Joshua Gibson, 13, aged out of YMCA’s summer day camp program last summer, and he thought he’d be spending his summer at home this year.
Instead, he came back to the YMCA as part of the Manship branch’s Counselors in Training program, where he and 15-year-old Brandon Lambie were two of 10 13- to 16-year-old former campers who signed up, said Billie Babin, program director.
On Aug. 5, the two were wrapping up their final week as CITs this year, supervising archery practice for the Y’s 8- and 9-year-old girls’ camp as if they’d been doing it for years.
Safety is important, Lambie said, especially where activities like archery is concerned. Safety, and making sure everyone’s where they should be.
It’s not always easy, Lambie said.
“The younger age groups — they’re, well, lacking in good behavior sometimes. We just deal with it as it comes up,” he said. His favorite age group to work with this year was the 6- and 7-year-old boys.
“I got to know them last year as a CIT when they were in the 4 and 5s group, so that’s a fun group,” he said. “You get a little bit of an idea of what you’ll be seeing if you decide to become a counselor,” he said.
Austin Newman, camp coordinator and Babin’s second-in-command, supervised CITs and the campers, adding that there are never too many sets of eyes when it comes to large groups of children of just about any age, and his CITs were a big help this summer.
CITs work as sort of a hybrid between a job with responsibilities and a camper.
“In the mornings, usually, they help out with the younger kids’ camps, then in the afternoon, they have their own time to do the activities they want,” Babin said.
The idea, originally, was to take children who had been participating in day camp programs and start introducing them to leadership roles slowly.
“Every camper knows the camp values — respect, honesty, caring and responsibility. CITs get some of the same training as our regular counselors — making sure all our campers are demonstrating those values — but (for CITS) we make it more fun,” said Hogan said.
If Gibson had his choice, he probably wouldn’t have opted to be a CIT this summer, he said.
“No, my mom made me, honestly. I thought it would be bad, but it turned out to be pretty good,” he said, adding that he’s learned a lot of things, not only about managing groups of children but also about himself.
“I learned I’m not all powerful,” he said. He has younger siblings, 12, 10, 8 and 5. “They listen to me. Kids that aren’t related to me don’t listen as well.”
But there are tricks to making it work, he said.
“Promise them things they really want to do if they follow instructions, like dodgeball. They really love dodgeball,” he added.
BREC has a similar, and perhaps more formal, CIT program for teens aged 14 to 18, said Claire Coco, special facility manager at Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center.
Their CIT program, which just ended its second year, is broken down into sequential levels, Coco said, starting with an intensive four-day training in year one.
“The first part of that is the ‘Welcome to BREC’ counselor/employee orientation, and then we move into specifics about Bluebonnet Swamp and how we do things here,” she said. As they program is new, it is still evolving as they go, and based on feedback they got from last year’s first-level participants, they expanded this year’s level one to include more hands-on, practical advice for how to handle kids during camp, she said.
“Eight signed up for the first level last year, and five of those came back and progressed to the second level,” Coco said. By the end of four years, she hopes her CITs will know the programs so well, they’ll be primed to make the transition into counselors seamlessly.
“It takes a special kind of person to do this work. Camp is hot and sticky. You have to be a leader, but you also have to allow yourself to be silly and have fun,” she said. “They learn, but that’s never the intention. We think to ourselves, ‘What can we do that will be fun today?’ And they always end up learning,” she said. Honing CITs into that frame of mind is what the program’s all about.
“It’s getting pretty competitive,” she added. “We only have spots open for two counselors, so they have been working hard, and when the first group finishes up level four, it’s going to be a tough decision for us. But I have no doubt the people we choose will do a great job,” she said.