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Day Camp Leader

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Day camps offer a world of opportunity to serious volunteers. Volunteers can help out at a camp providing standard summer outdoor fun, or they can work at one with a very specialized mandate. It all depends on the volunteer's interests and what's available in their area.

In the United States, the American Camp Association accredits over 2,400 camps, which meet standards for health, safety and program quality. Many local organizations -- schools, community centers, churches and even museums -- offer day camps. Topics range from summer outings to arts and crafts, archeology, sports, math and music. A day camp in Los Angeles offers movie-making classes to children who are deaf and hard of hearing. So it's not too tough to volunteer at a camp geared towards your dream career. Get involved and do some serious networking and resume padding.

The YMCA is one of the largest providers of camp programs and has offered day camps for over 100 years. Currently, the YMCA has more than 1,850 day camps across the country, in addition to resident camps for youth and teens and specialty camp programs for children and teens with disabilities and illnesses. And not surprisingly, the organization's nearly 2,700 American branches are hungry for volunteers.

"We look for volunteers with a joy for working with kids," says Scott Bloxham. He is the volunteer trainer at a branch of the YMCA. "Generally, we have our volunteers working with the preschool-age kids. So if they come with a background of babysitting, if they have a brother or sister who is younger than them, or if they have past volunteer experience, it will help us in placing them."

Organizations running day camps may have an interview process for volunteers. Volunteers may be asked to sign a contract. So the experience can be a dry run for an actual job placement.

Wendy Fallon works with the Catalpa YMCA in Greater New York. She echoes Bloxham's advice. "[Volunteers] obviously have to love being around kids," says Fallon. She is the camping and after-school coordinator. "They also have to be willing to be here -- not on their schedules, but whenever we need them."

One community school offers some very "cool" day camps with a splash-and-surf theme. "We... end up going to a lot of water parks," says Anita Mohan. She is the grant manager who runs the school's day camps. "We also do a lot of arts and crafts."

The school's camps take in about 40 kids a week with two to six volunteers on hand. The volunteers help with set-up and clean-up, and may even run the day-to-day events -- with supervision. In return, the volunteers gain experience and references.

Mohan's day camps look for volunteers with strong leadership skills, as well as good communication skills. "And probably the biggest thing is a desire to work with kids -- that's what we're all about," she says.

"It's a really good experience. And if they come for weeks at a time, they grow as a volunteer," she adds. "I've seen people go from being really shy... to being totally out there. It's a learning experience. You see huge growth in their leadership ability."

Volunteering at an archeology day camp means getting your hands dirty. "We start the kids off with a typical discussion of what archeology is," says Merewyn Hines. She is an intern at a museum that runs day camps.

"Then we have a slideshow. We have a new archeological education center here at the museum, and that includes an excavation area that has dig pits. We put objects from our teaching collection in the dig pits and teach the kids how archeologists find objects and how they record them.

"We always make sure there are enough hands-on activities. The kids make mummies out of...plaster, and write their names in hieroglyphics on clay tablets, [or] make rock art. It's really a fun time."

"I volunteered with an outdoor education program with the YMCA as a counselor," says Bloxham. "I went out as a high school student and volunteered a week of my time. That got my foot in the door, and the next summer I got a job with the YMCA. I've been with them ever since, now as association training manager."

Along the way -- at residential or overnight camps -- Bloxham was able to partake in all the trappings of the camp trade: horseback riding, hiking, swimming, canoeing and other fun stuff.

How to Get Involved

The YMCA is an established outlet for day camps. Just contact your local branch -- and keep in mind that each branch has different programs and requirements. Or visit the American Camp Association website to locate a day camp in your area.

If your interests are more specialized, research may be required. A school, museum or community center near you may have a camp set up -- or let you set one up!


American Camp Association


American Camp Association -- Camp Resources
Find an ACA-accredited camp by location, activity/focus or camp name

Camp Channel -- Day Camps
Search for day camps by state

Learn more about day and overnight camps

Day Camp Leader -- Training/Professional Development Opportunities
Find training programs for camp staff

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