The Steps to Become a 4-H Camp Counselor
Many of us have fond memories of summer camp. What could be more exciting than the anticipation of adventure, making new friends, and seeing wildlife all while living away from home?
The difference between fond memories and not so fond memories can depend on the camp counselor. While commercial camps may use paid camp staff as cabin counselors, 4-H camping groups depend on their teen volunteers to fulfill this role. How these counselors are selected and the process they go through as they are trained has become much more involved than learning camp songs or how to braid a lanyard.
In Pinellas County, camp counselor candidates are selected from those who have already shown leadership skills. They may be club officers, County Council members, or shown initiative by presenting or assisting a 4-H workshop. Each prospective counselor is asked to return an application detailing his or her past counseling or teaching experiences as well as 4-H involvement. The candidates are then interviewed and the finalists are invited to the actual training. To become a counselor, a 4-H’er must be 14, have gone to camp before, and served as a counselor in training (C.I.T.)
Before the actual training can begin, however, each 4-H’er must register as a teen volunteer. In Pinellas County, the process begins with the application to become a Pinellas County Government volunteer. After the online application, each teen undergoes an FBI or 435 Level 2 screening. Every Florida county is now required to screen their teen volunteers if they are responsible for supervising youth, especially in a camp or overnight situation.
After the screening, the counselor candidate takes and passes an online Youth Protection training. A passing score is 90 or higher. The final step in this screening is the “Affidavit of Good Moral Character” which must be signed, notarized, and returned to the 4-H office.
Now that the candidate has fulfilled these requirements, it is time to start the second part of the training. Each counselor must receive at least six hours of training, although most receive more. Last May, the counselors from Pinellas, Polk, Pasco, and Hillsborough Counties met at J.B.Starkey Park to train while tent camping for two nights. While at training, the counselors learned about multitasking, time management, communication, working as a team, supervisory skills, understanding diversity, risk management, and more.
4-H camp counselors are a dedicated group. They work hard and apply their training to actual camp situations. Every year at Camp Ocala, the counselors and adults vote for the “4-H Spirits”, those senior ( 14 and above) and junior (13 and below) who exemplify the spirit of 4-H. This year four of the five positions were won by Pinellas counselors.
Next year Pinellas will be camping the week of June 15 (tentatively). For more information about the 4-H camping program, please contact the 4-H office or go to: http://florida4h.org/camps_/