Giving teens a chance to be leaders
When Amy Zeidel was 16, she began thinking about future summer jobs. She liked working with children and wondered if being a camp counsellor would be a good fit for her. To find out, she applied to be a Leader-in-Training (LIT) at Camp Kanawana, a residential camp in the Laurentians run by the YMCA. During the eight-week program, Zeidel worked on leadership and communication skills through various games and exercises, including a five-day canoe/camping trip.
She then spent several weeks assisting the camp counsellors with their charges. Zeidel discovered that working with kids was tougher than she had imagined. “It was way more responsibility than I had thought it would be,” she says. For example, she hadn’t realized that 8-year-old boys would need her help with basic tasks such as getting changed, finding sunscreen in their bag, or walking to the bathrooms and back. But Zeidel thrived on the experience, calling it “one of the best summers of my life.” Today, the 21-year-old is a university student and one of the directors of Camp Kanawana’s LIT program.
Leadership or Counsellor-in-Training (CIT) programs can be found at both sleepover (residential) and day camps. While program details differ, the basic idea is the same: offer older teens a chance to work on skills such as communication, teamwork, conflict management and, of course, providing care to young people. People who participate in such programs aren’t guaranteed a job at the camp, but it is seen as excellent training for a full-time position as a counsellor.
However, parents are often surprised to learn that you usually have to pay for a CIT program — often the same amount as when your child was attending as a regular camper. However, at Frontier Lodge, a Christian summer camp in the Eastern Townships, participants don’t have to pay, but they undergo a rigorous selection process. The camp’s four-week leadership program is open to people as young as 14. The first year, they work primarily in kitchen or maintenance, “to learn camp from the ground up,” explains director Steve Townley. At age 15 or 16, they become junior counsellors and receive one week of training before the camp opens.
During the camp, they’re placed with a cabin group (with a senior staff member) and have regular meetings to discuss situations and find solutions to problems. They learn to plan and prepare activities, coordinate their time, and think critically under pressure. “We teach them to be positive role models, to be good leaders as well as good friends to their campers,” Townley says.
While Frontier Lodge takes CITs at 14, many camps require that participants be older. Kanawana’s program is offered to teens ages 16 and 17. As well, programs vary in terms of the time requested. Some require a whole summer’s commitment while others allow you to sign up for just a few weeks. For some programs, you simply have to register; others select participants through an application process and interviews.
Several local day camps also offer such programs. For example, Vanier College’s SuperCamp has a leadership program for young people ages 15 to 18. About 60 teens participate each summer (there is no minimum number of weeks required). In addition to helping out with the younger campers, the teens spend about two hours a day developing specific skills, from communicating to creating a bond with children. Each week, they meet with a leadership animator to evaluate their progress and set personal goals.
Sunny Acres, a day camp in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, runs Leap Ahead, a CIT program for young people who have just finished grade 8 or 9. Participants can come for one or several weeks.
The program operates primarily through bunk placements: participants are paired with different groups throughout the summer and work directly with the campers, under the supervision of the counsellors. “It’s very hands-on,” explains Sarah Bartosh, office manager. “They learn about qualities that make a great counsellor and the responsibilities that come with being one.”
Bartosh notes that a CIT experience is a huge asset for anyone who wants to work as a camp counsellor. “It implies that you understand the camp experience, which is a big factor for camps in the hiring process,” she says. “It also gives you some sort of recognized experience. Otherwise, when you apply for your first job at 16 or 17 years old, you have nothing on your résumé.”
Camp Kanawana participant Zeidel says her experience gave her a better perspective on people. “You’re in an environment with 25 to 30 other people all summer long, so you really get to learn about all different types of personalities and how to work with them. And you learn how to handle yourself in various situations.”
Many residential and day camp offer CIT programs. Contact any camp of interest to see what they offer. You can also call The Quebec Camping Association for information on CIT programs, (514) 252-3113. Below is contact information for camps mentioned in the article:
Camp Kanawana’s Leader-in-Training Program
www.ymcakanawana.com and click on “Trailblazers”
or call (514) 849-5331 ext. 224.
Applications are now being accepted for the program and spaces fill up quickly.
Frontier Lodge Program
www.frontierlodge.org and click on “Staff Page”
or call (819) 844-2277.
Vanier College SuperCamp’s Leadership Program
www.supercamp.ca and click on “Leadership”
or call (514) 744-7611.
Sunny Acres’ Leap Ahead Program
www.sunnyacresdaycamp.com and click on “Programs”
or call (514) 369-6364.
The Quebec Camping Association
www.camps.qc.ca and click on “CIT”
(has a list of camps that offer this type of program)