Making a Career of Summer Camp

I recently attended the Tri-State Camp Conference, the largest gathering of camp professionals in the world. It’s a wonderful event organized by the New York and New Jersey section of the American Camp Association. For three days, thousands of camp professionals gather in Atlantic City, NJ to share best practices, learn from leaders in other industries, connect with one another and draw inspiration as they head into their busy summer seasons.


I’ve been very fortunate to be able to attend this conference every year since 1997. When I first went, I was working summers only as senior staff member at the camp where I grew up. I had no idea what a large and professional community existed out there in the “real world”. Before long, Tri-State became not only a uniquely wonderful opportunity to learn and grow in my job, but also a chance for me to network and connect with a wide array of professionals across the camp industry. Relationships that began at a Tri-State hotel or conference center grew to become ongoing mentorships that have helped shape my career in camping.


This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to lead a Tri-State session called “Building Your Camp Career”. We put together a panel of camp directors from a variety of camps: independent for-profit camps, not-for-profit camps, and camps affiliated with national religious organizations. The panelists took questions from attendees about the paths that they took to achieve their goals in camping. It was a fantastic session to be a part of. The audience was filled with talented and passionate camp counselors and young year-round camp professionals, all eager to hear words of wisdom about how to keep camp in their lives forever!


A small sampling of the kinds of questions that were asked that day:

– What moments or choices did you learn the most from? These could be your biggest mistake or a total “home run”.

– What are the particular challenges and/or greatest benefits of the specific portion of the camp industry that you work in? (independent private for-profit, for-profit in a shared ownership group, independent non-profit, religious-affiliated / agency non-profit).

– What is the biggest risk you took in pursuit of your camp career?

– What is the greatest skill you’ve acquired in your camp career?

– If you had to share just one thing that an aspiring camp director should do in their pursuit of opportunities in the field, what would that be?

– What advice would you give an aspiring camp professional regarding the opportunities that may be in their own camp versus those that might be with new and unfamiliar programs?

– Okay, I have an opportunity – or even more than one! – to consider: what is the most important thing you think I should value above all else in deciding whether or where to go?

– I’m thinking about continuing my education – what are your thoughts about the value in graduate-level degrees and the types of specific programs that might have the greatest relevant and value in the field of camp leadership?


The panelists shared their insights on these topics and many others. Equally inspiring was the way in which they offered to make themselves available to any attendees in the future. This open-ended offer to help, mentor, advise and advocate for others is one of the most incredible parts of the camp world. There is a pervasive culture of openness and a level of a selfless generosity that I imagine is hard to find in any other profession. If you’re reading this and think you might want to pursue a summer camp career, my advice is to attend an American Camp Association event and introduce yourself to as many people as possible. No doubt, you will find folks similar to the members of our Tri-State panel, eager to help you achieve your goals.


-Eric Sasson, Director at Camp Akeela, Thetford, VT


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