Cumulative total years of Nebagamon experience on our staff last summer
States that staff called home in 2019
Countries from which our staff hailed
Different colleges and universities our staff attended last year
- 16 - 70
Age Range of our staff
- 4’10” to 6’4”
Height Range of our staff
The backbone of any successful summer camp program is its staff. Hence, we deliberately staff wide and deep. Our staff is intentionally put together every summer to provide the best possible experience for each camper. With a staff of 130, our camper to staff ratio is better than 2:1. While a considerable investment, this level of supervision and mentoring is critical to offering campers the most they can get out of a camp experience.
In addition to our excellent ratio, we are very deliberate in making sure that we have a broad range of experiences and ages on our staff every year. Our staff ranges in age from young adults, who serve as wonderful counselors and role models for our campers, to many adults, parents, and even grandparents! In this way, Camp Nebagamon is unique in its understanding that, as important as the near-peer counseling of young adults is to a camp environment, it is just as important to have older adults on staff as well. There undoubtedly is a difference in the savvy and experience that someone who has been a parent brings to the table. Ultimately, it is the combination of the talents and experiences of these staff members, young and old, that provides a richer experience for all of our campers.
Approximately 70 percent of our staff is made up of returning counselors or former campers. It is not uncommon for us to have at least 30 staff members with over 10 years experience at camp. However, we also like to have staff members new to Nebagamon because they provide fresh ideas and different perspectives. Our staff is sprinkled with international counselors from places like England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong and Mexico.
Hiring Process and Training
All staff applicants have personal interviews, must submit three references, even if they are former campers, and undergo extensive background checks. We hire men and women who are hard working, trustworthy, caring and who demonstrate a desire to counsel, teach, and have fun with our campers. Equally as important, we look for people who embrace the values of our community, including those of tolerance, respect, and kindness.
Each summer, our staff participates in a rigorous eight day training program that covers health and safety, child development, communication and leadership skills, discipline, teaching skills, group dynamics, homesickness, conflict resolution, camp policies and procedures, and ways to meet the needs of each individual in our camp community.
“My Summer” by Jason Hirschhorn
A week into the summer, Daniel screamed in my face, “I hate you.”
“I hate you; I hate you; I…HATE…YOU!”
Honestly, what was I doing here? Of all the promising starts ups for which I could have programmed, of all the political internships I could have pursued, and of all the financial firms where I could have spent three productive months advancing my social network and my career prospects…I chose here. Middle of Nowhere, Wisconsin.
My nine-year-old campers won’t write me a letter of recommendation (heck, it’s nearly impossible to get them to write a weekly letter home). Cleaning throw-up from the cabin floor can’t cut it on a resume (unless I sell “Vomit Virtuoso, Summer 2011”). As for the credential-laden badges with high-level security clearances most of my friends surely had hanging from their sides…well, I settled for a polka-dotted piece of paper with my name scrawled across it in bright red writing…scarlet letters of my summer.
A week into the summer, and I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What was I doing here?”
Besides, of course, administering swim tests and subjecting myself to Daniel’s unrelenting wrath.
Before Daniel jumped in the water, he told me he didn’t think he could do it…after he jumped in, he told me he knew he couldn’t do it…one lap in, he told me he shouldn’t have done it. But I intended to push Daniel to overcome his self-installed mental blockade and to bury “I can’t” from his lexicon. I intended to not let my afternoon devolve into a shouting match between a camper and a counselor twice his age.
Four laps in, Daniel was soaked in tears. Other counselors and campers on the waterfront were shooting me looks that questioned my judgment and my tactics. Daniel, his voice tinged with furor and helplessness, lent a voice to the silent chorus, “I’m never, ever coming back to this wretched place ever again.”
“Keep going, Daniel,” I urged with compassion and complete faith in his abilities. “You know I’m not going to let you stop. We both know you can do this.”
“Ya…well…well I can’t…and I hate you.”
After eight laps, I greeted Daniel’s exit from the water with his warm towel. Shivering, he did his best to hold my gaze. “I’m so…so proud of myself…I have a really big heart…I knew I could do it…I really want…I want to go sailing tomorrow.”
Almost all of my fellow freshmen at Harvard would never consider camp as the way to spend their summers. In the final weeks before vacation, we gathered around and discussed our summer plans; “fellowship at Facebook,” “Senator’s staff,” and “internship for Goldman Sachs,” were neither uncommon nor in need of further explanation. I, however, couldn’t help saying “summer camp counselor” without a sense of self-consciousness and a breathless transition into why I had made such a choice…“But we don’t have many summers left,” my friends would tell me, “Just make sure you use them wisely.”
A week into the summer, I thought I had made a mistake…so did Matthew.
Matthew was brand new at camp and terribly homesick. Many people didn’t know Matthew by name but rather as the kid who would sit on the benches during afternoon free swims and cry…miserably…uncontrollably…endlessly.
I introduced myself to Matthew a week into camp, and I didn’t leave his side for the next five days. At meals I’d force him to swallow bites of his chicken tenders made extra soggy by his tears. In the afternoons I’d play ping pong and four square with him on the Hill. In the evenings I’d ensure he was well into his book or a game with his friends before leaving him alone.
Matthew wiped me out. It was a challenge keeping him incessantly engaged to prevent his mind from drifting back homeward; it was even more of a challenge controlling his reactions when he did (inevitably) think of home. Each night, I’d fall asleep the instant I hit my bed.
But the effort paid off. After our first day together, he threw his tear-stained shirt in the laundry; after our fifth day, the tearstains were replaced with dirt stains. That evening, at a ceremony in front of the entire camp, in front of a dying fire and beneath a sky speckled with shimmering stars, Matthew thanked me for helping him get over his homesickness.
A week removed from this summer, I realized just how right I was to come to camp.
This summer, I gained valuable programming experience: I entertained twenty-four eight-year-olds for two hours straight while my co-counselor cooked dinner for all of us…in finding ways to entertain both the camper who loves D&D and the camper who loves dodge ball, I’ve never been more challenged creatively.
This summer, I had tremendous power and influence: I looked a camper in the eyes and told him, “I’m disappointed in your behavior;” he instantly broke down crying, devastated to have let me down; at once, he cleaned up his act.
And this summer, I was a crucial part of heated negotiations: I took two nine-year-olds aside who had frustrated each other nonstop for weeks; I had them step into each other’s shoes and promise to change the course of their relationship; I had them hug. That afternoon, they were playing cards together.
You can spend your summer working for Facebook or not logging onto Facebook. You can spend your summer on the Hill in D.C. or on the Hill at camp. You can spend your summer producing balance sheets or producing life-long memories for a cabin-full of young men.
Camp is a special place with magic-filled moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Of course I’ll be back next year…after all, I only have a few summers left.