Case study

Jamie McParlin — Camp counsellor

Camp America
camp america

Jamie has spent two summers as a camp counsellor at Camp Harmon - a special needs camp in Santa Cruz, California

How did you get placed?

Once I’d completed the application form online I had an interview with a Camp America interviewer, which was very informal.

After this my application got sent to different camps around the USA and within a few weeks the director of Camp Harmon emailed me to offer me a job.

I went back to the same camp the following summer so the process was very quick and easy. I emailed the director of Camp Harmon and asked for my job back, told Camp America I was returning to the same camp and that was it.

What’s a typical day like as a camp counsellor?

  • 8am - I wake up, get dressed, get campers changed and dressed, transfer them to wheelchairs and brush their teeth.
  • 9am - Breakfast. I help to feed any campers that can’t feed themselves and listen for announcements for the following day.
  • 10am to 12pm - Morning activities include helping the campers participate in things like drama, sports and arts and crafts.
  • 12:30pm - Lunch time.
  • 1pm to 3pm - Rest time. Campers can nap, hang out or go to explore the forest.
  • 3pm to 5pm - Pool time, horse riding or the ‘Big Swing’.
  • 5:30pm - Dinner.
  • 6pm to 8pm - Evening activity, which can include a talent show or a scavenger hunt.
  • 9pm - Lights out.

What do you enjoy about being a camp counsellor?

The relationships that you build with the campers and the lessons that you learn from them completely change your perspective on life. Being a part of making their life less difficult is such a privilege.

The friends you find at camp also become friends for life.

What are the challenges?

It’s a 24-hour job and lack of sleep can really get to you, especially if you have a challenging camper.

It’s also a very intense environment. You’re constantly surrounded by people and campers can have challenging behaviours that test your patience. However, you’ll always have someone there to support you and help you if you need it.

Is your degree relevant to your experience at camp?

I currently study medicine so the experience I gained at camp could not be more relevant to my future career as a doctor.

Gaining experience working with special needs campers is invaluable and it can be quite hard to get the same experience at home. Furthermore, learning how to speak to campers and their relatives about how to best manage their conditions, and learning how to communicate with those who are non-verbal, sets you head and shoulders above your peers when it comes to patient communication skills.

I have also got to work with a range of people with different - and rare - medical conditions and learning how to approach their unique behaviours and needs is fascinating.

What are your career ambitions?

After working with people with Autism at camp I have decided I want to specialise in Neurology once I graduate medical school.

How do I get into Camp America?

  • It sounds cliché but be yourself.
  • Don’t give up. Stay optimistic and be proactive about finding the right camp, even if it doesn’t happen straight away.
  • Be enthusiastic when talking to camp directors. Enquire about their campers, ask them to tell you stories about the camp and ensure that you’re engaged and interested in the conversation. They’re looking for fun, competent and optimistic people who will put their campers first.

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