5 Essential Start-up Skills Camp Counselors Develop

Leadership by Design

There is a lot of talk about the power and impact of Jewish Camp. Across movements, Jews seem to agree that our camping movements are the stronger institutions serving our communities.

Articles regularly merit the benefits of Jewish Camp on families and especially on individual campers. They’re about foundations and grants and marriages, et cetera.

However, I feel an important aspect gets left out each time. If Jewish campers are the future leaders of the Jewish people, than kal v’chomer our counselors are the leaders of today and tomorrow.

Social Collaboration

My last summer as a camp counselor, I had an idea for a program I was going to call “Yom Shana.” It’d be a full day where campers would experience the Jewish calendar through engaging programs.

To prepare, I consulted some Rabbis over lunch. I reached out to the dining hall to see if they had any matzah, hamentashen, or macaroons for our meals. I discussed a “crossing of the Red Sea” program at the pool with the lifeguards. My co-counselor coordinated with the camping staff to set up a hike to the top of a mountain for Shavuot. It was going to be great.

In the end, we had to adapt. We weren’t going to have enough time or resources for the desired result. So we empowered our campers with the program. They adapted the idea to make it more personal and make it more feasible. Instead of a day’s worth of programs experiencing the whole year, they made a passover-style seder, remembering the whole summer. It was a great success. We still talk about it today.

Model Millennial Workforce

Like campers, counselors leave their summers feeling stronger, having learned much about themselves and working with other people. However, not all campers grow up to be on staff. It’s a fun but hard job. To succeed as a camp counselor you need to be between Oprah and Dr.Phil, cultivating a magical experience that pushes your audience to explore the best within themselves.

Under the connective leadership of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the different camping movements, the professional development young people experience at camp exceeds the workplace alternatives this age group could receive. These young people simultaneously innovate and preserve the legacy of their camp. They learn management skills in context of camp, but continue to contribute and apply those skills through the relationships they’ve built. Counselors emerge as leaders not only in their camps, but in their respective communities, as well.

Preparing for the summer and for the future

With the spring around the corner, millennials are beginning to think about life after spring break. Some will be reapplying to work at camp, having more fun and doing a better job than last year. Others will move on in their careers, applying for internships and jobs, applying what they’ve learned in a larger discipline.

From years working at camp and in varying start-ups, I have found that the most important skills in any workforce come down to thinking critically and being able to read people. Camp Counselors, in particular, not only develop those skills but hone in on some of the most important business skills needed today:

  1. Open Collaboration – Camp is run by different teams with the same goal. Throughout the summer, Jewish camp staff produce fun and thoughtful programming. No one counselor does it alone, they learn how to work together to make experiences possible for an entire community. Counselors collaborate not only with teams at their camps, but interface and share best practices with similar leaders at other camps across the country.
  2. Social Analytics – Camp is a social experience. Camp counselors key into the conversations of their customers, the campers. All day long they monitor, role-model, and moderate their camper’s social sphere to appropriately engage in an exceptional experience. Counselors learn to decipher feedback and adjust their bunk’s activities and culture accordingly.
  3. Customer Service – Camp counselors show up with a smile on their face early in the morning, everyday, all summer long! They make the time to support each and every camper, no matter the issue. Typically as long time campers themselves, counselors are outspoken brand and customer advocates.
  4. Lean Product Development – Creative and innovative, counselors are known to make something magical out of nothing in particular. With limited supplies and great imagination, they thoughtfully design new multi-sensory experiences. They’ll get people excited in advance, make it memorable, and turn it into a camp tradition.
  5. Conflict Resolution – Experiencing full time interaction with colleagues and customers, a camp counselor is use to mitigating various personalities. Thoughtfully listening, counselors confidently and constructively manage interpersonal conflicts into mutually-beneficial solutions.

Hire a Camp Counselor

Regardless of your industry, former camp counselors possess some of the most important skills for a modern workforce.  Be clear on your expectations,empower their creativity, and former camp counselors will demonstrate fun, thoughtful leadership in your organization.

I learned so much at camp about what the world needs from us. When camps are at their best, what they do is create individual[s]. They’re not about top down authority, they’re not about doing what somebody did yesterday but doing it a little bit faster, they’re not about doing well on the standardized tests. They are about becoming that person and being someone you would miss if they were gone. And then we get to work and suddenly we get brainwashed to do the opposite…that worked in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, when factories ruled the earth… the people now who are thriving and succeeding are the people who are acting like they are at camp.”


-Seth Godin, interview Linchpins at Summer Camp, Tri-State Camp Conference 2011

About the Author
Jacob Sager is an entrepreneur, father of 4, and retired Camp Counselor. He's grew up on the internet and once made a Jewish Social Network. For now, he's imagining the Jewish future in virtual reality and in outer space. Follow him on Twitter or Linkedin for more content.
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