April 09, 2007

Daytona Beach News-Journal

Never too old for camp

Counselor jobs offer summer cash
By MELISSA GRIGGS
Business Writer

Eddie Bonilla, 20, knows a secret: Just because you're too old to go to camp doesn't mean you can't work at one and still spend the summer canoeing, swimming and riding horses.

"My parents enrolled me in camp when I was 10 years old," said Bonilla, who lives in Deltona. "I loved it so much I kept coming back."

When Bonilla turned 16, counselors at YMCA's Camp Winona in DeLeon Springs asked him to join the camp's leadership program. "I was getting a little bit too old for camp, but I still wanted to go," he said.

Now a student at Daytona Beach Community College, Bonilla will return to Camp Winona again this summer as a leadership director. He will be the one training and supervising 66 counselors.

It may be just early April, but it's time to start lining up camp jobs for the summer. Instead of waiting tables in a crowded restaurant or mowing lawns in the hot sun, why not land a summer gig with some fun?

Camp Winona and other camps are looking for summer help. And, it's not just about making s'mores and singing around the campfire anymore. Camps need nurses, computer instructors, photography teachers and science experts, as well as equestrian directors and lifeguards. About 1.2 million adults, mostly college students, work at camps across the country every summer, according to the American Camping Association, which lists jobs on its Web site (www.acacamps.org).

David Larrabee, Camp Winona's director, said he often has trouble filling positions for male counselors. "It may be gender stereotyping that prevents men from applying," he said. "But being a counselor leads to all kinds of careers. I started out as a counselor when I was in college and ended up getting a degree in business."

Counselors receive leadership training, develop skills and build resumes, said Nancy LaPook Diamond, president of NicheDirectories LLC, publisher of CampJobs.com, an online site for camp jobs.

Being a summer camp counselor is a perfect way for students, teachers, school nurses and other seasonal employees to supplement their incomes, Diamond said. Some camps allow employees with children to bring them along for free or at dramatically reduced costs, she said.

Applicants for camp positions are carefully screened and undergo background checks, Larrabee said. Those accepted go for more than a week of staff training and get certified in CPR and first aid. Salaries vary depending on the job and an employee's experience, Larrabee said. At Camp Winona, cabin counselors, who are 18 and older, make an average of $160 to $200 a week, with senior counselors making $220 to $250. Room and board is free.

"When you work at a camp, it's not about the money," Larrabee said. "It's really the type of experience, the mission. So many say they return as a counselor to give back what they have been given as a camper."