At the annual Teen Leader Retreat, participants in the HFH Summer Camps Teen Leader Program gathered for a weekend filled with ropes courses and reminiscing after a summer spent acting as mentors at HFH Summer Camps.
The Teen Leader Program, which lasts for three years, gives participants the opportunity to mentor younger campers while honing their leadership and team-building skills. All participants are former campers who have aged out of HFH Summer Camps and have been selected for the program based upon their leadership potential and enthusiasm for camp.
“They have such a love for camp, and you can see over the three years while they’re in the program how that grows,” says Georgeann Ramos, Program Associate for HFH, who facilitated the retreat. “They take a lot of pride in their positions and being at camp.”
As former campers, the teen leaders leverage both their personal experiences and the leadership skills they have gained through the Teen Leader Program to act as impactful role models for children in HFH Summer Camps.
Upon completion of the program, they are encouraged to continue their involvement with HFH Summer Camps as general counselors.
“At camp, I saw kids who were shy because they just got into a shelter or had never been separated from family,” says Julio, a former teen leader who now works as a general counselor at HFH Summer Camps. “I made sure they had friends or knew that someone was here for them, that they were not alone.”
Participants in the Teen Leader Program have the opportunity to develop skills in leadership, teamwork, and empowerment that they can apply to other contexts in their lives, including their academics.
“It taught me about being comfortable with people, understanding people, what they were going through,” notes Julio of his experience. “I was more open and reliable at school and during the school year.”
The annual retreat, which took place over two days at the Princeton-Blairstown Center in Princeton, New Jersey, incorporated a series of teambuilding exercises intended to strengthen bonds between teen leaders while building excitement for the next camp season.
On the first day, the teens engaged in a series of group activities, games, and icebreakers before working together through several low ropes courses. While navigating the low ropes courses, they worked together to troubleshoot challenges through open dialogue and collaboration.
The exercises culminated the following morning with the teens further applying the teamwork and cohesion they had built over the previous day’s activities by navigating a high ropes course together.
“It takes the whole team-building thing to the next level when they’re 50 feet in the air,” Ramos notes. “They encourage each other, including those who are scared. Everyone has to try.”
Teen leaders from all levels of the three-year program were also able reunite at the retreat, facilitating mentorship opportunities within the program as graduating teen leaders advised new participants preparing for their first summer in the program.
In addition to enjoying zip lines, card games, and leadership activities, the teen leaders spent the weekend discussing their experiences the previous summer with one another and program staff. This allowed for valuable feedback as preparations begin for next summer, when the teens will play a special role in mentoring and inspiring younger campers.
“They really look up to them,” affirms Ramos. “It’s a positive experience for the other campers because a lot of them who have been coming to camp for years aspire to become Teen Leaders themselves.”
In addition to the annual retreat, the Teen Leader Program incorporates two other seasonal activities. This year, the teens attended a spring training event hosted by the Leadership Program, where they learned about positive and negative leadership skills and discussed examples of leaders in their own lives.
They also attended the American Camp Association’s 2018 LEAD Conference at Bank Street College, where they met with other teen camp leaders from around the region and attended seminars on themes like the importance of a ‘counselor voice’ and the transition from camper to counselor.
These year-long activities are integral to the Teen Leader Program, offering the teens special opportunities to develop valuable leadership skills while building a sense of consistency and a familial atmosphere between participants.
Above all, events like the Teen Leader Retreat reinforce the tight bonds forged between participants, many of whom become close friends over the course of their participation.
“I like being a TL because of how great camp is,” says Nour, who is going into his third year as a Teen Leader. “Not only that but the experience of being a role model and leader to others is really satisfying because this job is a group job and we have each other’s backs.”