What Does a Camp Director Do?
Behind the scenes with the people who set the tone for summer camp
Parents go to great lengths to get to know the other adults charged with caring for their kids’ well-being. That list — which incorporates everyone from baby-sitters and teachers to coaches and doctors — should include one more title: summer camp director.
Camp directors are public figures with a diverse job description. From building a strong rapport with staff and campers’ families to improving programming, this influential role sets the tone for a strong summer-camp season yet lasts year-round. Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at how a camp director ensures that campers enjoy the best summer possible.
Defining camp values
Shaping and maintaining a camp’s identity is one of the most significant aspects of the job. “Any good business has a mission, an identity and goals, and a camp is the same way,” says Andy Pritikin, director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown, NJ. As president of the New York and New Jersey branch of the American Camp Association, Pritikin advises directors to regularly discuss their camps’ value system and take the tenets to heart.
Leading by example is critical. “The camp director’s personality emanates through everyone; if he sits back and does nothing, his staff will, too,” says Isaac Baumfeld, director of French Woods, an overnight performing arts camp in Hancock, NY.
Day-to-day duties of a camp director
Summer’s a 12-month prospect for camp directors. Many of a camp’s practical operations take shape during the off-season. In addition to recruiting staff and campers, they take advantage of empty campgrounds by making repairs, enhancing facilities and prepping activities.
“We plan our curriculum and special events so that when summer comes, we’re ready to go with plans A to Z in case the weather doesn’t cooperate,” says Michael Rush, executive director
of Future Stars Camps, which has locations throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and in Linwood, NJ.
By the time camp rolls around, “Every day is a different adventure,” Baumfeld says. In addition to overseeing daily programming, directors regularly check in with staff and campers, to ensure that all social and emotional needs are met and address any concerns parents and counselors may have.
Camp staff motivation
Counselors look to directors for guidance, so “There’s tremendous pressure for us to always have a positive attitude,” Pritikin says. “When you’re in charge of people, you can’t just tell them what to do. You need to inspire them and give them a reason to want to be at work every day.”
Baumfeld emphasizes the importance of fostering a sense of camaraderie with staff. “They need to know that you’re there for them not only as their boss, and that you’re working together to achieve goals,” he says. “If they’re having a good time, campers are having a good time.”
Respect, Rush believes, is also key. “Counselors should be treated like family. If they need to deal with unexpected personal situations, a director needs to be flexible and understanding.” The goal is to retain a high number of veteran staff attuned to camp values and able to train newer counselors, largely by example.
To bond with campers, being approachable throughout the day is vital. “Even times where there’s an issue of kids behaving badly, it’s important to listen and be calm before you rush to judgment,” Rush says.
Building trust with parents requires the same level of commitment. “You have to be involved and prove it,” Pritikin asserts. “If anything bad happens in the community and there are kids involved, we help however we can.” Camp leaders are also seen as family friends and called on for advice.
Though directors say the work is 24/7, “I don’t consider what we do a real job — it’s fun,” Rush concludes. “There are certainly aspects of it that are hard work, but it’s a fulfilling experience.”
Writer Cheyenne Shaffer is a recent Temple U grad.