Working at Camp Sonshine this summer has hands-down been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. They warned me when I applied, but I didn’t believe it. Now I understand.
My campers don’t believe I have a real job. They say I am pretty much just a camper, with few more responsibilities than they have. I don’t have the heart to tell them just what my responsibilities entail.
Friends back home don’t believe I have a real job. They don’t understand why it’s so difficult to keep in touch when I’m “just taking care of kids for a few hours a day”.
I want to explain why Christian summer camp isn’t just summer camp, and why it’s so grueling. I work 12-14 hours a day during the week, and that doesn’t even include the other tasks I complete on the weekends and after I get back to the house after work. The work I do far outweighs the hours I’m paid for an the amount of sleep that I get. Here is a quick peek into my daily life as a Christian summer camp counselor.
4:45am: The first alarm goes off in my bedroom. It’s somebody’s scheduled shower time.
5:15am: My first alarm goes off. I barely register enough to snooze it two more times.
5:45am: I get out of bed to brush my teeth, put in my contacts, and put some clothes on. I pray there is a bathroom open, or will be one soon. One of the bathrooms has flooded due to the house being old, so we are down to two bathrooms for 24 girls.
5:55am: I resort to brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink because the bathrooms are all being used.
6:00am: We leave the house. It is a 30 minute drive to the church where our campgrounds are. I read my devotional and listen to worship music on the ride there. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a 15 minute nap in.
6:30am: We arrive at the church. We eat breakfast; cold cereal and much-needed coffee. I try not to be dependent on the caffeine, but I have a long day ahead of me. Some days I have two cups, just to stay awake.
7:00am: The first meeting of the day. We have a group devotional and prepare for the day. We receive paperwork for all the campers, and pray over them.
7:30am: The real work begins. I am on indoor crew, which means I disinfect water fountains and trash can lids, and finish cleaning whatever was not completed the night before. After those tasks are completed, I help make sandwiches for the staff lunches.
8:30am: We move to arrival areas and the campers begin arriving. Many of them are still bleary-eyed from just having woken up minutes before. Others are energetic and more than ready for the day. I have been awake for three hours.
8:30am-4:30pm: I work with 11 year old girls all day. Sometimes I have 5, sometimes I have 14, and I’ve had many other numbers in between. The conflicting interests of pre-pubescent girls are difficult to navigate. I deal with everything from girls telling me that their parents are dead or in prison, to girls who just want to talk about why they named their dog a certain name, with every kind of conversation in between. It’s incredibly draining.
4:30pm: Daily debrief. My team talks about our day, and what went well and what didn’t. Days average an 8 on a scale of 1-10. Some days are a two and we just cry about how frustrated we are. Working for kids who don’t know that all we want is for them to understand how much God loves them is heart-wrenching.
5:00pm: Indoor crew again. I clean bathrooms. Correction, I plunge toilets that are full of diarrhea, clean floors on which toilets have flooded, and puzzle over how some of the messes that have occurred exist in the first place. It can be nausea inducing. But it’s the kind of satisfying work where you can see the fruits of your labor, in contrast to the camp day.
6:30pm: Finish cleaning and get dinner. Susan works hard all day to cook for hundreds of staff that are famished after a long day of work. Somehow, despite the massive amounts of food, we are still hungry afterward. Sometimes we have meetings at dinnertime, that last until around…
8:00pm: This is my scheduled shower time at the house. We are just now leaving the church to go home.
8:30pm: I call the shower. I pray for hot water. There is rarely hot water.
9:00pm: I finally get around to responding to the various messages that have been sent to me throughout the day. I struggle to keep up with friends and family back home. I want to talk to them, but I’m just so exhausted that there is no energy.
9:30pm: Many nights, I use this time to get ahead on camper cards. Camper cards are personalized notes to each child in my group, including a group photo. A single card can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes. With an average of 10 kids every week, I am looking at about four total hours of work on these cards during the week.
10:00pm: I finally turn into bed. I fall asleep within seconds from pure exhaustion.
4:45am: The first alarm goes off in my room. I’ve had about 6 and a half hours of sleep. It’s time to do it all over again.
This is what my days look like. 5 days a week. Saturdays and Sundays I basically sleep all day, trying to catch up on what I’ve lost and preparing for the upcoming week.
It is such a difficult job. But I’m not complaining. God put me exactly where He wants me to be this summer, and even though I am exhausted and drain every ounce of spiritual energy that I have every day, God sustains me by placing the most supportive leadership staff around me. I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for the people who pour into me day in and day out. They genuinely care.
My goal is to care and love just as much as they do someday. And if that involves working 60 hours a week, I will do it gladly and without complaint. I can’t wait to see what God does with the rest of our summer.