Guest Blog by Lisa Langer, Associate Director of the URJ’s B’nai Mitzvah Revolution
I am in awe of camp counselors! Being responsible for campers’ physical, emotional and social health around the clock is no easy job, especially for young adults. Add to that the expectation that counselors at URJ Camps serve as teachers and transmitters of Judaism, and the job is extraordinary. All staff at our URJ camps do holy work, but I have come to understand the unique challenges that our cabin counselors and specialists face in a very difficult job.
As a member of the faculty at URJ Camp Newman, I am in a position to observe, support, work with and admire what our college students bring to camp, what they give to younger campers and how they grow into themselves in the process. Rather than share the ways I have seen the young adults fall short of expectations – which all of us do in our work at some point, I want to lift up some moments that struck me as pure magic – the times when camp counselors have exceeded my expectations in ways that most matter to our holy community.
- Flexibility: A songleader had invested considerable time to craft an innovative prayer service and was so excited to be shaliach tzibur (prayer leader) in a creative way. As the service unfolded, so too did her plan. She quickly and skillfully embraced the enthusiasm of the campers and appropriately let them navigate her ideas into a new direction. I admired her preparedness, responsiveness and flexibility.
- Presence: I have observed counselors be there for campers – being a presence in their experience simply by sitting near them during meals and programming, or wrapping an arm around their shoulders during siyum when they are most in need of nurturing. Deeply caring for others is a value that permeates this holy community.
- Leadership: A CIT masterfully facilitated a talent show. She used clever ways to get the campers’ attention so that they stayed engaged and focused. When a camper used poor judgement with a joke, she gently revoked his joke-telling privileges and stuck to that decision. She brought her whole self to her task, showing clear leadership and devoted presence to her work.
- Thoughtfulness: Ideas for an educational program were shared at a staff meeting. The counselors asked questions that clearly had their campers in mind. They raised important issues and imagined the experience from the perspective of their campers. Their inquiries and ideas led to important adjustments to the program so that the campers could more fully engage.
Counselors at camp are working hard doing a very difficult job. They are learning and practicing important skills for the 21st century work force. During my time at Camp Newman, I make an effort to share lots of compliments to let these young people know that their work here matters and is being noticed:
“I appreciate how you were able to shift your plan when you saw how the campers responded.”
“I noticed that you were sitting with the campers. I know they love that!”
“You were working so hard to keep everyone’s attention! Thank you for that effort.”
The look of pride, the smile and the humble “thank you” when I share with staff what I have noticed is deeply gratifying – for both of us!
We all yearn to be noticed. In a role that demands so much, every camp staff member deserves to be recognized for their effort, their dedication and their love for Camp Newman.