Camp Counselor Of The Week: Jess Toogood

Last week you heard from Libby about her time as a summer camp counselor, and now it’s Jess’ chance to tell you about her first summer working at camp in the USA.

Summer Camp Counselor

1. Where did you go to camp? How many years?

I work at Camp Conowingo in Maryland. It is a Girl Scout camp for 7-17 year old girls. Last summer (2014) was my first summer and I will be returning for this summer.

2. Why did you decide to work at summer camp?

For me, working at camp was part of my gap year. I thought I would be doing a degree that would not allow me to do it at any other point so it was ideal. However, now that I’ve fallen in love with camp, I will do anything to get back there.

3. What agency did you apply to camp through and would you choose them again/how did you find their service?

I applied to camp through Camp America for both summers. Although they are the most expensive company to go with (I think), I just felt I could trust them as they are the original Summer Camp company and they offer the International Youth Leadership Award. They were really helpful last year when I applied, especially when it came to organising my visa appointment as I was on a very strict and small time frame. This year, I chose the no flight option with them and again they have been very helpful.

Summer Camp Counselor

4. What is/was your role at camp?

Last summer, I was a general counselor. As a general counselor, you are in charge of looking after the girls all day, going from activity to activity with them. Conowingo has 8 one-week long sessions so you get to work with a new group of girls each week. I worked with all of the age groups but the older girls are definitely my favourite. They have so much sass and can also understand when you sass them back. I was also Ropes Course trained so I spent a fair amount of time up at the ropes course, assisting the Ropes Manager. This summer, I hope to be either the CIT counselor or the STEM Manager.

5. Did camp meet your expectations? In what ways?

To be honest, I don’t really know what I was expecting from camp. The only ‘experiences’ of it I had were from watching Beaver Falls and The Parent Trap, both representing very different camps and also, from what I gather, a complete fantasy. I was very apprehensive about working at an all girls camp because, generally, I get along much better with boys but the girls I worked with were amazing and have honestly become friends for life.

6. What 3 essential items would you never go to camp without?

My first would be my Crocs. My gran bought me a pair before I flew out and I looked at them with absolute disgust but felt I had to pack them anyway so I didn’t hurt her feelings but honestly, they are a lifesaver shoe. It doesn’t matter if they get wet or muddy or whatever, they’re just ideal. My second would be a water bottle. I am always nagging the girls to drink more water (and some other members of staff) so it would be hypocritical of me not to have my own. My final item would be my cuddly toy that I’ve had since I was born. It’s so important to have something to remind you of home, even if it is just a small thing.

Summer Camp Counselor

7. What is your best/favourite camp memory?

My favourite camp memory would probably be the Bombing of the Brits that happened during Week 3. Because 4th of July weekend finished the week, it was a shorter week at camp and on Wednesday lunchtime, all of the British staff got into the pool in rubber tubes with tea cups and the mighty Union Jack. The American staff were lined up around the pool, waiting to ‘bomb the Brits’ and all of the kids were on the outside of the pool, chanting and singing their national anthem. As the Americans tried to bomb us, we were singing God Save the Queen and I can honestly say I have never sang it so passionately.

8. What is/was your favourite camp food?

I absolutely LOVE Tater Tots and they would always accompany pizza so that would always be a good meal.

Summer Camp Counselor

9. What is/was your favourite camp cheer/chant?

We don’t really have any chants but The Conowingo Song is pretty special and is sung at every opening camp fire and Friday lunch outgoing. Another favourite song of mine is ‘My Little Aardvark’ because it’s the most ridiculous song ever and the faces my boss pulls when she’s leading it are phenomenal.

10. What is your favourite camp saying/word/expression?

During Before Camper training, we discovered that as staff, we weren’t very good at getting our words out without stumbling over something in the sentence so we decided that we would shout the word ‘REMIX’ every time it happened, just so everyone knew we knew we had done it. By the end of summer, we had the best ones written up on the pool wall, for everyone to see. My favourites were ‘infindefinitely’ instead of indefinitely and ‘Let’s go to Disneyland’ instead of ‘Let’s go to the dining hall’.

Summer Camp Counselor

11. Where did you travel to after camp (if you travelled)?

On our weekends off, we went to the inner harbour in Baltimore, Washington DC, Hershey Park and New Jersey. After camp, I travelled with my camp twin Pip. We spent a week in Maryland once camp had finished and went to Philadelphia and just around the Baltimore/Towson area. From there, we went to New York City for 4 days to meet up with 2 of the other Brits from camp. We did the classic tourist things, such as Central Park, saw a Broadway show, went to the Top of the Rock and the rest. We then went up to Boston to meet with 2 other Brits from camp and went to Harvard and Salem and walked the Freedom trail.

12. How has camp influenced you/who you are/what you do?

I know it’s a massive cliché but camp has made me who I am today. Even after just one summer, I know exactly the kind of person I want to be and that’s all down to camp. Camp somehow has the ability to bring out a side of you you never knew you really had and allows you to be as ridiculous as you want to be. It has allowed me to become more confident in myself and I will be forever grateful of that.

13. What is the BEST thing about being a summer camp counselor?

The best thing about being a counselor is the kids and if you’re not doing it for the kids then something is wrong. Kids say the most amazing things and although sometimes I question whether they’re living on this planet, most of the time what they say is valuable advice. They also do the most amazing things. I have so many ridiculous stories that my girls did and I will happily tell them to anyone that will listen.

Summer Camp Counselor

14. What’s the WORST thing?

I cried more in the 11 weeks at camp than I did in the last 11 years of my life. Working at camp is incredibly stressful with not a lot of space to escape to and it takes a very strong person not to break. A lot of my cries were because I didn’t want kids or myself to leave but a couple of times it was because I was frustrated or annoyed at something and I had let it build up. One of the hardest things I had to deal with this summer was being able to let my guard down and let people in. I am rubbish with emotions and feelings but if you try and make it through by yourself, you won’t get very far.

15. What the most important thing that camp has taught you?

What you put in is what you get out of it. The more energy and excitement you put into your activities, the more your kids will respond and have a good time. A happy kid means a happy counselor.

16. Anything else you want to say to people thinking about working at summer camp?

I couldn’t recommend anything more. Again, it’s clichéd, but it was definitely the best summer of my life. There were definite highs and lows but I have made friends for life and now have a second home.

If you have been to camp and want to take part in the ‘Camp Counselor of the Week’ series, just get in touch (either in comments, or visa Facebook or Twitter) and I’ll get the questions sent straight over!

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