Working at Camp Puts Millennials on the Path to Success (Today More Than Ever)

There has been a viral video by TED Talk speaker Simon Sinek about millennials in the workplace that has been very hot over social media newsfeeds during recent weeks. If you haven’t seen it, it is a must- check it out here. Then, read on!

In summary, the video suggests the millennial generation is struggling in the real world because they were not given the tools and social skills needed to survive and thrive in a corporate work environment. It then goes on to challenge corporations to find better ways to nurture and mentor millennials instead of throwing their hands in the air.

As camp professionals, we have had the opportunity to work with, coach, raise, mentor and employ hundreds of millennials over the past 27 years. We have witnessed the evolution of what Mr. Sinek discusses in his interview first hand. He talks about how the millennial generation is often characterized as “entitled, narcissistic and unfocused”. They want to work at a “place with a purpose, to make an impact, that has free food and bean bags”. Immediately, our ears perked up when we heard this, because at camp, we’ve got most of that covered!

We make a difference in kid’s lives- check! What’s better than camp food – check! And 235 acres of rolling hills, lakes, ziplines and outdoors is way cooler than bean bags – check! But then he went on to talk about why millennials are finding the workplace so challenging (and why corporations are so frustrated by them as a generation). His theory is that millennials are the product of four factors: parenting skills, technology, impatience and their environment.

When we looked at these factors more closely, we came to the conclusion that camp already addresses the issues that Mr. Sinek is challenging corporations to fix, giving millennials who attend or work at camp an advantage. Here’s why:

  1. Parenting. At camp we aim to make everyone feel special, mentored and shine, but they need to earn it. We do not give out participation medals and you need to earn leadership positions. Not everyone gets to be a Group Leader or an Olympics General. Not everyone gets to be a counselor for the group of kids they may have wanted to. We make our decisions for the “good of camp” in order for our camp to run smoothly and thrive. We see potential in ways that sometimes our staff may not see in themselves. We give our staff the training, mentoring and tools to succeed.  We provide a nurturing, supportive environment that will always be there to catch them if they fall. We publicly acknowledge and reward our staff for achievements just as we would our campers. Staff deserve feedback and praise just like campers do!
  2. Technology. Social media and cellphones simply do not have a place at camp. That means young adults get the opportunity for the first time to learn how to build relationships with co-workers, campers and senior staff that are based on trust, honesty and genuine interest in one another. Moreover, they learn how to practice coping with stress without relying on technology. In Mr. Sinek’s interview he talks about “no cellphones in the conference room” so that coworkers can get to know each other and build trust before meetings begin. This is daily life at camp 24/7 for seven weeks.
  3. Impatience. At camp, life is blissfully old school. We are nestled in the woods in the middle of the Pocono Mountains. There is no Netflix to binge watch, or even TV! If they want someone’s opinion of their outfit, they need to ask them in person to give an actual thumb’s up or down. We have a daily schedule that everyone follows. Sometimes our evening activities run late and counselors may have to wait an extra 30 minutes before they can go into town for their night off with friends. And try being in charge of a group of 7-year old kids and get them to clean a bunk…now that takes patience!
  4. Environment.  Working at camp is a journey, not just a single summer. Our goal for our staff members is that they come back year after year to grow, make an impact and continue to be rewarded and challenged (which is no different for our campers). We give them experiences, opportunities and traditions to look forward to. Which is why if you ask a counselor who worked at camp for four years about their experience, it will be very different than if you ask a counselor who only worked at camp for one summer. Circling back to what Mr. Sinek said that the beginning of his interview, making an impact takes time, work, effort and patience. At camp, we do everything in our power to create an environment and culture where patience, loyalty and paying your dues has its rewards.

The opportunity and value that growing up and working at camp provides is greater than ever. The experience at camp helps produce long-term proven success.

A recent article published by Mark Weller on LinkedIn said it best, “If companies should be hiring anyone, it should be camp counselors. Camp counselors are arguably some of the most patient, caring, hard-working individuals out there, and companies would be lucky to have them on their staff.” When you work at camp you have an advantage in learning the skills that hiring managers are looking for; skills like flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity, accountability, leadership and responsibility. When we reach out to former counselors, they tell us that the skills they learned at camp set them apart from their coworkers and prepared them for the “real world” better than their office internships.

So we agree that every generation is given its own challenges and this generation has its own fair share. Parenting, technology, impatience and environment may be obstacles, but at camp, we see these as opportunities.

We hope that parents continue to see the critical importance for their millennial children to work at camp, as corporations (and internships) fail to find ways to mentor this generation. We hope millennials recognize the value of their experiences at camp and how they translate into the workplace. We hope that employers learn from the camp industry as they struggle to motivate millennials. In the meantime, if they happen to see “Camp Counselor” on a candidate’s resume, they should confidently move it to the top of the pile!

For testimonials on how working at camp made an impact on our former counselor’s careers, click here.

Why they keep coming back!

Ditter3Last weekend, Camp Towanda officially kicked off our staff orientation.  Even though we are a month away from our full staff orientation, this Sunday, we met with a group of young adults who were making an exciting transition from camper to LIT to CIT to full-time counselor! Over 50 Towanda alumni shared in an all-day workshop for personal growth and staff development led by Bob Ditter. Bob is a new addition to our team and an invaluable resource for camp professionals and training.

Keep in mind that this particular group of staff are in a unique position.  Many of them have known each other for over 10 years, seen each other at their best and most challenging times, grew up together, overcame fears together, celebrated success together, supported each other and lived together, summer after summer.  After their Dorm/Club summers ended, they still came back to be waiters/waitresses (aka LITS).  As 17 year olds, while their high school friends explored programs at college campuses or teen tour adventures, they came back as CITS (counselors-in-training).  We are often asked by parents and colleagues in camping, what makes your kids come back all those years?  Look around our camp, and you will notice our kids don’t leave. Now some of this has to do with our concerted effort to tweak the bunks every year, encourage inclusiveness in the off season and make a strong effort to promote group bonding (not just bunk bonding).  But if you asked THEM, why do they come back, they would say things like:

Bob Ditter at Camp Towanda staff orientationFriendship, memories, cherished time, independence, bonds, camp family, comfort, freedom, acceptance.  Yes- all those things kept them coming back.

But now, for the first time, those former campers, LITs and CITs won’t be living under the same roof, sharing late night jokes and group activities.  So why do they come back when there are so many options out there in the world?

It’s simple…to pay it forward. Collectively in the room this past Sunday, we had over 800 years of Camp Towanda experience among us.  That very experience, wisdom, tradition, and spirit is ready to be shared.  The kids of today are so lucky to be gaining this group of counselors to join the rest of our staff because they can’t wait to give back all they have been given.  What these new staff members are also starting to realize is how much they too will gain. How making a difference in a child’s world will have as much of a profound impact on them as it will have on that child. How working at camp will nurture their skills in collaboration, leadership, communication and problem solving. How this job will give them the 21st century skills to be better professionals, co-workers and parents.


It’s so much better than being a camper.  Because you work hard, but you get back every bit of what you put in (and then some).

We are so thrilled, proud and impressed by this group of new staff members and look forward to watching them in action this summer.  

About Camp Towanda:

Camp Towanda is an independent, traditional, co-ed sleep-away camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It is privately owned, operated and directed by Mitch and Stephanie Reiter (who are celebrating 25 years as owners and directors).  For over 90 years, Camp Towanda has continued to define what camp should really be. Our program offers state-of-the-art facilities, an excellent and professional athletic department, waterfront, extensive arts, drama and adventure programs, and special events.  We are highly regarded and respected as an industry leader and are involved in giving back to various organizations throughout the year.  Camp Towanda is accredited by the American Camp Association and a member of the Camp-Alert-Network, Wayne County Camp Association, Camp Owners and Directors Association and the Pennsylvania Camp Association.

About Bob Ditter:

Bob Ditter is a nationally recognized trainer and consultant and works with organizations that work with young people. His clients have included Sea World, the Disney Channel, the Salvation Army, Girls Scouts of America, YMCA, American Camp Association, Jewish Community Centers, Camp Fire USA, Children’s Oncology Camps of America, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, private and public schools and others. He has appeared on the “ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings,” “Good Morning America” and twice on NBC’s “The Today Show.” He has been quoted in The New York Times, Parent Magazine, the Ladies Home Journal, Money Magazine and USA Today. Sports Illustrated called him “…camping’s most articulate spokesman” because of his work with children’s summer camps since 1982. He has visited over 600 summer camps in the United States and has authored four books for camp professionals and 14 brand new training DVDs. He is best known in camp circles as the author of the popular column, “In the Trenches,” which has appeared regularly in Camping Magazine since 1987.


Got Internships?

In today’s world, we understand and appreciate the decisions young adults make about how to spend their summers.  Summertime is often thought of as a time to decompress, enjoy life, connect with friends and have fun.  But it is also a time to grow.  For young adults, summer usually also means growing professionally and preparing for your career.  But how can you do this while you are working at camp?  Have you considered getting an Internship at Camp Towanda? Here’s everything you need to know about interning at Camp Towanda and why we think it could be the best thing on your resume and for your career!

What kinds of internships are available at Camp Towanda?

Our camp offers internship opportunities in education, media, marketing, graphic design, photography, human resources, food services, sports management, hospitality, coaching, counseling, speech pathology, occupational therapy and nursing.  Did we miss something? Let us know and we will see if we can create a program for you.

How do I become an Intern at camp?

Becoming a summer intern at our camp requires that you first apply for a staff position.  If you are hired as a counselor, our Senior Staff will assist you in applying for an internship, processing the necessary paperwork, and connecting you with your summer mentor.

What’s the difference between an Intern and a counselor?

First and foremost, you are being paid to work at Camp Towanda as a counselor.  As an Intern, you will be juggling your regular daily job responsibilities and it will be up to you to motivate yourself in completing your Internship responsibilities.

How does the Camp Towanda Internship program work?

Once you fill out the necessary paperwork through your school, we will assign you a Summer Mentor.  We have an amazing Senior Staff with incredible talent and ‘real-life’ experience to share.  At the beginning of the summer, you and your mentor will create a program that meets your school’s requirements and Camp Towanda’s expectations.  Together, you will create a list of responsibilities, projects and milestones that will help you achieve your Internship goals.  Coming out of the summer you will be able to walk away from camp with at least one tangible project (a presentation, a video, an essay, etc.).

What are the cost implications for becoming an Intern?

It’s great you are looking at completing an internship at camp…Before you get too involved you need to evaluate many factors, including the costs.  Most universities will charge you for the course credits.  It can be well over $500 per credit hour.

Why should I Intern at Camp when I can intern at a big office in the city?

When you Intern at camp you get the best of both worlds.  A real world job that’s also FUN! Plus, you have a lifetime ahead of you to spend in an office or in the field, right?

Still need convincing (or do your parents need convincing)? 3 more good reasons to Intern this summer at Camp Towanda:

1.  You get paid (plus free room and board!)!  So many internships these days are unpaid and don’t even give you the experience you signed up for.

2.  You get to make a real difference in children’s’ lives while learning real-world career-building skills.  Things like leadership, public speaking, responsibility and accountability…and that’s just your job as a counselor! When you Intern at Camp Towanda, you will also get REAL, HANDS-ON, CAREER-BUILDING experience.  We have plenty of opportunity to go around and we genuinely care about nurturing your success and future.

3.  Coming out of your Internship at Camp Towanda, you will have a networking community (aka Your Towanda Family) behind you to help you network in your career!

Sounds great…where do I start?

You will need to speak with the internship supervisor at your school to determine whether an internship at camp is relevant to your studies…. what objectives they would like you to complete…. how many hours would be required, what projects will you need to work on while at camp…and after camp, etc.  You will then need to prepare a proposal and submit to school for approval.  You can list our Staffing Coordinator as the on campus internship supervisor.

Anything else?

If you would rather follow a more specific course, we are affiliated with two college-credit courses: Gene Ezersky Safety College and Touro College’s Masters program.

Also, check out our blog entry here on “How to Make Camp Counselor the Best Thing on Your Resume”.

Still want more information, please contact [email protected].