities for networking with other camp professionals who also own/direct camps regionally and some nationally. Several of the Woodland team attended ACA’s Virtual Staffing Summit for all things staff recruiting, hiring and retention. I actually am the Co-Chair of this event and am fortunate to have conversations with so many thought leaders in this arena (I actually met Richard Coraine, Union Square Hospitality Group’s Senior Advisor, as he was the opening keynote speaker for the 2023 Staffing Summit). Lee attended and presented at the Women in Camp Summit in December in the Chicago area. Several of us have plans to attend the ACA National Conference in New Orleans next month and/or Tri-State Camp Conference in Atlantic City come March.

Start thinking creatively:

One of the best parts of attending a 50+ year camp is that we have traditions that date back to the 1970s! How cool that we get to participate in some of the same activities as campers from so many years ago. But along with that, we always want each summer to be new and different. We really put our heads together during the year to come up with fun and exciting surprises!

Work through all the yearly projects:

Some of our preparation projects happen year after year. For example, we redesign our theme t-shirt every year (Open New Doors in ’24), order program supplies, brainstorm fun early enrollment giveaways, make arrangements with the bus to meet camper arrivals on Opening Day at O’Hare Airport, plan pre-camp staff training, and much more!

Make sure you know everything you need to know:

With all the updates and changes each year, we need to make sure you know everything you need to know to attend camp! The Parent Handbook is our main way of sharing this information with our families, and we work to get that ready so everything needed for a summer at Woodland is at your fingertips. We also to help our brand-new families know what to expect and schedule several Zoom meetings as we get closer to the summer.

Start building the excitement:

Part of the planning for a new summer is also building the excitement. We love mail at Woodland, so we put a lot of time and energy into fun things we can send to you each year. We also update our social media accounts (Instagram and Facebook) to keep our older campers, parents, and Towering Pines/Woodland Alumni engaged with camp. We also write 1-2 blogs (like this one) every month with thoughts that share insight into the value of the Camp Woodland experience and create fun videos.

Countdown until you arrive:

A big part of summer planning is anticipating your arrival! After the holidays, we really start feeling like camp is just around the corner. While there will be snow at camp and ice on the lake through April or May, when calls from camp families start coming in, the excitement really starts building! This is one of our favorite parts of preparing for a new year – feeling your excitement (even when you’re far away) gets us even more ready to start another summer.

All in all, it’s a fun and busy year as we prepare for you! Now is a great time to save your camper’s spot for summer 2024 or to invite a friend to come along. REGISTER HERE!