April 21, 2023
Glen Arden is many things. It is Pothole in the lake before the first bell. It is activities on the fields and courts, horseback riding in the ring, Sunday Vespers, and the Reds and the Blues. It is singing and dancing in the dining hall, playing Tajar Tricks, and spending star-lit nights in the woods on cabin campouts. It is impromptu conversations and intentional connection.
At the heart of it all are the staff members who dedicate their summers to the meaningful work of making Camp Glen Arden an overnight summer camp where girls are encouraged to be thoughtful, well-rounded individuals. Central to achieving that mission is camp’s commitment to creating a supportive environment where the ratio of campers to staff hovers near 3-to-1.
With more than 60 staff members, which include cabin counselors and activity instructors, program staff, kitchen staff, nurses, barn staff, maintenance staff, and “Old Ladies” (Glen Arden’s affectionate term for moms who work at camp) hiring staff is a significant undertaking each season. Staff make the magic happen at Glen Arden, and finding and hiring the best is a serious job.
Vetting applicants, ensuring that they have the skills and experience to offer a safe and connected presence to campers, starts with an online application with multiple personal references. Once they pass a criminal background check and complete a virtual or in-person interview, staff come to camp at least a week before the first session for a comprehensive training and orientation session, complete with education in everything from first aid and security procedures to camp songs, traditions and activity planning.
This intentional commitment creates an environment for campers where they are both supervised and nurtured, empowered and inspired.That commitment shows up every time one of the directors sees a camper during the year. “The first question returning campers always ask,” Erin said, “is which counselors will be coming back to camp the following summer.”
Everyone at Camp Glen Arden knows that counselors have an immediate and lasting impact on a camper’s experience. There isn’t a formula or an ideal personality for counselors. An exuberant, athletic counselor may be just the person for some campers, while a quieter, more artistic counselor may be just right for others. The counselors who connect with their campers, who are able to create a little family within the cabin group, are the counselors camp seeks out near and far. “We look for counselors who are outgoing,” Erin said. “Not necessarily extroverted, but people who want to work with children, who can make connections in person, who understand that the campers’ safety and needs are paramount. We want to have a variety of personalities because we have a variety of campers.”
Most counselors are college-age young women who live in the Southeast. While it varies from year to year, many of those counselors are former Glen Arden campers who want to pass on their love and learning to other campers, while also connecting with their own deep history with the place and transformative power of an overnight summer camp experience at Glen Arden.
For Grace, who was a camper for eight summers, 2023 will be her third summer on staff. “Camp has been my forever home,” she said. “I keep coming to camp because every time I return everything picks up right where I left it. Camp is my constant and my safe place and I will forever feel welcomed in Glen Arden’s mountains.”
Not all staff members have a long legacy with camp, though. Each summer, camp also employs international staff members, fielding applicants from points as diverse as the United Kingdom, Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand. Campers enjoy learning from staff members with different cultural histories, and international staff can bring specialized skills to camp. For the international staff members, however, camp also provides a rich opportunity to learn and enrich their lives.
“Camp stole my heart,” said Lize, a horseback riding instructor from South Africa who will return in 2023 for her second summer on staff. “It’s the happy camp songs, bright faces in the morning and exciting everyday activities that makes camp feel like home. Camp is like a massive hug- there is nothing better. To be a counselor is to bring that feeling of home-away-from-home to a camper. If I could be a counselor every summer for the rest of my life, I totally would.”
The staff at Camp Glen Arden is what binds the camp together and makes it a magical summer sleepaway camp experience for girls of all ages and all places.