Camp Counselor: More Than an Internship

This guest blog post was written by all-star former counselor and year round Staff Coordinator, Elly Wallace.

Many people will tell you that the key to a successful future in the workplace is a solid internship related to your field of (potential) expertise.  While that may be true for a lot of people and a lot of careers, a job as a camp counselor can give you the skills to succeed in not only the workplace, but in all aspects of your life.  We’ve come up with three major things a summer camp job has the potential to provide, but like anything else, you get out what you put in.

Confidence

One of summer camp’s greatest qualities is its appreciation for individuality.  The most notable counselors are the ones who sing the loudest, dress the craziest, and are willing to participate in any and all activities that his or her campers come up with.  At camp, it’s hard to feel embarrassed.  It is surprisingly easy to step out of your comfort zone and into the uninhibited summer camp lifestyle.

Selflessness

While being a camp counselor can give you a great deal of self-understanding and important life skills, the most successful counselors are those who are not at camp for themselves, but for the campers.  Camp teaches you how to put the needs of your campers, or of any group, above your own.  In order to deal with confrontations, homesickness, shower hour, and anything else that comes your way in the bunk, you have to know how to prioritize.  As camp counselor, you are truly a surrogate parent for your campers and, while their problems may seem small to you, to them they are big and should be treated accordingly.

Leadership Ability

At camp, campers do not judge your ability to show them how to kick a soccer ball, make a friendship bracelet, or ride a zip line.  We find that campers instantly idolize a counselor’s ability to do anything, giving you a solid platform to develop and transform your leadership skills from the get-go.  You’ve been hired as a camp counselor and specialist in a specific activity; your accountability is already there.  This gives you the time to focus on building your character, integrity, commitment, enthusiasm, and open-mindedness.

Interested in working at PFC? Check out our staff page!

Guest Post: What PFC Means to Me

This guest post was written by Alli Lowenstein Cahill, who grew up at Pine Forest and returned last summer as the Intermediate Girls Division Leader. During the year, Alli works as a teacher in New Jersey.

I think that camp is one of the biggest gifts in life.  When I think of how Pine Forest has shaped me and how it has impacted me, I think about the past, present and future.  I am extremely proud to call myself an “old timer.”  I have spent thirteen incredible years at Pine Forest.  From being a camper in bunk Fern all the way up to Cliff as a waitress, to a counselor and member of the athletic staff, to having the awesome responsibility of caring for the Intermediate girls this past summer, every next year brings more joy.

When I think of past summers I remember the sounds of Purple Haze, campfires with Aunt Blanch, biking to NY, Sing in Hughie Hall, inter-camp competitions, the Friendship Tree, the long walks up to Lauri Field, pizza burgers and candy at canteen, Sparky in the kitchen, loud chants in the dining hall, and so much more.  Camp helped shape my character by showing me the real meaning of friendship and community.  There is a reason why we cry so much on the last few days.  It’s because Pine Forest Camp is and always will be our home away from home.  When I was going through the normal growing pains that every child experiences, I remember the way that camp always made me feel, so safe and comfortable.  It taught me how to be adventurous and to try new things.  It taught me cooperation, sportsmanship, and how to play fair.  It taught me compassion and understanding, acceptance and tolerance.  It taught me leadership skills.  It taught me vulnerability and how to handle it.  It taught me the real meaning of laughing out loud.  Camp is a truly a gift.

I always dreamed of becoming a teacher and having summer off so one day I could go back to Pine Forest and bring my own children with me.  That dream came true this past summer when I became a member of key staff, Intermediate Girls Division Leader.  It is definitely one of the most rewarding roles I have ever had at Pine Forest.  The Black family is near and dear to my heart and I would not want to work for anyone else.  They are so special.  The campers, counselors, and staff members are nothing less than magnificent.  I actually got to scream “shorts and longs today girls” instead of hiding underneath my covers.  Every day brought new adventures with my campers and counselors, and I cherished every minute.  I had so much fun planning the night activities for the Inter girls.  I love the traditional ones such as The Mostest, Statues, Bunk Feud, and Counselor Hunt, but I also started adding some new ones like World’s Greatest and Cupcake Wars.   It was an amazing summer and I look forward to so many more.  There is no better honor and privilege more rewarding than being able to impact the life of a child.  Camp is truly a gift.

When I think about the future for my daughter Alexandra, I think about how lucky she is to be able to spend her summers at Pine Forest.  The campers, counselors, and staff members have opened their arms to her.  She thinks that Mickey and Lee are superheroes in a way that little kids see their teachers out of school.  It is magical.  She will create friendships that will last a lifetime.  I did.  I long for camp days.  Camp is truly a gift.

Camp Cuisine Extraordinaire!

We are thrilled to share the good news that Kristian Unvericht will be our new year-round full-time Camp Food Director. Working closely with Barbara Black, he will take our camp cuisine to new heights. Kristian comes to us with a wealth of experience and a passion for food that is extraordinary. Whether you’re a true foodie or just love good food at camp, having Kristian on board is something very, very special.

Here’s his food background before he came to Greeley, PA.

Chef De cuisine -Fuego Restaurant, Tucson Arizona-Fine Dining Southwest cuisine
Assistant Corporate Pastry -Chef Fox Restaurants, Tucson Arizona- Modern American
Assistant General Manager-Fenouil Brasserie, Portland Oregon- Fine Dining French Nouveau
General Manager- Janos and Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails, Tucson Arizona-Janos was Fine Dining Southwestern Cuisine and Downtown Kitchen was global comfort food
General Manager-Quinn’s Gastro Pub, Seattle Washington- Farm to Table northwest cuisine
General Manager-Tallulah’s Café Seattle Washington- Vegetable focused Farm to table casual
Restaurant Consultant- Salare Restaurant, Seattle Washington- Southern American farm to table
General Manager-Super Six, Seattle Washington- Hawaiian and Korean fusion

We asked Kristian for fun facts about himself and here’s one of our favorites:

“I once met Bill and Melinda Gates, Dave Mathews and all of the members of Pearl Jam in the same night at a restaurant I ran. That is like hitting the Seattle trifecta.”

Read Kristian’s full story of how he developed an infatuation with food and a passion for quality, and what he loves about camp below. Welcome, Kristian!

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My interest in food came at an early age, mainly because I loved to eat it! But I also attribute my love for food to both of my grandmothers. They were born into families that made them learn to cook at an early age as part of their house duties. From these early times as children cooking, they were passed down generations of recipes and cooking techniques that they still use to this day. So as a boy, I would watch them prepare meals that sometimes took the whole day – it was the true definition of slow foods. Meals of braised meats, homemade breads and tortillas, potato dumplings, elaborate confections. Looking back, it was truly amazing that so many dishes took a lot of care and knowledge.

One of my grandmothers is Mexican and the other is German so I also had this diverse culinary experience in my life. The smells that would permeate the house were just intoxicating and by dinner time, I would be starving from anticipation. I think my favorite part was not only this sense of happiness I got from tasting food, but also how it brought our family together to relax from the day and just exist in this moment of togetherness and enjoyment.

By the time I was 17, I had dreams of what I wanted to be and working professionally in a restaurant was not one of them. But like all good moms that recognize their child’s true desire and potential, I was asked if I would like to meet a well-known chef in my hometown. My mom thought I could be a chef’s apprentice and see where it took me. It didn’t take long after being in a professional kitchen before I fell in love with the energy. The camaraderie, bonding and commitment. The dedication to pushing yourself to the limits. All of these things made me realize I didn’t just want to commit myself to my relationship with food, but absolutely needed to.

After working my way up through that kitchen and becoming a chef de cuisine by the age of 23, I decided to learn more about restaurants. I went on to work as a pastry chef under someone I still consider to this day to be one of the greatest. In that restaurant, we had an open kitchen, a new concept at the time, and boy did that shake up my whole world. I got to see people eating this food we all worked so hard to prepare. I saw smiles, laughter and pictures being taken of this food.

My next thought was that I already knew I wanted to own my own place some day and thought it would be best if I learned every job in a restaurant. So why not learn to serve and manage a dining room where I could be surrounded by this joy? For some reason, I had this naive thought that every person who comes into a restaurant is happy and smiling so it would be a piece of cake being out with the guests. Ha!

At that point, I decided I needed to move from my hometown, Tucson, to a bigger city with an exploding culinary scene, so I packed my belongings and moved to Portland, Oregon. Even though my first restaurant was fine dining, after moving to a bigger city with such a talented chef, it just blew my mind seeing the progressive techniques and new ingredients. I quickly landed a job managing this beautiful French Nouveau restaurant and in my off time, I ate my way through the city.

Years went by and I landed back in Tucson to help my grandmother recover from an accident and found an opportunity to work for a James Beard award winning chef. His life’s work was rooted in the preservation of heritage foods of the southwest and his commitment truly inspired me. I helped change local health codes to allow schools to have onsite gardens that they could use to feed their students. I became a board member for Slow Food. I really discovered an awareness for sustainability and cultural preservation from that chef. But after several years of learning and opening a new restaurant with him, the big city bug came back.

I met a woman, fell in love, and we decided to move to Seattle, which was another great food city that constantly inspired me. I helped open and run several restaurants there. Lauren and I had our first child, Eleanor, and my world changed. Family became a bigger focus in my life, as you would expect.

We had this great idea to travel to Latin America for awhile, showing our daughter more of the world. Then, one day before we were able to start our travels, old friends of mine, Johnny and Rachel Waszczak asked me if I knew someone that wanted to be a Food Director for some family-owned camps they work for. It sounded really fun and brought back fond memories of my childhood at a sleepaway camp, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Lauren, Eleanor and I picked up once again and moved to Greeley, PA. Lauren now works at Camp Timber Tops, where she gets to use so much of her past education and life experience. Seeing her in front of a group of girls playing, mentoring, and helping them grow up to be strong women is so amazing. Not to mention our daughter has hundreds of acres to play with the other staff children too young to be campers. Honestly, her development exploded as soon as we set foot on camp and I can’t ever see her not being at camp. It is also funny when we leave camp and go places like New York City and get on a subway where she waves at every single person because she thinks everyone is her camp family. If only this world was like camp all the time.

This year in the off-season, our family is setting off on our original adventure for a few months and heading to Mexico and Cuba. We will be going to Mexico City, Guadalajara (where part of Lauren’s family lives), Oaxaca, Yucatan and finally, Cuba. I have traveled all throughout Europe and have spent a lot of time in Germany where my father’s family is from. I have learned a lot about my family’s background there, but never as much about my mother’s side. So this trip we are about to embark on is to find out more about our Mexican heritages. And let’s be honest, it is also about eating a ton of fantastic food! While we are there I hope to learn some great recipes and get culinary ideas that I can possibly bring to camp.

Our menu is always diverse and you will find Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern cuisine. So many of our dishes are from Barbara Black who is not only a camp owner, but also all of the campers surrogate grandmother, a role she wouldn’t give up for the world. I love coming in to work and seeing Barbara making Matzah balls for Friday dinner or Mandelbread for a sweet treat.  Her love for feeding her campers and the joy they receive from it brings me back to the reason I became interested in food, my own grandmothers. So I am here at camp to continue traditions passed on from Barbara and the Black family and also honor the traditions of my family. Because I believe that happiness and love come from something as simple as a good meal.

In this role, I hope that my culinary experience and background can help to maintain the success of our food program and also bring new ideas to compliment tradition. A few of the new things I am working on are even more delicious items to expand our menu, more options for campers with dietary restrictions, and a pizza oven and grove breakfast that are going to knock the socks off our campers. Also, this year Lauren and I will be planting a camp garden so our cooking school program has lots of fresh vegetables to use. I also hope to have a good portion of our food waste go to composting and feed for local pig farms in our community. As I have discussed in my background, I believe sustainability and being more green is beneficial to our planet and also the future of our children.

And what do I like about camp? The first day I was introduced to camp, I felt like family. Everyone went out of their way to show me around, introduce themselves, and make it clear they were happy to have me as part of this great team. I quickly learned that camp is a special place that brings joy to everyone involved. We are all here to promote good values, acceptance and respect for each other while having fun. This is a place that creates long-lasting bonds of friendship. It’s almost like a secret club that you wish the whole world could experience. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to be surrounded by special people. As I was told from the beginning, and I strongly believe it, people who come to work at camp are good people. Because devoting your time, energy and love to make each summer for the campers the best, most memorable experience, can only come from someone with a good heart. This is what excites me and makes me so passionate about working here at camp.

Never Lost

It’s a time honored principle. Military leaders tell their elite troops. Indian Chiefs tell their scouts. Parents tell their children.

If you ever feel lost, go back to the last place where you knew where you were. Start from there and you will find your way.”

For some of us, alumni, counselors, campers, Pine Forest is that place that we go back to. For many it may be the last place where we really knew where we were.  Who we are.  Where we are headed.

I’ve seen and heard about it many times from former PFCers at every age. After all, in everyone’s life there are times that we feel a little lost, in school, in our careers, in relationships. How do we get our bearings? How do we know where to go? What to do? “Go back to the last place where you knew where you were.”

Surrounded by friends, fresh air and fun, for many of us that place is camp. We are our true selves. We know where we are and where we are going.

Let camp be your North Star, your compass, your launching pad.

If you ever feel lost, start here.   

–Mickey

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Nurse Appreciation Week

PFC Health Center

Happy Nurse Appreciation Week to all of our nurses and health staff!

With summer approaching, we look forward to welcoming an all-star team of 18 nurses to Pine Forest and our brother and sister camps, Lake Owego and Timber Tops. Please join us by welcoming them for summer 2016!  They will be an extension of home to take care of all the campers when they need extra TLC, from a belly ache to a sting.  Our health center has a great collection of skills; it’s made up of nurse practitioners, ER nurses, school nurses and professionally trained military nurses.  Your children are in great hands!  You are welcome to call the health center and speak to our nurses anytime when camp is in session!

A big thank you to all of the 2016 nursing team, this week and every week. Camp is lucky to have all of you this summer!

Also, a special thank you to the team of doctors we will have at camp this summer.  Our doctors are so dedicated to camp and we can’t thank them enough for all that they do.

In good health,

Rachel Waszczak and the rest of the PFC family

Packing Tips for New Counselors

You’ve just scored this AWESOME job at Pine Forest and you’ll be turning onto Pine Forest Camp Road before you know it. You can practically hear the campers singing and see the bright Greeley stars. Before you leave for the best summer of your life, we want to provide you with this “unofficial” packing list. These are items that past staff members have found to be “essentials,” and most can be purchased at a low cost near camp!

Gear: Your favorite hoodie (hooded sweatshirt), lots of socks (when you think you packed enough, pack more!), rain boots, comfortable athletic shorts, blue and gold gear (think Color War!), white T-shirt for tie-dye, sunglasses.

Bedding: Warm blanket or comforter in addition to a light one. We know, we know- it’s summer! But we are in the rural mountains and the nights and mornings are cool! If you’re coming from overseas, don’t worry. We’ve got you!

Equipment: What will you be doing at camp? Will you need something specific for your activity? (Think baseball mitt, tennis racket, etc.)

Everyday Stuff: Sunscreen, water bottle, laundry bag, casual watch (you won’t have your phone with you to tell you the time!), headphones, pen and paper (to actually write letters!).

Fun: Theme-night clothes or wacky gear, clothes for a day off out of camp, bunk games like Jacks or a deck of cards.

Random awesomeness: Guitar (if you play), Diablo, juggling balls, playlist of music for your bunk, flag from your country, college gear, photos of your family and friends.

And most importantly, bring a camp state of mind: a sense of humor, enthusiasm, a great attitude, openness to try new things, excitement to meet new people and the realization that you are about to embark on an incredible, rewarding adventure that is truly life-changing!

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Guest Blogger: PFC Division Leader

Tell us about yourself!
My name is Zach Gelb and I was the Senior Boys Division Leader in 2015 and will be the Hi-Senior Boys Division Leader in 2016. This will be my 14th summer at Pine Forest Camp. I was a camper for 8 summers and a staff member for 5, going on 6 summers.

What did you get out of your position as Senior Boys Division Leader?
My position was amazing. It was so much fun to interact with the kids and staff and watch them grow. The 7-8 weeks you spend at PFC will give you lifelong friends, a fantastic summer, and a bond you will always remember with the best people.

What makes a good counselor?
A great counselor can’t sweat the small stuff and has to be willing to try new things. Some of the best counselors I have seen always have great positive energy and are willing to help out in making the summer great for the kids.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in your Division Leader role?
I had a camper who was homesick. I paid extra attention to this boy and made sure he always had something to do. After the first week of camp, his homesickness improved. But for that week, it was challenging to make sure he was always distracted and having fun while also dealing with many other children at camp.

What was your favorite thing about your Division Leader role?
I like many things about camp such as: boys’ line-up, basketball leagues, banquet, evening activities, camp chants, campfires, A-Game, and color war. However, my favorite part is seeing kids upset on the last day. Yes, that may seem odd, but when campers and staff cry on the last day, you know you did your job since they don’t want to leave camp. Like I said, camp is a magical place and you will forever cherish the bonds you make. Each summer is different and it just gets better and better. To have a camper or staff member (yes, staff cry too) cry or say thank you on the final day shows how appreciative they were of their experience at camp.

What do you wish you knew before working at camp? Any advice for new counselors?
My advice would be to look at each day as a new day at camp. Try everything you can and break out of your comfort zone early. Being a camp counselor can be very rewarding and you need to take advantage of every opportunity, as the summer goes by very quickly. As far as supplies, make sure to bring an egg crate, a fan, bug spray, and some funny costumes. You can purchase most of that stuff near camp. I would also encourage you to try and meet other staff members, whether it be in person or online, before you come to camp, but this is not a necessity.

Gelb

MVP: Most Valuable Position

You have likely heard that the key to a successful future in the workplace is a solid internship related to your field of expertise. While this may be true for some, a job as camp counselor also gives you the skills you need to succeed in the workplace and in life! We’ve compiled a list of five major skills a camp job teaches (which, to us, is way more important than bringing some big-shot executive coffee all summer!):

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Leadership Skills
At camp, campers do not judge your ability to show them how to kick a soccer ball, make a friendship bracelet, or ride a zip line. Campers instantly idolize a counselor’s ability to do anything, giving you a solid platform to develop and transform your leadership skills from the get-go. You’ve been hired because we know you’re skilled. Now focus on building character, integrity, commitment, enthusiasm, and open-mindedness in your work!

Confidence
One of camp’s greatest qualities is its appreciation for individuality. The most notable counselors are the ones who sing the loudest, dress the craziest, and are willing to participate in any and all activities that his or her campers come up with. At camp, it’s hard to feel embarrassed. It is surprisingly easy to step out of your comfort zone and into the uninhibited summer camp lifestyle. And hey, you might learn some new things about yourself along the way.

Selflessness
While being a camp counselor can give you a great deal of self-understanding and important life skills, counselors quickly learn to put others, children, before themselves. As a camp counselor, you are truly a surrogate parent for your campers and, while their problems may seem small to you, they are big, real, and totally consuming! By taking on the role of counselor, you are making a difference in these campers’ lives. They will quickly become your whole world!

Concrete Interview Material
As you interview for jobs, you will likely be asked a question that begins with “tell me about a time when…”. At camp, you are living with children for almost two months. You will undoubtedly leave with examples of accomplishments, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. You will also come home with many marketable skills for your resume that are applicable to almost every career path. These include communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to work well in a group setting. Another advantage of working at a residential summer camp is the expansion of your peer network. You are working with people from all over the world with a variety of different backgrounds and your peer network is a very useful resource when applying for jobs.

Perspective

Now, more than ever before, we need a reminder to put our electronics aside, take in a breath of fresh air, and be present in the moment. Camp gives you the unique opportunity to connect with yourself, with others, and with nature. You will find that the counselors benefit from unplugging just as much as the campers! Have you seen how bright the stars shine at camp? Become inspired!

A New Worldview

Sometimes, with all that is going on in our lives, it is too easy to feel like the world is made up of just our friends, family and the people we see (whether in person or on social media) on a regular basis. We might gravitate toward and spend time with people from the same places, same culture and similar backgrounds and can often forget that the world is so much bigger with so much more to offer than we realize.

The great thing about an experience at camp is that whether you are a camper or a staff member, being at camp will definitely make you view the world differently! We are so excited to hire extraordinary, skilled counselors from all around the world. We have staff recruiting trips to London, Manchester, Budapest, Czech Republic, as well as Oregon, Ohio and Kansas. We have campers that represent 15 states and 3 countries. Camp gives you the benefit of coming into contact with people from many different schools, communities, countries and cultures.

Diversity brings so much to the camp experience and helps us see the world differently, but we also come to realize that we’re not that different from one another. These relationships help us to grow and teach us about getting along with others, and not just the people we see as similar to us. It’s just one more thing that proves how much camp can teach you.

It’s amazing to realize that there is so much more out there, and spending a summer at camp, with people from all over, gives us a greater understanding of ourselves, other people, our country, and the world!

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A True Counselor Hunt!

What makes PFC great? The people. No question. We take pride in hiring the best counselors around to make each and every summer at Pine Forest exceptional! Former campers, athletes, coaches, teachers, bio-engineers…You name it. We search far and wide to find great people.

Last week, one of our directors, Lee, went overseas to Manchester, London and Krakow (Poland!!) to search for a few sensational international specialist counselors for activities including: Ropes, Aquatics, Waterfront, Outdoor Rec., and much more! There’s nothing like meeting applicants in person.

Here are some new faces to look forward to seeing this summer at PFC!

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