During my four years at university I needed to earn money to get through the summer months but hated the fact that I couldn’t travel. A friend I had met on a previous trip had spent a summer working as a cabin counsellor on an American Kids Camp and told me how during this time you were given all their food and accommodation for free and after camp you were able to travel the states. Not only was your accommodation free but they also paid for your flight out and your flight back.
This sounded like the perfect solution, free flight, food and accommodation and the opportunity to travel – what more could I ask for? After further investigation I applied for a cabin counsellor position and was accepted at a camp called Walt Whitman. This beautiful camp was smack bang in the middle of New Hampshire country side made up of wooden cabins and big halls for indoor activities. Where the main mess hall was you would look out onto a lake which we used for different activities like swimming and sailing. It was just stunning.
The camp was a Jewish camp run by Bill and Nancy Dorfman and had been in the family for years.Their main focus was on sports and the camp was made up of many different activities including basketball, tennis, baseball, swimming and football but to name a few. Our job as cabin counsellors was to look after a small group of kids (usually about 7 or eight in total) and take them to all the different activities that were planned for that particular day. There were three cabin counsellors to each cabin and my kids were the youngest being only seven or eight years old.
Getting everyone up in the morning in our cabin was quite a challenge as the kids really didn’t like the early starts, but with a little persuasion they would eventually surface. Off we all went to the mess hall for breakfast which was always a heaving mass of people all trying to stuff as much food down their mouths as possible. With bellies full it was time for the morning meeting and catching up on any news. This was a daily ritual that took place at the flag pole right after the flag had been raised, boy do the Americans love their flags.
Looking after so many kids (I think there were 1000 in total) and planning their days was a huge undertaking and the owners spent the entire time before camp began to organize every last detail. We had activities set for every single day, done on a roster so that there was no confusion. Our job was to get the kids to the next activity on time and in one piece which believe me was not an easy task. Although our kids were all pretty good you did get a few that would do nothing but complain, I don’t want to do that, I’m too tired, I don’t like it, I hate you, were just some of their complaints. And sure enough we would always smile and say you’ll love it if you just give it a go as the kids would collapse in a heap on the floor and refuse to move. You certainly learn to be a very patient person when it comes to dealing with young children, but the rewards far outweighed the struggle.
As well as the sports the kids were able to do all sorts of crafts including woodwork, needle work, clay modelling, painting and many more. On Saturday we would all have a barbeque on a massive open fire (done in shifts due to the amount of people) and after everyone had eaten we would head off to the dance hall for our line dancing session with Mrs Dorfman Senior on the micro phone guiding us through each step. Our kids never really enjoyed the dancing but the counsellors loved it and would be up there for hours.
As well as the daily activities on camp, each cabin would head off for an overnight camping adventure through out their stay and take part on regular hiking days once a week, exploring the local New Hampshire country side. The older kids would go away for several days on either a hiking trip or a mountain biking adventure and were given more privileges because of their age. All in all the camp was set in a beautiful location with fantastic facilities and provided an amazingly full and active summer for all the kids who were lucky enough to be able to take part. My time at Walt Whitman was great and it really gave me an insight into how American kids see the world, we are really not that different, well maybe just a little.