Discussing the Impact of Camp on Campers and Counsellors
May 19, 2017 by
Camp Q&A: Ilana Stoch, Co-director of Camp Kodiak.
Q: How long have you been the director of Camp Kodiak?
This is my third year. My dad was the one who started Camp Kodiak and a few years ago, my sisters and I took over the director role.
Q: What’s your favourite part of your job?
My favourite part of my job is seeing campers and counsellors grow over the summer. So, at the end of each of our sessions, we have a closing campfire and we ask people to reflect on specific questions and topics and we ask if there are volunteers who want to share their stories or their anecdotes from the summer and why certain things are meaningful to them or how camp has impacted them and the comments and the feedback that the staff and the kids share is just incredible and really reminds you of how impactful a wonderful summer experience can be.
Q: And what are some of those responses like? What do the campers say they enjoyed and will remember the most?
The people who they’ve met. Finding out that there are people just like them who they can relate to, who understand what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, what they’re going through, someone they can relate to on a different level from their classmates at school or the kids in the neighbourhood, kids who actually get them and staff who get them, too.
Q: What does it take to be a camp director/counsellor?
You have to be open in many different ways. You have to be open-minded, you have to be open to different kinds of experiences, you need to be kind, you have to be willing to listen, you need to be patient, you need to be fun, you need to be someone who is able to put aside a grumpy day or feeling a little under the weather and know that you have to try and make the day as great as you can for the kids who are right there in front of you who are looking to you for guidance. You need to be willing to ask for help if you don’t know how to deal with a situation. You need to be willing to step outside your comfort zone and take a risk to show a camper that it’s okay to do that and that it’s safe to do that and that people will respect you for the risks that you take regardless of whether or not you feel that it was successful.
Q: What can camp staff do to prevent bullying and exclusion?
We spend a lot of time during our training week talking about bullying, the issue of bullying, different types of bullying, what it looks like. We try to prevent bullying from happening, so as soon as we see behaviour or comments or any type of indication that could eventually lead to bullying, we try to intervene before then to make sure that campers understand what their actions and their words are saying and what the consequences are going to be.
Q: What is the best thing a parent or guardian can do to prepare their child for their first camp experience?
Know your kid and know the camp. Do your research and ensure that the camp will be a good fit for your child because not every camp is able to meet the needs and expectations of every kid and every parent. Parents need to have a good understanding of what the camp is all about and how it works. Websites are usually great resources. Also, talking about what the parent’s expectations are of the camper while they’re away because that’s really important. If the parent says ‘I expect you to follow the camp rules. I expect you to be the best person you can be. I expect you to try as many different activities as you can. I expect you to be respectful and really think of the values that we have at home and make sure you’re showing those at camp as well’. That’s really important because then it’s telling the camper that what happens at camp matters even though the parents aren’t there to see it, so that their behaviour counts even when their parents aren’t watching. Also, talking about the campers expectations of camp and making sure that any apprehensions or any questions or concerns are dealt with before the camper arrives at camp so they’re not stressed about it, they’re not concerned about it, it’s not playing on their mind because that can lead to more homesickness or just a feeling of wanting to go home. Talking about campers and parents goals because if you have a goal in mind then it’s easier to try and achieve it; if you don’t, then it might be a little unfocused and maybe that campers needs something to really focus on in terms of a specific goal or expectation. Also, I know it’s so silly, but looking at what the suggested packing list is because if the camp says no cellphones and a camper arrives with a cellphone, already that camper is dealing with an issue with the camp staff.
Q: In your opinion, has the camp experience changed over the years and how?
Technology has changed a lot of things. For example, campers are more attached to their phones and the idea of being away from their phones for the summer can be really difficult for some kids because they’re so dependent on it for social interaction, for communicating with their parents. And parents even have a hard time dealing with being away from their campers because with cellphones, they’re able to be in contact with their child throughout the day. I think with technology that it’s going to increase because it seems that every year we become more and more dependent on technology
Q: Is there any camper or instance you remember that really exemplified the power and spirit of camp?
Absolutely. We had a camper a few years ago who came to camp and she was terribly homesick and she was convinced that she was going home and she was trying to convince us that she was going home and we had several discussions with her, with her mom. Her mom was very confident in not coming to pick her up and knew that once she settled in, she would have an amazing time, but needed to get over this difficult transition and we supported her through that transition and it was a very hard transition for her. And it took longer than the other girls in her cabin, but once she finally started coming around, it was incredible to see the changes. And I still remember when her mom came to pick her up, it was raining really hard on that pickup day and her mom came up in the car and the first thing that her daughter said to her was not ‘Hi’, not ‘I missed you! I’m so happy to see you!’, but ‘I want to come back next year!’ and mom’s face just changed. It was amazing and she started to cry. And she was so happy that her daughter was not only able to get over her homesickness but be so successful and feel so successful and recognize the successes that she had while she was at camp that she wanted to come back for… you know, she didn’t even say next year, but she said “I want to come back” and indicated that she wanted to keep coming back and keep coming back and each year, the amount of homesickness is less and less. And she continues to thrive and really just shows what you can do if you allow yourself to have fun and allow yourself those opportunities.