When Will Pierce, co-owner/director of Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn, leads orientation for his incoming high school and college camp counselors, he’ll tell the new staff members this: “Somebody in this room will probably meet their spouse this summer.”
He’s only half-kidding — working at a summer camp is a camaraderie-filled experience that brings together people who may become lifelong friends, and maybe even family, he says. Take Ian and Alix Freed — they met at Pierce as counselors and now, years later, have a 2-year-old who comes to camp with them.
Alix started as a counselor at Pierce the summer after her junior year at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington. “There’s not many jobs you can do as a 17-year-old that you can be outside all day. You knew you were going swimming; you knew you would be on the soccer field. I had friends there, and we had lunch together. It was fun,” she says. In fact, lunch was where she met her husband when they had both advanced to group counselors, jobs they, as teachers, still hold during the summers.
Day camp directors and owners on Long Island are touting the benefits of working at camp in an effort to entice more high school and college students to apply for jobs — with parental demand for day camp strong this summer, camps face the same challenges as other industries in hiring staff, says Alicia Skovera, executive director of the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving, promoting and enhancing the summer camp experience.
HOW TO APPLY
High school and college students who want to apply for a camp counselor position can call a local camp directly or visit the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey at acanynj.org/camp-jobs to submit an application that will be shared with camps looking to hire staff. To supervise children, counselors must be at least 16 years old.
“We know that camps are competing with many industries for high school and college students,” Skovera says. To supervise children, counselors must be at least 16 years old, though some camps have Counselor In Training programs that offer younger campers options of hybrid, supervised work/play.
Arabella Notar-Francesco, 19, of Great Neck, will be a camp counselor for the first time this summer at Shibley Day Camp in Roslyn. “I applied to a bunch of different camps, and I got interviewed at most of them,” she says. “When I was applying, there were so many advertisements.”
Camps are at a disadvantage financially when hiring because they have a tough time competing with jobs that pay more, such as a retail store or a fast-food restaurant that might pay more than $15 an hour, camp directors say. Summer camp pay is variable based on factors such as education level, past experience, job responsibilities at camp and length of the camp program, says Pierce, who is also president of the Long Island Camps and Private Schools Association.
High school and college counselors interviewed say that at mainstream summer camps they earn at least $1,500 from the camp for an eight-week summer, with several hundred added on when parents traditionally tip them at the end of the program. They earn more with each subsequent summer and can tack on additional money if they work as a bus counselor to and from camp.
Long Island camps have started new programs to make the job more valuable in other ways, Pierce says. “There’s a lot of creativity going on this year to address the issue. We’re doing OK; we’re just working so much harder to get the staff,” he says.
Park Shore Day Camp in Dix Hills, for instance, is starting a program this summer to help high school aged counselors earn the community service hours they need for high school by staying after when camp ends in the afternoon and working with local charitable organizations, says co-owner and director Bob Budah.
Pierce has implemented a “Work With A Friend” program — if two friends are both interviewed and hired, Pierce will place them in positions where they get to interact during the work day.
Several day camps are partnering with colleges to let students earn three college credits while also being paid to work at camp, or establishing internship programs that add hours to the camp week to teach leadership and business skills. “As a person who worked ‘high powered’ internship programs when I was a student at Dartmouth, I learned way more working as a counselor at camp than I did sitting in those offices doing data entry and making copies. I even landed my first job from networking with a camp parent whose son I had been counselor for,” Pierce says.
“There is no other job at that age where you’re in charge of other people,” says Noah Cooper, co-owner director of Ivy League Day Camp and School in Smithtown. “You’re learning how to resolve conflict, motivate, manage.”
THESE COUNSELORS LOVE IT
High school senior Sloane Muraskin, 17, began working at Ivy League last summer. “I just love being around kids,” she says; she works with 8 and 9-year-old girls. “I want to be a teacher so it’s a great opportunity.”
Sofia Notar-Francesco, 23, of Great Neck, who is earning a master’s degree in music education, will be working as a counselor at Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights; it will be her third year working with 5 and 6-year-olds. She echoed Muraskin in saying that the experience is great for anyone interested in education as a career.
Even teens who aren’t interested in education may love the job — Michael Wiesneski, 19, of Dix Hills, is studying criminal justice and law at Farmingdale State College but works during the summer at Park Shore Day Camp; he started working there when he was still attending Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills.
“The kids are funny, they brighten up your day,” he says. This year he will be a head counselor and is looking forward to the responsibility of calling parents to introduce himself and being more involved in the programming, he says. By now, he’s earning more than when he started — last summer he says he cleared $4,500 between pay and tips and he hopes to earn $5,000 this year.
Keki Terry, 19, of Wyandanch, also works at Park Shore; she started while still in high school. She loves that she gets to do activities with the children all day long; this summer she’ll be a group leader for 3-year-olds. “My favorite is the pool,” she says.
Julia Cavanagh, 20, of Rockville Centre, attended Coleman Country Day Camp in Freeport as a camper from 1st through 8th grade and then worked as a CIT, assistant counselor and now head counselor for fifth through eighth grade girls. Her twin brother, Sean, is a counselor there as well. “My role is basically making sure everything runs smoothly and everyone stays safe and happy all day,” Cavanagh says. She had wanted to be a counselor as long as she can remember. “You always look up to counselors, and I was like, ‘I want to be them one day.’”