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Where do counselors come from? (Featuring an interview with counselors near and far!)

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

The wacky macarena at our annual staff training talent show!

Greetings, friends! Hummingbird here! With our official countdown to summer started on the HVC Instagram page (under the “NYE” highlight), we’re thinking a lot about all the awesome people who will come fill up the camp with their laughter and silliness! Some of those people will be our fantastic counseling staff who live in the cabins with campers, teach classes, run evening programs, and remind all of us to brush our teeth and drink water! Every summer we have an amazing group of counselors and I’ve been wondering…. where do they all come from?? And how do they create such a close and supportive community each and every year?? I reached out to staff members Aileen, Leon, Georgia, and Haley to try and figure out how on Earth we get the most amazing counselors summer after summer after summer!! Here’s what I found out…


First up I talked to Aileen, a long time counselor, former waterfront director, and current year-round program director. Here she is pictured with her dog Moose and husband David on the FROZEN LAKE!!!

Hummingbird: You recently became a US citizen, congratulations! Where are you from originally? Do you have any fun facts about your hometown? 
Aileen: I am originally from Glasgow, Scotland and lived there my whole life before coming to camp and eventually moving to the US. Fun facts about Glasgow….it’s the largest city in Scotland and is home to the only underground railway (subway) system, which is the 3rd oldest in the world. Glasgow is known for its artistic culture and has some amazing architect. And my favourite fun fact about Scotland is that our national animal is the Unicorn… don’t believe me, google it!!!

How long was the trip from your hometown to Montville? What all did it involve to get to camp that first year? 
The trip involved a flight from Glasgow to JFK, with a 4 hour stop over in Iceland, where I had the opportunity to take part in a free trip to the blue lagoon. Once arriving in NYC, I stayed in a hostel for the night before waking up really early to catch a greyhound bus to Maine. It was a long 2 days of travel but once I arrived at HVC I immediately had a feeling of true happiness and excitement for the summer ahead.

When did you first come to camp? How did you find HVC? 
I first came to camp in 2005, I was at university and found out about the student exchange program through a friend. I applied to the summer camp counselor program through BUNAC (the UK camp sponsor) and a few months later received a letter in the mail to say that I had been hired to work at Hidden Valley Camp. I continued to return to camp every year for 4 summers and HVC is where I met my husband, David A.K.A Brillo, who some of you probably know from the ropes staff.

Now that you’re a year-round PD, what surprises you most about the non-summer seasons at camp? What’s your favorite part?
I’m always most surprised by how busy the other seasons are. There’s a misconception that summer camp directors only really work in the summer but we work ALL year long to plan for each summer. I work with Peter and Meg to communicate with staff and camp families, we do camp reunions in NYC, in non COVID times I get to travel to Scotland, England and Ireland to hire international staff in person. I also work on planning staff training, continually assessing how to grow from year to year and better support the counselors. I get to meet and interact with many amazing leaders and directors from other camps and from the American Camp Association. My favourite part is building relationships with our wonderful staff and continuing to keep in touch with them over the years.

How does camp prepare counselors for the summer? What qualities does staff training cultivate in counselors to create a successful camp environment? 
Staff training is very detailed and involved for the counselors, it’s also really fun and feels like a mini session of camp for the staff. Staff training prepares the staff to be quality counselors to their campers. It prepares them for teaching classes, how to be a leader and a role model, how to handle challenging counseling situations, and possible emergencies that could arise during the summer. Our goal throughout staff training is to create a team that works well together, respects one another and will work hard to give campers the best summer possible!

As waterfront director you spent a lot of time around the various bodies of water on and around camp… what’s your favorite swim to do in the area?  
I love swimming across the lake at camp, and try to do it as much as possible throughout the summer. This past summer I swam for 180 consecutive days, I started on April 10th, the day after a huge snow storm and swam all the way until the end of September. I have to say my favourite body of water in the area is Lake St George, I love how fresh the water is there and there’s no better feeling than jumping into the lake on a really hot summers day!


Next up, let’s hear from Leon! Leon came to camp for the first time in 2018 and was perhaps best known for handing out fourth period snack to campers and counselors! Here’s what he’s got to say about camp…

Hummingbird: Where are you from originally? Do you have any fun facts about your hometown?
Leon: I’m from a small town called Braintree in England which I’ve heard gets its name from the fact it is built around a river previously called ‘The Brain’ as well as all the walnut trees around.

How long is the trip from your home to Montville? What does it involve to get to camp?
In order to get to camp on time (which was still 2 days after everybody else), I had to leave immediately after finishing my final exam at university. I travelled to London and stayed in my mates flat in order to get the earliest flight the next morning. I landed in Boston and proceeded with the countless hours of bus travel to Maine. By this time I had been awake for a full 24 hours. 

How did you find camp? and how did you know HVC was the right place for you to spend your summer?
The year before I had worked at a camp in the UK and had heard of American camps through people there. I looked into it alot and was so heavily drawn to the idea of camp out there but left it right to the last minute. At the time I was looking for a ‘proper’ a.k.a BORING job when I decided to just wing it and try and live the dream in the US. HVC was actually the first interview I had and I knew immediately from talking to George that it was the place for me. Everything was so laid back but with a focus on fun and education which I thought was perfect.

What’s the silliest thing you did at camp? Did anything surprise you about the summer?
This list could go on forever. From countless silly snack announcements and plenty of Forbidden Planet antics to splitting my trousers in the middle of morning meeting… I honestly couldn’t pick just one moment! What surprised me was how supportive and willing to get stuck in everyone was. My previous camp experience was on a much smaller scale and I couldn’t imagine bringing so many more people together as effortlessly as we did that summer. Also, the heat. We don’t get sun like that in the UK. Man it was hot!

What parts of staff training best prepared you for living and working with campers for the summer?
Staff training is a great opportunity to mix with all members of staff. It really helps you familiarise yourself with camp life before the campers arrive as we have very much the same routine as you all do. It really helped open my eyes to the idea that there is always some support available should you need it. Especially coming in from the outside, it can seem very daunting but practising classes, organising activities and talking through any particular problems that may arise really does settle you. Plus, it leaves the easy bit for when the campers arrive… enjoying summer!

You are famous on camp for being The Leon King, monarch of snack! What is fourth period snack like? And tell us, what is your favorite snack?
Snack is famously the most important part of the day and it is important it is done right. Usually I’d start by talking to the unbelievable kitchen staff about today’s snack whilst also getting the inside scoop on the day’s dinner. I’d grab armfuls of snacks and drink and load them into a little wagon which I used to transport them to the snack shack. Then, I’d organise it all on the bench and ensure all the drinks are ice cold before taking a moment with Peter to enjoy the blissfulness of camp before the crazed snack mania ensues. Honestly, snack is the highlight of the day as you get to interact with everyone, both campers and staff. And to answer the big question… teddy grahams are a Snack King’s personal favourite. I’ll leave the blue sky versus seltzer debate to you guys! 


Here’s Georgia, a former camper, counselor, and PD! Among Georgia’s many contributions to our community are her amazing deep breathing techniques that she led us in at camp meetings!

Hummingbird: Where are you from originally? Do you have any fun facts about your hometown
Georgia: I’m form a little tiny town on the beach on the east coast of Australia called Point Lonsdale- we’re pretty small so we don’t have too many fun facts. But we are home to the largest Norfolk Pine in the Southern Hemisphere that is lit with giant fairy lights for the holidays every year.

How long is the trip from your Aussie home to Montville? What all does it involve to get to camp?
It normally takes about 36 hours to get from where I live to Camp. (Although it did once take 72 hours!!!)  First I have to get to the airport from my house which is about 2 hours then fly from Melbourne to the US (normally LA or San Francisco) which is a 15 or so hour flight. Then its a hop skip and a jump (or two / three flights) from the west coast up to Maine and we are done! 

What brought you to camp for the first time? Did you experience any culture shock?
I first came to camp as a camper when I was 11. We don’t have Summer camps at all Australia so it was a big change for me. Australia and America are both English speaking countries but we say things very differently so I had a lot of new words to learn when I arrived. Food is different in the states too so that was a learning experience as well. And of course I had never seen a Llama before so that was pretty wild too! There were a lot of differences to learn and understand when I first came to camp but I also got to meet some of my best friends and made connections that have lasted my whole life with my favourite place in the world HVC. The camp culture made such an impact on me that I kept coming back as a camper, AWAC, counsellor and a PD. 

Summer in the US is winter in Australia… you must really love HVC to make that work for so long! What did you have to do to get to camp summer after summer? 
When I was first coming to HVC as a camper my brothers and I were actually missing school to be at camp so I had to do school work before and after camp to make sure I was keeping up with my classes at home!  Then when I was a counsellor I would sit my university exams in the morning and fly out to the states later that day to make it in time for life guard and staff training. Like you said summer at camp is winter in Australia so I was skipping winter break at University, that break is not as long as summer vacation in the US so some summers I was doing my college work after lights out and really early in the mornings during staff training to make the time difference work. 

After being a PD for the first time I actually moved to America so was away from my family for huge chunks of time and had to get lots of different visas to be allowed to keep coming back to work at camp.  I was lucky enough to actually live at camp for the winter in 2019 and 2020 so my really really long commute to camp from Australia got pretty short when I was just walking from the Health Lodge (OUCH!) to the office. 
HVC was the first place that I saw snow, but it wasn’t in the winter time. I remember going on Peter’s secret tour as a camper and Peter and Meg had buried snow from the winter in a hole in the front yard and they uncovered it in the summer to show us all. 

What does Vegemite taste like? Do you like it? Do Americans like it when you’ve brought it to camp?
It’s very very salty. But it’s delicious. The most important thing about Vegemite is that you only use a little tiny bit and sort of scrap it across toast with lots of butter on it. Its not Nutella you only want a little bit! Most of the Americans who try it at camp don’t love it straight away, people say it tastes like battery fluid. Its all about the butter to Vegemite ratio! 

What was your favorite thing about being a cabin counselor? 
Working all day at the lake! I also loved lazy day long rest periods with my campers, it was such a great time to do fun things like go to the pool, llama fashion shows, paint pet rocks, human bowling on tipi hill etc. 


Next let’s hear from Haley, another camper-turned-counselor, who is known on camp for encouraging us all to stay hydrated (just like her shirt says!)

Hummingbird: Where are you from originally? Do you have any fun facts about your hometown?
Haley: I’m originally from just outside Philadelphia, but now I live in Boston. Philadelphia is deemed the Mural Capital of the World! Beginning in the mid-80’s there have been incentives around the city to bring beautiful works of large-scale art to public places. The result is a colorful, creative energy no matter where you go!

How long is the trip from your home to Montville? What all does it involve to get to camp?
As a camper I used to take a 9 hour bus from New Jersey to Maine. It was always such a fun environment to be on the bus with other excited campers, getting to know new friends and reuniting with familiar faces. As a counselor, though, I came up from Boston, which is just a four hour drive. 

What parts of staff training best prepared you for living and working with campers for the summer?
Staff training goes through every aspect of camp, from where to get allergy-friendly foods in the dining hall to helping campers work through conflicts or homesickness. Returning staff give their perspectives on challenges they’ve faced, and PD’s prepare staff from all backgrounds to not only teach classes in fun areas, but also how to take care of ourselves so we can in turn take care of our campers. But I think most importantly, staff training gives counselors from all over the world (and all levels of experience with HVC) to feel at home on camp, so we can be our full, silly, wacky, empathetic, supportive selves by the time campers arrive! 

You are perhaps best known for encouraging campers to drink water at all hours of the day. What’s your favorite way to keep campers (and yourself) hydrated?
I think my favorite hydration strategy on camp was right before camp meetings in the mornings and evenings. I would have my whole cabin take sips from their water bottles, and so many other cabins would join in, too! I would say it really loud and do wacky dances while I took a sip from my water bottle so everyone could see that staying hydrated can be fun! It became a fun game to drink water in silly ways as a community. It kept us all healthy and happy under that hot summer sun, without feeling like a chore. 


Well there you have it! Whether they come from aaaaaaall the way in Australia, or right down the road from camp, our staff work hard to create the most welcoming, fun, and supportive environment for campers and for one another. We CAN’T WAIT to build an amazing camp community this summer! In the meantime, keep checking in on those countdowns to camp, we’ve got a first session AND a second session countdown going, and lots of other fun stuff happening on the HVC Instagram! And check out some pictures of staff training and other counselor shenanigans below!

I’m off to ask Aileen if I can be a counselor even though I’m a bird… wish me luck on my interview!
Hummingbird 🙂

 

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