The Camp Counselor as Hero

The camp counselor holds a mythic place in American culture.  Such a huge number of people attend camp as a child and these uber-cool counselors are always there – teaching canoeing, or telling ghosts stories, or simply letting a child relax away from their real world.  With such a broad reach the camp counselor becomes a commonly shared childhood memory, as much as Mickey Mouse or Barbie.  So these heroes must have their own hero’s journey, right?  You bet they do.

I can tell you I’ve known more than seven hundred camp counselors and they have come from all over the place with different intentions and different backgrounds.  They all shared the hero’s journey though.

The call to adventure may have come from a college recruitment fair or a friend from school.  It may have been something everyone in the family does or maybe it was an ad in the paper promising a summer of fun.  For many it was a call from overseas, the archetypal American experience beckoning.  How many of these heroes knew what the “other world” of camp was really like?

Crossing the threshold came with a staff training in which the allies and enemies were met and the mentors acquired.  Was that guy strumming the guitar going to be your friend or was he going to annoy you for ten weeks?  That cute girl certainly seemed like an ally for the first seven weeks, but her betrayal defined your story.  The forty year old camp director wearing flip flops and a tie dyed shirt was going to be your mentor?  Maybe, maybe not.  Did you realise that crazy Spaniard was going to be your friend forever?

The road of trials was long and short at the same time.  Wednesday of the fifth week seemed to last four days, but the last week of camp was gone in six minutes.  Did your trials include working through the flu, talking under a tree with a troubled teen for three hours, brainstorming ways to handle the kid with ADD, having your heart broken into sixteen pieces?  Were your trials physical, mental, spiritual?  The hero struggles within and without.

At the end of the season, the hero returns home to be the master of two worlds.  Heading back to college, did managing a cabin of thirteen kids by yourself help with your multitasking?  Maybe you were heading to college for the first time.  Did staff training remind you that a diverse group of people can easily work together?  Did you learn what true friendship is and reassess those people that spent the summer still in the mundane world?  Did you go home to your country and surprise your family that you had become an adult in three short months?

If you were ever a camp counselor, I applaud you.  I would love to hear about your journey in the comments section.  I want to accumulate a library of real life hero stories for kids (and adults) to read and learn from.  They’ll be published on this site as it starts to take its shape.

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