What Makes a Great Camp Counselor?


My friend Neil and I were talking about camp the other day, and he said that when he was looking for a camp for his son years ago, he only got to meet the camp Directors. While it may have been somewhat helpful, he knew that ultimately it would be his son’s counselors who would impact his son’s experience at camp.

What my friend said is true. As Director of Odyssey Teen Camp, I try to hire the forty or so most caring, mature, responsible, intelligent, kind, and fun people I can. Then we come together for a week before the campers arrive to create a community based on kindness, inclusion, safety, cooperation, vulnerability, trust, and fun, which we can model for every teen who comes to camp.

“Ultimately our mission is to bombard every teen who comes with loving kindness.”

A camp counselor’s job is not easy. The days are long. At Odyssey, counselors not only have the job of creating a great culture in their cabin, but they also lead all of our camp activities. For most counselors, just getting to camp is not that easy, and they have to arrange their lives to come and work in the Berkshires for five weeks for very little money.

Why do they do it?

They come to work at camp to help teenagers have fun and feel good about themselves. They know how confusing and hard it felt for teenagers to feel good about themselves and their world when they were teenagers.

Many of them have an idea of the kind of support they could have used from someone who was maybe a few years older to help them navigate their way through middle and high school more gracefully (and maybe even with more of a sense of humor). They very much want to be that person for our campers.

You would think it would be hard for a young person in their twenties to put their own needs on the back burner for five weeks and to make the needs of their campers their number one priority, but you would be surprised how many counselors do exactly that every summer.

Support is key

During staff training, we try to give the counselors skills and tools to help them be great counselors. We bring in some great therapists to help teenagers, but ultimately staff training starts the day the campers come. While camp is in session, we have an experienced team of therapists and leaders who help the counselors deal with whatever is coming up for their campers and often for themselves.

We all have things we need to figure out and ways we need to grow, and that is certainly true of the young people who come to work at camp, but I am always amazed and grateful to see how good they are at a very tough job.

Sage advice from a veteran director

When I started camp an older Director told me that …

“The counselors are there for the kids and the Director is there for the counselors.”

At the time, I thought, not me; I’m going to be there for everyone, and while I try my best and get to know certain campers better than others, he was right, the counselors play a key role in the campers’ experience.

The paradox

It’s hard to put into words what makes a great counselor. Sometimes I think I know exactly what someone will be like as a counselor when I hire him, but that is not always the case. I think there is a paradox to almost every quality of being a great camp counselor.

A counselor has to be willing to make the teens their number one priority, but they also have to take care of themselves sometimes so they do not get overly stressed or have “burnout.”

  • A counselor has to be hyper-vigilant about camp rules and the safety of everyone at camp, but they also need to be able to relax and let some things slide.
  • A counselor needs to take the concerns of their campers very seriously, but they also need not get too caught up in the drama that comes with the territory of working at a camp with 180 teenagers.
  • A counselor needs to plan for their activities and know that things change all the time, and they need to be flexible enough to go with the flow.

A counselor needs to want to help every teenager who comes to camp and understand that they have their limitations and will not always be able to reach every camper as well as they would like.

A great counselor needs to walk that fine line between being both a friend and support for their campers while also being an authority presence who is ultimately in charge of each camper’s well-being.

You can see why it is a difficult job. I feel grateful that so many young people want to take that challenge and come be counselors at camp. Ultimately, I hire those with the highest intentions, knowing we will all have challenges. Still, those intentions can carry us a long way and help a lot of teenagers to have life-changing experiences at camp.

Do you have what it takes to be a counselor at OTC?

Applying for a summer job at Odyssey Teen Camp. You might just have the most rewarding summer of your life.

Discover what Odyssey Teen Camp is all about

Jump to the video at the bottom of this page…

Adam Simon, Odyssey Teen Camp Director

Adam Simon

I'm Adam Simon. I started teen camp eighteen years ago with the vision of creating a space where teenagers would know they are safe from bullying or negative judgments and would feel free to show who they really are and to become their best selves. Let's connect, discuss, and engage...
OTC Logo

Find Out About Odyssey Teen Camp

A Non-Profit Overnight Summer Camp For Teens Ages 13-18
Located in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.