Category: Staff Corner

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!

An Alum’s Reflections on the Value of Working at Camp

Posted by on July 28, 2023

As a recent college graduate who is currently applying to grad school, I have found myself reflecting on my four summers as a Woodland counselor through a totally new lens. Any returning counselor will tell you that there is something so unique and special about working at camp. Whether it’s having the opportunity to spend time in such a beautiful natural environment, challenging yourself to meet new people and try new things, or becoming the type of leader you looked up to as a camper, being a counselor is a priceless experience. 

However, being a camp counselor is often hard to write about in resumes and applications despite it being such valuable work experience. It is challenging to explain camp to those who have never experienced it first hand as on the surface it appears to be a “fun” job but not a “serious” or “real” one. In a time when so much emphasis is placed on internships, shadowing experiences, and summer classes, it is important to remember the many lessons and skills that are gained by being a counselor. To list a few:

Leadership: Counselors are responsible for the health and safety of a cabin group of 6-10 campers, teaching activities in one or more areas, and possibly directing an activity while managing several other staff members. You ensure that groups can work together cohesively to provide a positive camp experience for everyone. 

Teamwork: Working with a co-counselor in the cabin, and the rest of the staff at camp, you became an expert team player. Being able to take into account points that differ from your own and learning how to trust your camp sisters is a skill that will be very beneficial to just about any career (and life in general!).

Communication: Effective communication is essential for conveying instructions to campers and for providing updates and feedback to fellow counselors to be sure everyone is on the same page is critical. Communication is what keeps camp running safely and efficiently! Not to mention, sharing a written report during the summer on each camper in your cabin group to show adjustment to group living and personal growth using specific examples is key to realizing the value of camp for caregivers.

Problem Solving: Camp can be unpredictable at times, so problem solving is essential for responding to unexpected situations and changes. The weather is one of the biggest drivers of change at camp as it can go from sunny to rainy in a matter of minutes. Thinking on your feet and being able to switch gears to gather your group and carry on without missing a beat is practiced on a daily basis! Additionally, counselors often encounter conflicts among others, so the ability to find solutions in a positive and constructive manner is another incredibly important skill gained from camp.

Decision Making: With leadership comes decision making. Whether it is organizing plans for daily activities, cabin nights, campfire skits, or just adapting to Woodland “dew” (AKA a rainy day), counselors become very comfortable making decisions individually and as a group.

Creativity: Song Contest, Camper Council, Inspiration Hour, campfire leaders, two-week plans, cabin posters, and more! Counselors have so many opportunities to show their creativity at camp. If changing the words to a song and coming up with dance moves for the highly anticipated Song Contest, facilitating a theme-night of games for the entire camp with your cabin group, and planning engaging lessons for a 60 minute activity period that meets 6 days a week (and with varying ages and skill levels!) doesn’t involve creativity, I don’t know what does! 

Empathy and Patience: Leadership involves understanding and connecting with others’ needs, emotions, and challenges. It is being patient with both campers and fellow staff and offering support in the kindest of ways. These are skills which are cultivated constantly as a Woodland counselor and will spill over into relationships with others at school, home or work.

To former counselors, future counselors, and parents of prospective counselors, working at Woodland is such a rewarding job. Counselors have a profound impact on others and at the same time, have the opportunity for so much personal growth. I know my experience as a counselor will benefit me both professionally and personally for many years to come!

If you know of someone who loves working with people and is looking for a rewarding summer job opportunity for 2024, send them HERE!

by Colette Vavrus

Don’t Try to Describe a Kiss Concert if You’ve Never Seen It 

I don’t know why this particular line from one of Jimmy Buffet’s many tunes struck me as I was driving in my car recently listening to Sirius XM radio. You are probably wondering how this even remotely relates to camp?! As I see it, from those on the outside looking in, camp is hard to understand. For those on the inside, camp is really hard to explain. Unfortunately, I have never been to a Kiss Concert. I’m pretty sure that my lack of attendance would make it extremely difficult for me to describe the bright lights, pyrotechnics, and leather jacket rock-n-roll experience with any sort of accuracy or legitimacy! And, even if you are a Kiss Concert aficionado, how do you explain it to someone who has never been?!

Now Hiring 2023 Staff for the CWTP Summer “Concert” Series

This is the time of year when camps are gearing up to hire staff. Camps Woodland and Towering Pines are no exception. For those who have worked at camp before, camp is usually a relatively easy sell. For the most part, former staff already know what to expect (like having been to a Kiss Concert at least once). They just get it. 

For those who are making the transition from longtime camper to first year counselors, it is familiar in some ways, yet unknown in others. Being a camper is like watching a Kiss Concert from the nosebleed section; you’re there and have an idea of what it’s like, yet you can’t really see the stage until you have a ticket that gets you closer to the front row (being on staff).

The people who really have a hard time understanding what working at camp is like are those staff who have never been to camp before, let alone to a small, family owned, Northwoods camp. This is why we need YOU. You’ve actually been to that “Kiss Concert” because you are connected to Woodland/Towering Pines in some way.

In the next several weeks, you will most likely be crossing paths with college age students (at family gatherings, while hanging out with friends and neighbors, at church or community events, etc.) who would be a great addition to the Woodland/Towering Pines camp family. We would love for you to encourage/suggest a summer working at camp to the emerging leaders you already know or will meet while gathering at various celebrations this holiday season!

A few talking points to share (even if you are an avid Camp Woodland or TP “concert goer” – you may need a little help with some of the important details!)

  • Leadership Development: What you water, grows. A summer working at Woodland/Towering Pines provides an opportunity for both personal and professional growth. Think of the power that comes from knowing what you ‘re good at, what’s most important, what keeps you engaged/motivated, what you want to avoid, how you like to work, and the growth opportunities that can be found in the midst of challenges.
  • Transferable Skills: A job at Woodland/Towering Pines provides the perfect ecosystem to practice and develop skills that lay the foundation for future jobs, careers, and life. Did you know that as a rule of thumb, 60% of the best jobs 10 years from now have NOT YET been invented? (Thank you, Thomas Frey.) And, the average person in today’s world changes jobs 12 times?! It is rare that someone gains aptitude in skills such as problem solving, teamwork, communication, and initiative by reading about it or taking a class. Rather, it is through an experience like working at camp, where this “stuff” has a chance to take hold. Minimal experience working with kids is needed on the front end (just a desire to work with people of ALL ages). However, a vast foundation of transferable skills applicable to an ever-changing landscape will be at-the-ready on the back end for whatever comes “next”.
  • Healthy Environment: Camps Woodland and Towering Pines promote overall wellness for campers AND staff. Working at camp provides opportunities for a healthy lifestyle in all wellness dimensions (physical, emotional, financial, career, creative, intellectual, social, spiritual, and environmental). A summer at camp for staff offers home-cooked meals that fuel active days, an appropriate level of stress that helps individuals stretch and grow, a paycheck to put towards present or future expenses, skills that are applicable to just about any occupation, occasions to wear costumes and make-up games, skits, songs, etc., a built-in peer group with opportunities to connect, a better idea of what gives meaning and purpose, a chance to live simply, be outside with forests and lakes as neighbors and go mostly “unplugged” from technology.
  • Caring Community: Very few work environments have support systems in place that do everything in their power to foster success every step along the way. With the many touch points throughout the hiring process, pre-camp/ongoing training, and a “deep bench” of senior staff and leaders who are there to mentor and coach, the framework is in place to help each staff member strive to be their best. Oh, and did I mention the campers who look up to and are the biggest cheerleaders for staff? 
  • Impact on the Next Generation: Today more than ever, children need a place to belong (and not just fit in) in order to spread their wings and try new things (in an environment where making a mistake is OK). Being a role model in a community that creates opportunities for kids to unleash their innate curiosity, creativity, and sense of adventure forms a direct link to the inevitable growth that occurs. Kids will undoubtedly take the lessons learned and memories made with them throughout the rest of their lives.
  • FUN! Mentioned last, but certainly not least! Fun is a big part of everything we do. Not fake or forced, just simple and real. The BEST kind of fun!

Have a staff member you would like to refer to the Camp Woodland or Towering Pines Summer “Concert” Series (June 16-August 9, 2023)? Have them complete this SHORT FORM, and we will do the rest! Know a former staff member who wants to come back? Share THIS RETURN STAFF FORM, and we will reach out from there.  

P.s. In case you are really wanting to see a Kiss Concert in person, I’m pretty sure that they are on their “end of the road” tour in ‘22-’23. You might be able to catch them at your favorite location abroad. I can tell with complete certainty that you won’t see me there because I will be at camp where we have our own light shows (bright, starry skies uninhibited by a city’s “glow”, pyrotechnics (weekly campfires, fireworks for the 4th of July, and the burning of the Olympic flame), and face painting on random occasions. I’m sure we can incorporate leather in there somewhere…we’re creative that way!

A tribute to Dan Montgomery, Camp Woodland Chef Extraordinaire

If you have ever spent a summer at Woodland, you know that the food is beyond good, it is exceptional. First timers tell us that they had no idea how wonderful the meals would be. For a total of 22 years since 1990, the person we can attribute this amazing dining experience to is none other than our very own, Dan Montgomery. 

Dan was working for a sorority at the University of Illinois in Champagne, IL, when he responded to an ad placed in the school paper for a cook at a camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Both Anne and Jeff Jordan met Dan on campus for an interview as Jeff was a student there at the time. It didn’t take too much convincing that spending the summer in Wisconsin was a good idea. So, Dan along with his 3 kids, who were twelve and under, made their way north to what would be the first of many summers at Woodland and Towering Pines. 

Dan has worked in a variety of food service roles and started at a very young age. His parents ran a Burger Chef when he was growing up in Florida, and he could be found polishing the pipes under the sink, emptying trash, or doing a number of odd jobs when he was 7-8 yrs old. 

Dan studied culinary under a German chef at a hotel restaurant and banquet facility. When things slowed down and times were tough, Dan took over running the place because he had a knack for turning businesses around. He had a keen eye for seeing what could be better and simplifying processes. Dan was good at utilizing the strengths of people for the betterment of the team. It is not surprising that Dan’s next move was to run four major restaurants and a banquet hall with a seating capacity for up to 6000 people at a Holiday Inn Convention Center. 

It became evident that after working 20 hour days; however, Dan was ready for something with a more “reasonable” schedule. Thus, he came to manage the Hendrick House that had 400 rooms in its twin towers and 33 fraternity and sorority houses at the University of Illinois. He also mentored interns at Eastern Illinois University and taught them various recipes and techniques. Dan shared that the “key to being a good chef is knowing how to use seasonings. Bringing everything together is a feeling that you gain from observation and experience. Over time the ability to check for acidity or salt becomes natural.” I’m struggling to see how this new adventure was “more reasonable” as it appears to be way more hours than before!

Dan loved the challenge of coming up with new dishes under a budget. He has a “million” ways to prepare chicken and does this by changing up toppings and sauces. Another trick for this “kitchen magician” is that Dan can make a side out of just about anything. He is also known for his attention to detail and cleanliness and has been known to hide $100 bills under equipment to see if his workers were doing the same.

If it is possible to imagine, Dan shared with me that at some point in time he became “bored”. This is when he started to dabble in baking. Imagine the smell of artisan breads and fresh homemade cookies coming from the open oven door. We most definitely enjoy Dan’s homemade cookies throughout the summer. Dan also makes the annual birthday cake from scratch to celebrate another trip around the sun for Camp Woodland. I always look forward to the homemade frosting that is at least a mile high! 

At another time, Dan dove full force into the gingerbread house business. One of his most elaborate displays included 9 different houses to make up part of a town. He created a church with stained glass windows and a tower, then added a barbershop, bank, and post office to complete his make believe (and edible!) village. There was a river through town that glistened from blue corn syrup and included a covered bridge. Gumdrops could be found on chimneys with cotton candy smoke, roads made of licorice, and Andes mints used as shingles. This masterpiece was showcased on Thanksgiving morning and then was “opened” on Christmas morning to discover candy completely filling the inside much to the surprise of the recipients. 

Another adventure took Dan to manage a seafood restaurant/department within a grocery store (Schnuck’s) in St. Louis. While there, Dan showed customers how to make recipes with seafood. He was then recruited to Niemann Foods where he was the chef for the seafood department where he had a budget and equipment unlike he had ever seen before. With virtually no limits, Dan could really put his creativity to work to come up with some extraordinary dishes!

When I asked Dan what his favorite meal of all time is to cook, he responded with, “shrimp, sausage, and chicken gumbo.” Per Dan’s usual, the first time a new recipe is tried, he makes it as the recipe is intended. After that, any future iterations are nothing like the initial dish. Dan “makes it his own” with seasonings and other twists. Dan’s favorite camp meal to make is actually the favorite meal the campers and staff enjoy too. He loves putting together his infamous lasagne and knows the importance of getting it right each and every time! 

Another pearl of wisdom Dan shared is to “never push something out of the window that you wouldn’t serve to your grandmother.” I would have to agree with that statement 110%. While kids are not grandmothers, they can be pretty tough customers. When a 9 year old camper orders fettuccine alfredo at a restaurant following a summer at Woodland, you know the food has to pass the taste test (check!) AND be kid friendly enough to encourage exploration of “fancy” dishes (double check!). 

Thank you, Dan and team, for giving us another summer of fuel for busy camp days, sustenance to keep us healthy, and a dining experience that brings our community together for three meals a day throughout the entire camp season.

We look forward to year #23 in 2023!

p.s. If you need anyone to be a guinea pig the next time you are “bored,” you know where to find me.

Translating Working at Camp to the Real World – Part 1

We have started a new format for connecting with staff this year and are holding monthly meetings via Zoom as a way to see each other (think mini-reunion!) and discuss pertinent topics of interest relating to camp.  Recently we asked 4 alums to join us and share their insight on how working as a counselor at Woodland or Towering Pines has benefited their career (and life!) success.  Let me just say that we were BLOWN AWAY by what our panelists shared – each person had very specific skills and experiences learned at camp that transferred to the ‘real world’, be it in the workplace or at home and raising a family.

Let me introduce you to Becky Coady Langton (on right in above photo), a former camper/staff member and now camp parent, who was one of two Camp Woodland representatives on the panel.  Becky was a camper for one year as a CIT in 1988 and worked several summers as a cabin counselor teaching gymnastics and anything that involved “jumping around.”  She is an exercise physiologist and currently works as an instructor in the Health and Fitness Science Division of Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Becky’s two kids, Sydney and Sam, attended camp for the first time this past summer!

Becky recalls gaining confidence and the ability to publicly speak as skill sets that were most developed during her time as a staff member.  She feels that this pushed her ahead of her peers, many of whom today have an intense fear of speaking in front of others.  Becky finds that having the ability to work with diverse experience and talent levels and massaging that atmosphere in way so that everyone is having fun (even if all you have is a paper bag!) were some of the biggest takeaways from her camp experience.  Camp certainly is the stage for learning how to make the best of every situation!

Becky teaches about the positive effects of exercise and a healthy lifestyle on longevity and chronic disease prevention.  One of the things that speaks to Becky the most about her experience at camp is being active and always doing something.  In the health world, physical activity rounds out and provides balance along with the emotional, social, environmental, intellectual, spiritual, financial and occupational dimensions of the wellness model.  Becky allows how all of these areas melded together describe the camp experience on steroids!  She attributes being at camp on her own without her tribe and THRIVING was a catalyst for her to seek out a career in health science and promotion.  So cool!

When talking about different aspects of applying for a job, Becky reminded us how important the first phone call can be because this is when the applicant has the opportunity to engage in a conversation with a potential employer and share about themselves.  According to Becky, the candidates who do this best find their voice, find their WHY and know in their gut what they want to do and are connected to it.  Being able to then verbalize who they are in a way so that the person conducting the interview can FEEL the energy and passion is what helps a person stand out from the masses of job candidates.  Becky believes the “amazingness” within each person that fuels this energy and passion grows at camp.  Being leaders of crazy and fun and being children ourselves as camp counselors fosters that amazingness!  So true!

Becky also pointed out how being able to communicate well verbally, utilize active listening and motivational interviewing, and understand nuances such as making eye contact and offering a firm handshake count as social collateral in a world where people are lacking in these areas.  This is another chance for job applicants with work experience at camp to shine because face-to-face interactions and being unplugged are the norm and not the exception.  Working at camp nourishes the exact skills that make for a strong candidate in just about any career field!

Next up – meet Rachel Davidson in Part 2 of how working at camp translates to the real world!