Nightingale has been a pillar at camp for many, many years. She is widely known for her flair of purple, quick wit, kind spirit, and amazing intuition with the campers and program aides. While her volunteer time has come to an end with the graduation of her daughter, Otter, she was thrilled to share her experiences and advice for volunteers at Kirkland Rainbow Adventure day camp.
A Week in the Life of a Unit Adult Volunteer
This week starts some time in January. When that first email circulates asking if you are interested in volunteering at a Day Camp during the Summer.
Your first decision is yes or no. But you know you want to…
The second decision is Unit or Activity and this year you picked Unit…
There are certainly opportunities to plan the camp… But as a Unit Adult, these are totally optional. (Those Activity Adults have a bit more to do.) Now, usually, you are assigned a unit. Our camp was divided by color. You can have a lot of fun with this. A lot of fun!! No matter how much planning you participate in, the week of camp you have one job… Sit down and be Quiet! Be vewy vewy quiet!
Girl Scouts is all about PROGRESSION. You know the charts. Cold food to Dutch ovens. Sleepovers to tent camping. Day Camp is a very big part of that progression.
Your PAs are all on a Path To Leadership. They have a certain amount of training. A certain amount of experience. And… a certain amount of planning for this particular camp. They are working really hard to lead. You must give them the space to do that… lead.
It is easy as parents, teachers, and troop leaders to feel the need to step in. “Don’t touch the stove.” “No running in the hallways.” “On my honor…” This week is not about stepping in. It’s about letting go. Letting go of your expectations. Letting go of control. Letting go and letting them step up. And this can be very hard for some of us.
I suggest knitting. Or Crochet. Or sketching… Something to keep your hands busy. Making it harder to stand up. Something to keep the front of your mind busy. Something that covers the normal frequencies of conversation. All the while allowing the back of your brain to be on the alert for shouts, cries, anger, or pain. Your job is back up. There is a good chance you will not be called upon. And that is OK. More than OK, really. Optimal.
There are one or two meetings that will include you meeting with your PAs. These are very important meetings. You need to get a feel for the personalities of your PAs. Ask them questions. What do they expect from you? When do they want you to step in?
These questions might be on the handout, but you have got to seriously listen to their answers. Relate to them your experience. Let them know that you have confidence in their leading the Campers. Let them know they can call on you. But… that you are not interested in over functioning. That you will wait for them to ask before you step in.
Also tell them what you are comfortable with. The younger your Campers, the more head counts you will do. Have them come up with a cool call and response to get the Camper’s attention. “Purple..” “Unit…” “Sound off!” “one” “two” “three”…
I can hear the objections from here, where I sit in GS Camp Retirement… But what about them getting hurt. And I say, what is camp without one or two skinned knees?
This is why I do not suggest reading at camp. You do not want to get so involved with a story that you completely zone out from your campers. But if it takes a minute to set your yarn down, the camper has a chance to breathe and maybe go back to the activity. And you can sit back down, give your PAs a thumbs up and sigh with relief that there is not a ‘considerable amount of paperwork’ for someone getting frustrated with the craft.
Do not walk away thinking this is going to be a week of a vacation. You will be exhausted. You will need more coffee. You will need to pick up dinner on the way home so you can shower and go straight to bed. Letting go is not easy. Your fingers will be numb from sitting on them. You tongue will hurt from you biting it to keep quiet. But think of what you are gaining.
Otter started attending RADC when she was in the second grade. I watched her cook. I took home her crafts. I cried when her unit did Flag. It was amazing. And when she became a PA! I was so proud of her. Watching her lead. Watching her help the campers. Watching her step up.
From where you have stepped back to, you get a much better photo. You see the campers learn. You see the PA’s lead. You can watch them grow not only year to year but you see growth between Monday and Friday. And you keep your hand in.
We didn’t have a troop those last few years. But we did have Camp. It was one week of carpools. Camp songs. Stories. And, ok, maybe a little bit of gossip. It was me and my kid in the car. It was one of the best weeks of my year.
So. Purple is my color in real life. My closet. My office. Even my tea.
That being said, I had a lot of fun being the Purple Unit. A lot of fun!!
I carried everything at camp in a purple backpack. I stuck in a dowel rod with a purple bandana tied to the end. Made a, sort of, flag. My campers could always find me.
You will be surprised how many things you have around your house that is your Unit color. Sharpies. Post-its. Bandanas are, of course, easy to find. Now, maybe you don’t want an orange backpack. But an orange bucket hat… that’s fun! Blue is super easy. Blue painter’s tape is easily available. I had to order purple special. For most colors there is a readily available card stock packs.
As soon as you find out your color, start looking around. OH! Those little stretchy bracelets! Buy enough for you and PAs. You can attach the little laminated schedules to them. This is the best purchase I ever made.
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When I was not with my daughter, field trips or church trips, I always hoped the adults in charge would take pictures. So, at camp, I took pictures. Back in the day Shutterfly had Share Sites. There are ways to share pictures with parents. But not every picture. Save one back from each camper and your PAs. Then, using that card stock, print out those pictures, mounting them on card stock and write a little note. “I’m so happy to have had you in Purple Unit. I loved how you … ! I hope to see you next year!” Or something similar. The parents will love it. The kids will remember you. It costs so little. A special remembrance to be tucked away.
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Camp, as every TV show and movie will tell us, is all about Traditions. Rainbow Adventure Day certainly has some traditions. A BIG one is Camp Names. It’s quite the game. The campers try all week to find the PA’s ‘real’ names. No one says anything.
This game starts with the first planning meeting of the year. I call my kid by her name all year and suddenly at camp she is Otter. So, whenever I talk to her about camp, I call her Otter. She would never call me by my given name but Nightingale is completely acceptable. So! Use those camp names as early and as often as you can.
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Camp is a time for growth. Campers are without parents. In a new environment. PAs are suddenly in leadership positions. Sometimes for the first time. And you. You have a completely new set of campers. Not your family. Not your troop. Not your students or your Sunday school class. You are out of your element. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s new. So sit back. Don’t assume. Ask questions. Ask questions first. Wait for answers. Listen. You have experience, yes. It is valuable, yes. And… growth needs room. Growth needs space. Give them a minute. Let them try and figure it out. Be it a craft or a disagreement.
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You are an adult. You have memories. What are your favorite memories from camp. Make that happen for your campers. You’ve done stuff with your life. Maybe you were a counselor at a camp. Make it a good week for your PAs. You are a parent. What kind of week do you want your camper to have. Give that week to your campers. And have fun.
Oh! I found my notes!!