By Ben Haberman, Counselor and Social Media Specialist

As a camper at URJ Camp Newman you hear stories of the magical staff training week. It is shrouded in mystery and as an Avodahnik or CIT, is just out of reach. Staff finish their training when campers arrive, but the stories of incredible programs, the best food of the summer, and an empty camp never left my mind. 

This summer is my 18th summer at camp. My first time in Camp Katan I was 18 months old. So to say I had been waiting my whole life to participate in staff week seems pretty accurate. With every coming year it looked more and more fun. In 2020 I was supposed to finally cross the threshold and take part in staff week. As we all know, camp didn’t happen the way we anticipated, but even virtual staff week was a highlight of my summer that had me and so many others looking at our Zoom screens. Fast forward a year and myself and many other specialists, including lifeguards and our incredible adventure mountain staff, found ourselves physically back at camp. As we gained new skills in our respective specialty areas, the anticipation of the rest of the staff arriving only grew. For many of us, it was the first time we were going to see some of our best friends in over a year.

Suddenly it was June 13th, 2021, the official start of staff week. The week was packed with learning and fun and each and every one of us were ready to get started. Staff week was a different experience for each of us. None of us had been an in-cabin counselor before and had only staffed Zoomin with Newman. That meant for the large majority of us, that we had to learn all the basics. We needed to learn how to create camp magic and how to become experts in camper care.

For me, creating camp magic was the easy part. The people on staff who return to camp year after year do so to instill the same love of camp in their campers that their counselors did for them years ago. During staff week, we brainstormed fun cabin times where traditions were brought up and new ideas were workshopped. We held in one hand the traditions passed down to us like night fox in the vineyard and in the other held the hope of creating something new that would one day be a tradition at camp. As we continued on throughout the week, we fell into a rhythm. Co-counselors and specialists created bonds, and new friendships were formed with every passing program.  

An important part of camp magic is the health and safety of everyone. Keeping campers safe and supported is essential to being a good counselor and is a guiding principle of staff week. Programs range from first aid training to how to create a diverse and equitable space for campers. Staff are challenged to think of situations in new ways in order to be equipped with every tool they need to help their campers be their best selves at camp. These conversations and programs were not only thought provoking, but they gave staff the space to grow as leaders and as people.

Through the numerous programs we did during staff week, one thing was apparent: we were part of a great history and tradition of counselors who love camp. Each staff member brings something unique to the team and is able to connect with campers in a different and creative way. Whatever background we had before coming to staff has faded into the background as we as the staff community came together to welcome our campers home. As the summer goes on, what we learned during staff week will only grow more useful and will become second nature for the staff.