My summer was spent working at Camp Winthers: the San Juan Unified School District’s outdoor adventure and specialty skills camp, which also happens to be one of my favorite places on Earth.
Working as a counselor, I didn’t get paid much in money, but I feel that as a staff member I was more than compensated for my work with relationships formed, experiences shared, and information learned.
Most of the staff begins the summer as strangers; however, over the course of six weeks spent working day and night in close proximity, the strangers become family. Even though I only worked for four out of the six weeks, I still became very close with all of the staff this summer. The people who work at camp come from all different backgrounds and form special connections with people they likely wouldn’t have ever met if it weren’t for this summer job. Without camp, I probably never would have met my close friends from Casa Roble, Bella Vista, Encina, and other schools even farther away. I probably wouldn’t have even crossed paths with some of my camp friends from El Camino and Mira Loma if we weren’t coworkers. Each staff member brought their own unique perspective and skills to the table, and nobody works at camp without learning from their coworkers and growing as a person because of it.
Camp Winthers removes the social barriers put up by years of consistently seeing the same people. When working at camp, we don’t have to be anything but unapologetically ourselves because there is no expectation for anything else. That’s why this program produces the most authentic connections.
Each week of camp has a fun theme and at least one program for kids to experience. Outdoor education, our generic program about getting kids outdoors and having fun, runs through all six weeks. Camp also offers a basketball program, an art program, a video/computer program, a circus/dance/tumble program, and a program called Venture which takes older campers on a backpacking trip and does more advanced activities. Not every program runs every week, so one might have only run during pirate, call of the wild, gold rush, winter, superhero, or Hawaiian week. My favorite week is winter week because we have a fancy turkey dinner and a semi-formal dance.
Jim Winthers, the founder of our summer camp, built the program under the motto “Don’t forget the kids”. Ages ranging 9-15, the kids are the most important part of camp. This program provides a great opportunity for them to spend a week away from their parents and electronics.
It puts them into new social situations and a challenging physical environment and allows them to figure out who they are as an individual. In the process of exploring who they are and the world around them, campers also provide staff members with endless entertainment. One of my favorite parts of being a camp counselor is all of the wonderful kids I get to work with. I once spent hours with an injured camper just talking about Disney movies and parks as we carried her back towards camp. That memory will always be special to me because I helped her through a hard time and she inspired me with her strength.
The summers I have spent at Camp Winthers have provided me with so much. Days spent hiking through the forest and spending time with children has taught me a lot about who I am as a person and in relation to the world around me. I learned at camp how much I love making people smile and how important it is that everyone on this planet takes care of the environment to keep it so beautiful for as long as possible. Working there has introduced me to so many amazing people, and I am eternally grateful for all of the opportunities that this camp has given me.