Get to know some of our counselors and staff! We sat down with Charlie, Kaitie, Steve, and Ian at the end of summer 2017 and got their thoughts on what makes Wildwood special and keeps them coming back year after year.
What are your names and your roles here and how long have you been at Wildwood?
CHARLIE: My name is Charlie. I’ve been with Wildwood for 3 years starting in 2015, working as Unit Leader every year. I worked with the 11 and 12-year-old boys in 2015 and again in 2017, and I worked with the 9 to 12-year-old boys in 2016.
KAITIE: My name’s Kaitie. This is my 3rd summer at Wildwood, and each summer I’ve been the Trips Coordinator. I’ve been in charge of all of the Teen Adventure Trips where they go out for a week or two weeks at a time, as well as getting all the gear and food set up for the overnight camping trips at the residential camp.
STEVE: I’m Steve. I was the director of the LIT program this year and last year, and I came in in 2015 as just an LIT Counselor. Our ages for LITs range from 14 to 16, and we train them to be leaders not only at camp, but also in their own communities back home and in school, wherever they are. A lot of LITs go on to be Junior Counselors.
IAN: My name is Ian. I am the JC [Junior Counselor] Director this year at Wildwood. This is my fifth year working and my ninth summer here in some form or another.
What brought you to Wildwood originally? How did you hear about it? What made you think, “This is something I want to do”?
STEVE: I was at Franklin Pierce University for four years for college, so I was right in the area, and I was training to be a teacher. I’ve always loved teaching. I was looking for teaching jobs, and my college held a camp counselor symposium with different camps coming to talk. Lisa [Wiley, former Wildwood Administrative Coordinator] was there. I talked to her, and this camp seemed like a nice fit. I originally applied to be a naturalist counselor, but Welch got back to me and said, “Hey, we have a leadership program we think you’d be better for.” And I’ve been here since then.
KATIE: My route was a little bit different in that Wildwood actually found me. A friend and I were working at another camp. Our two positions were going to be combined into one, so neither one of us were a good fit to take on both roles. However, our camp had a booth next to Wildwood at a camp fair. Everyone talked, and then Wildwood staff actually reached out to us and told us a little bit about the camp. We looked at it and were like, “Yeah, it’s a nature camp, it’s what we do, there’s some great programs, let’s give them a call and talk about this a little bit.” And I’ve loved it. Gosh! It’s been great.
CHARLIE: My experience finding Wildwood was that one of my close friends, Ian, whom I’ve known since seventh grade, had come here as a camper for, I think, a year or two, and then in 2015 had been working here for three years. I asked him about camp—I was looking for a job for the summer—and found out about Wildwood. I really just fell in love with the experience, and getting to work with kids at that age range was really fun.
What’s something you love about Wildwood? What makes it special? What makes you come back every year?
CHARLIE: For me, it’s definitely the community. The example I always think of is from one day at the dining hall. It was during lunch, which is free seating, and three of the Abbey boys (that’s the 13- and 14-year-old boys) were sitting at a table, and one of the Carson girls came up to join them (Carson is the 9- and 10-year-old girls). I look over, and they’re engaged in a full, “adult” conversation between each other. It’s sort of that atmosphere where the different age ranges interact, and it was so cool to see and it was something I had never seen in my own schools when I was growing up. Seeing kids of different ages chat and just talk to each other was really engaging for me.
I would imagine that happens at a lot of overnight camps. You’re all going through these shared programs, you’re living in similar arrangements, you’re eating meals together, and so you get that sense of community from each other. But at Wildwood I think it also has a lot to do with the counselors. The counselors really hold up that atmosphere, and it’s their interaction with each other and it’s how close they get that really then lets the camper see that, Hey, I can be friends with these people. I’ve only know them for a day, but I can talk to them on an honest level and be myself.
KAITIE: I think for myself, I’ve always enjoyed taking teens out into the woods. It’s a great opportunity to get them out of their comfort zone—especially for those coming from the city where they’ve never had those kinds of experiences—and just watching how much they can grow even within a week. The other really big thing for me is the support I get from [Former Camp Director] Welch and [Program Coordinator] Meredith while I’m at camp and in the off season. They genuinely care about me and where I’m going and what I’m doing, so that’s also been a huge thing—always feeling welcome and feeling like I’m wanted and needed.
STEVE: For me, I keep coming back every year for the kids. I work with the same age group that Kaitie works with. I’ve never seen a leadership program like ours at other camps. We’re not just training teens to be counselors, we’re training them in leadership skills. Getting to see their growth within two or three weeks is phenomenal. I have counselors on staff this year that went through both years of my program and are now full counselors. Seeing them change and evolve over the years and using what they learned, and becoming more confident not only in themselves but in their abilities as leaders is just wonderful. Wildwood brings in a nice, diverse range of people from the introverted, “back-of-the-room” leaders to the energetic, hyperactive, “front” competitive leaders, and getting to work with those different personalities and the way they run things is super fun, so that’s why I keep coming back.
IAN: I agree with Steve and Kaitie and Charlie—that it’s the kids, for sure, everyone who comes to Wildwood. And for myself, a long time ago, it wasn’t necessarily an “I have to come back to this place” thing, but I ended up coming back. There’s just some kind of unspoken community. At the candle ceremony we do at the end of every two-week session, the kids who are here for two or more weeks just have these enormously complex things to say about the feeling of community and growth they find in this place. Compared to their semesters at school or the much longer time that they spend in other places, they come here for a couple weeks and they instantly form connections and instantly have this greater connection to nature and everyone around them. As Steve mentioned, I’ve had campers who were in the 13- and 14-year-old unit my first year, and this year I was in charge of them as they were Junior Counselors, learning to be counselors. One of the things I love to say is that it’s about giving back to the community that gave you something. It’s a really good thing for these kids when they transition into counselors, to remind them of all the wonderful things that happened to them as campers. Basically, the goal is to try to give that experience back for them, especially when they’re returning for so, so, so many years.
It sounds like, for everybody, it’s really cool to watch the kids grow and evolve and come into their own in their leadership and community. What has Wildwood done for you in that regard?
STEVE: For me, I’m planning to be a high school English teacher. I spent a lot of time in college being a student teacher. Teaching and learning from kids in that environment and then coming to camp was a different experience entirely: camp is less structured. You have to use different teaching styles—it’s just a completely different. I was always a very introverted person—I still am—and I didn’t have any of the energetic, on-the-fly improv that I have now. At Wildwood, getting to work with the age ranges that I do, getting to work with the other counselors and being put on the spot constantly to do things, I now have a much wider variety of tools at my disposal, both at camp and in any other job that I want in the teaching field. There is marked improvement from my first day to now in what I’m able to do.
CHARLIE: During the staff closing banquet, the director says a little something about every person. The thing that was said about me was how much I had changed over three years. At the beginning, in 2015, I came in very quiet, the kind of person who didn’t want to be that loud, center-stage person, to now, being the one who’s yelling out during meals and up on stage during skits, just front and center whenever I can be. That growth for me in terms of confidence and experience, leading activities and wanting things to be done well was a big thing for me, too. I came in with a desire to do things well, but maybe I didn’t have the same work ethic that I have now. In every aspect of my life, now, I think I’ve come around to wanting to do things better than I did when I first came. It’s been a “character arc” for me, so to say.
KAITIE: I’ve been able to gain a lot of skills about working with lots of different people. Being here as the Trip Coordinator and working with and supervising staff, that role was very different for me and it was one of the reasons I wanted to come here. I like helping staff find the best path or the best solution to a problem, not necessarily by giving them the answer but by helping them find it. I think I’ve grown from not really knowing quite what to do to feeling more confident supervising the staff and being able to give them appropriate feedback at the appropriate times.
IAN: For me, it’s really just everything. I’m pretty much a Mass Audubon “lifer.” When I was three I went to Wellfleet Bay, Mass Audubon’s Cape Cod sanctuary, and did the day camp there. My mom actually came to Wildwood in the 60’s so that’s a fun fact I like to pull out sometimes. I went to other camps—a boys camp up in Maine that my father had gone to—and in terms of just camp environment, I really liked that Wildwood was co-ed, and that it was a place where campers can be themselves and be their most fun, outgoing, campy-type of person. Five years ago, when I first started working at Wildwood, I found a place where work didn’t feel like work. And now, five years later, being in charge of a program…it’s just everything. I’ve kind of based the last five years of my life, not around the nine months that I’m not at camp, but around the three months that I am. Suddenly I have five years of experience working with kids and developing programs and now managing staff and managing a lot of different age ranges of staff. It really is an alternative path.