During the past summer I worked at the Cincinnati Nature Center for 8 weeks, managing a collection of people who I believe to be the best teachers in the world; children. Through-out these eight weeks I encountered every camp counselor’s worst nightmares: food being thrown, children running away, screaming, crying, whining, bad words, bathroom emergencies, and about a thousand injuries. And yet, I believe it was the most rewarding summer of my entire life.
At the end of the summer of my sophomore year my parents sat me down and told me I needed to get a job to help start saving for college. There was only one problem with this. I really didn’t want to because for the past two years I had been working at the Cincinnati Nature as a LIT or Leader in training and I absolutely loved it. Only problem was that I wasn’t 18 and couldn’t get paid. To remedy this, I went to the Camp Director and together we created a program where I could work as a counselor and get paid a stipend even though I wasn’t 18 yet.
My first week was one of the most interesting. Up until then I had never experienced the responsibility for the children’s well-being. Before this year all I had to enforce were the fun aspects of camp, not the rules. And so, I spent my first week fine tuning a balance between fun and safe which prominently showed as we were building forts in the forest. These two 10-year-old boys were determined to build the tallest fort possible and had recruited me to help them. It was well over 8 feet tall when I finally realized that this probably wasn’t the best idea. The large teepee was very unsteady and with each log added to it, it would lean further to the right. At that moment I remembered that although these kids were having a blast, their well-being was a concern. So together, we disassembled the beast of a tent and constructed the world’s best land boat made of the logs from the teepee.
I consider my biggest achievement of the summer to be with a little 6-year-old girl who had been signed up for a week of camp with her sister. Although her sister loved the camp and got acclimated quickly, the six-year-old had difficulties becoming comfortable with camp and lacked that adventurous spirit that many kids have at that age. At one point she even broke down and refused to walk anymore after she learned plants were living things too because she believed she was hurting the grass. But through-out the week I encouraged her to explore new things, walk on rocks across the creek, and god forbid even get a little muddy. And on the third day she found her new favorite thing. Slugs. She loved slugs. She loved letting them climb around her fingers and giggled at the slime trails they left along her knuckles. It was so exciting to see this young girl grow in front of me in the scope of only a week, and with that I realized why my job was so important. I was pushing these kids to become their best selves and find things that excited them and made them unique.
Working at the Nature Center gifted me with so many things. I was able to help these kids discover new things and find what they loved, but also learn something new about myself almost every day. I learned how to be kind and patient in strenuous situations and solve problems that I would’ve gladly delegated to others in the beginning of the summer. I learned how to manage people and was surprised to see how alike adults and children really are. But most importantly I learned that I am a people person, and I can’t wait to return next year as a true counselor.