Todays post is going to be a little different! For those who don’t know, Americamp is a company that gives you the help you need in order to be able to work at a summer camp in America. There are many different types of camps such as Jewish, traditional, private and catholic. Myself? I worked at a special needs camp called Camp Jaycee in Pennsylvania.
I found that Americamp was the best company to go with when comparing to the other available companies. They offered a higher wage, lowest costs and lots of support- their support is brilliant actually, email and Twitter replies are generally really fast and helpful. Their orientations tell you everything you need to know about working at a summer camp and they guide you every step of the way. If you’re unorganised like me, they’re a life saver with their email reminders!
I won’t talk about my application process experience as this is different for everyone depending on factors such as when you applied, how quickly your camp picks up your application, how quickly you get things completed yourself or the type of camp you are picked for. For example, some people had 2 interviews, one with Americamp and one with their camp whereas I didn’t have any second interview with my camp and was hired from my Americamp application and interview alone.
My camp had made a 2016 staff only Facebook group where we could all get to know each other before we got there so I had spoken to plenty of the lovely people I was going to be sharing a summer with already. We also arranged to meet up with each other if we shared a flight.
I had typically picked a flight that no one was on so found some other solo people from other camps who were also on my flight. Americamp actually have a list of these people who are on the same flight as you, whether going to your camp or not so you should always be able to find someone to meet up with. I found this helped to calm my parents down when they thought I would be flying alone. When meeting up with the people from other camps at the airport who were at least a couple of years older than me, their reaction that I had only just turned 18 and was now going to work at a special needs camp in America for 3 months was generally a ‘that’s brave, aren’t you scared of working at a special needs camp at 18?’ type of response. I sat on the plane for 8 hours thinking about what they could have meant by that and wondering what I had got myself into.
The first week of camp was training week; a mixture of training to look after the campers and also lots of ice breakers(dance routines on stage, colour wars, presentations- the lot). This helped us all become more comfortable with each other by making fools out of ourselves before the campers arrived so that everything would run smoothly and there was no awkwardness when they arrived. During this week we also had lots of training regarding situations that could happen and had to gain our first aid, etc.
The campers arrived a week after we did. For most people it was a lot to cope with at first but to my surprise I coped with everything pretty well, considering I’m usually quite sensitive. There were certainly lots of tears and even a few people went home. We were told that there is a period of getting used to everything and things like this happen; sometimes it just isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. After a week or so everything started to smooth out and we all started getting the hang of things. It seemed to come naturally at this point.
I can’t speak for other types of camps but working at a special needs camp is not an easy job, let me tell you that. You work long hours. In my case, 21 hours a day and 6 days a week, which includes daytime and night time; you’re still on call in your cabin if someone can’t sleep or has an accident, etc. This leaves 3 hours off per night to socialize, make contact with home, shower, etc. Your own appearance will go out of the window completely unless you can be bothered to get up earlier(I said I would too, but I definitely did not get up any earlier than revelry!). You won’t care if your clothes are creased or mismatching and you will probably smell funky because you have so little time to shower. With this said, you don’t really care at camp for the reason that everyone is the same.
In the morning we were woken up at 7.30am by a new song and announcement every day, sometimes the song choice was very amusing. We were expected to be at breakfast for 8.15am. Forty five minutes is not a long time at all to get yourself and four other low functioning campers ready including toileting, dressing and brushing the teeth of each person, etc. It was definitely a daily struggle. During the rest of the day we would take campers to activities, have lunch and dinner breaks, swimming, take campers for meds, etc, and then finally finish with getting everyone into bed and leaving the cabin 9pm until midnight for our time off.
Speaking of toileting, it’s not as bad as you think. You may cringe the first time you are wiping someone’s bottom but after the first or second time you pretty much just get used to it. Showering is the same. Of course it’s going to be weird washing someone else’s genitals or wiping their bum, but you just get on with it. After all, these people can’t do it for themselves and someone has to do it. When you think that you are helping someone do these things who can’t do it for themselves, it’s very rewarding and they are probably really grateful for it even if they can’t tell you. It may not seem like wiping someone’s bottom is rewarding, but it really is.
The cabins house 4-10 campers and 2 counsellors, depending on how high or low functioning they are. For example, if they are high functioning campers you will have more in your cabin as they can do a lot more for themselves. Sounds less stressful, doesn’t it? It’s not.
Some of the characters I have met at Camp Jaycee left me with me the best stories to tell. One camper in my cabin used to run to the climbing frame when you weren’t looking and try to climb up it (baring in mind she couldn’t get down once she was up so we were told not to let her climb it). She thought it was a game so we would have to leg it after her, tickle her and then walk her back. If she was in a good mood that is. If not, the tickle fight could be substituted for being rammed out the way, ignored and possibly injured. One day she managed to get onto the second step on the climbing frame and 3 counsellors had to sit on the top of it for 30 minutes just to make sure she didn’t get up. She melted my heart and was so lovable even on the days when she was irritable. But she was still one of my favourite campers. We’re told not to have favourites but we soooo do.
Another one of my campers would sing Lady Antebellum- Need You Now on repeat, and it never got old! Hearing ‘camp songs’ out of camp is one of the happiest and saddest feelings all in one because it brings back amazing memories but makes you want to re-do that summer all over again.. and again, and again.
There are some moments at camp when you need use your initiative and knowledge of what you have been taught, so LISTEN in the training week! Especially in first aid. I had a camper that one day decided he didn’t want to go down to the canteen for lunch so I stayed back in the cabin with him whilst the rest of my cabin went to get theirs and tried my best to convince him to come with me. He suddenly sat up in his bed and started drooling and uncontrollably shaking, which terrified me as it was the first seizure I’d ever seen. He couldn’t talk but thinking back he must have known he was going to have one due to his strange behaviour. I remembered what to do from the training in this situation and luckily was able to swipe his seizure band across his chest and calmly call for an EMT on the walkie-talkie whilst moving anything dangerous of out his way and timed it.
What I’m trying to say is that if you have the patience, caring personality and are adaptable then a special needs camp could definitely be for you. I can’t speak for other camps as I haven’t experienced them for myself so couldn’t tell you. I know this is a very short summary of camp and I could have written so much more, but I’ll let you experience it for yourself. Camp has without a doubt been the best experience of my life and I’m hoping to go back again!
If you want to apply for Americamp, click here. Good luck!
I’d be so happy to answer any questions you have about Americamp or camp in general and will do my best to answer them! As always, I hope you liked this post and if anyone has any questions, suggestions or comments then feel free to comment below!