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Ihduhapi's First-Time Counselors' First-Time Memories

Duvan and camp staff, 2023
Duvan and camp staff, 2023
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My first memory from being a camper at YMCA Camp Ihduhapi was being shy and nervous and very hesitant to join in the group games. I was standing on the side of the field, arms crossed over my chest, observing the whole camp scene in front of me. I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m not playing that silly game, but I would like to get my hands on one of those clipboards!”

Being a camper didn’t appeal to me, but being in charge, now that was something I was ready for. I was 8 years old at the time.

Overall, I continued to be an unenthusiastic camper, but my dream of being a camp counselor was firmly in my heart and mind.

At 18, that dream came true! I landed a job as a camp counselor at YMCA Day Camp Guy Robinson in 2000. I arrived at staff training excited to collect my clipboard with visions of sunshine, fun, and relaxation.

Well – two out of three isn’t bad!

It was 10 minutes into the first day of camp and my campers were all staring at me when I realized how wrong my impression of being a counselor had been. This job wasn’t easy. There was some singing, but no relaxing. And that tan I was hoping to get? By the end of the summer, I had tan lines on my feet from my sandals and odd tan lines on my arms from all the friendship bracelets — not exactly what I’d been imagining.

Being a camp counselor was harder than I had expected, but not in a bad way. It was empowering and fulfilling. I gained skills, grew in confidence. I truly felt like I made a difference. Every bit of my effort was worth it. I returned to camp every summer of college, and then quit my first two, full-time jobs to return for two more summers until my parents told me I needed to find a real job and stick with it. And so I got a job at the YMCA as a day camp director and began my full-time camping career.

For some people, becoming a camp counselor is a childhood dream fulfilled: years of being a camper leading to an inevitable position on staff. But for others, it may be because of friends, or because you’re trying to gain specific skills for a future career. Whatever it is that brings you to camp as a counselor, most will agree that there are surprises you didn’t anticipate, you will learn a lot, and weird tan lines are to be expected.

These themes are featured in the conversations I had with first-time Camp Ihduhapi counselors who allowed me to share their tales from last summer.


Duvan Quitian is a student at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional and learned about the international camp counselor program from one of his friends who had participated last summer. Once he applied and was chosen to be part of the program, he created a profile about himself and waited to be contacted by a camp. He was eager to practice his English, visit the United States for the first time, and while he had experience working with kids, he was looking forward to expanding his skills.

When he was chosen by Ihduhapi, he was excited to go to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” because he loves all activities that have to do with the water. Duvan was shocked by the beauty of Lake Independence, the maple forests, and all of the places to explore around camp.

When his campers left at the end of the session with their parents or even grandparents, Duvan was amazed to learn many of them had also been campers at Ihduhapi. The concept of summer camp isn’t typical in Columbia, and the generational nature of Y camps came as an additional surprise.

Something that he learned this summer is that “every counselor has their own style of working with kids, so I spent time really reflecting on my own. I think that good relationships are built from respect and that is how I approached camp counseling.

“I tried to be clear about rules and safety, but comfortable with kids being excited and loud, and I tried to overall have a relaxed style of letting ‘kids be kids’.”

His favorite memory from the summer was going on a two-week canoe trip down the St. Croix River. The weather was beautiful and the kids worked well together. He remembers paddling under the sun, the kids singing songs he’d never heard, seeing a bald eagle flying overhead. It felt like he was on safari. He said it felt like being in a movie.

Duvan was surprised at how tired, yet fulfilled he felt every day. He knew it would be hard work but didn’t know just how demanding it would be. But when he thinks about camp, he imagines the campfires at the end of the week.

“It was beautiful to see everyone listening to each other share their experience. It was magical.”


Logan was both a camper and a counselor- in-training (CIT) at Ihduhapi, and when several of his CIT friends decided to get jobs as camp counselors, he followed their lead. He described being a camp counselor, saying, “it’s like watching a TV series but starting in season five: You don’t know the characters or what is going on in the plot, but gradually you start to figure it all out, and eventually, you know everyone, understand how things work, and it feels like you belong.”

Logan enjoyed seeing a group go from quiet and standoffish with each other at the beginning of the week, to then start warming up to each other, and by the end of the week, becoming friends – fully comfortable with one another, sharing laughs and jokes.

Something that surprised Logan about being a counselor was that as a camper, he thought his counselors never got tired — they always seemed full of energy and ready to go. But being a counselor was exhausting! It was a difficult job, but he really loved it, and he learned a lot about working with kids.


Jonas was both a day and overnight camper at Ihduhapi for six years before becoming a counselor in the summer of 2023. He loved his years as a camper and always had a lot of fun. He also remembers enjoying all of his camp counselors, but also doesn’t have distinct memories of the individuals. When he was hired, his goal was to be the kind of counselor that would be memorable for making camp awesome. He wanted to be a big part of the reason the kids had fun.

His favorite memory from the summer was watching his cabin play Leaf Ball on Toboggan Hill. The kids were filled with energy and having the best time. Jonas was so happy to watch them be that happy. It was a powerful experience to watch a group come together, work as a team, be awesome to each other, and genuinely enjoy being together.”

Listening to Jonas talk about his first year at camp, it’s impossible not to get swept up by his enthusiasm. His smile, his energy, and his love for camp is irresistible.

“Being a leader is more than having someone listen to you,” said Jonas, “it’s about meeting everyone’s needs to make sure everyone can be their best selves. If kids are having their needs met, they are capable of following you.”

On his experience with camp, he said, “You get to explore who you are in nature, you learn about yourself — it’s such an awesome spot to get put in, to make yourself grow as a person, think more, make new friends, and have a blast.”

“Oh you were a camp counselor this summer?! Well that must have been fun!”

Anyone who has been a camp counselor has heard that phrase. Those who haven’t worked at camp imagine lazy days in the sunshine, making friendship bracelets and playing kickball. What they don’t realize is that being a camp counselor is an intense job that requires attention to detail, patience, thinking on your feet and a lot of creativity. It’s fun too, but it’s serious work. You are responsible for kids’ safety. You are in the business of changing lives.

And while you are busy creating magic and giving kids lifelong memories, camp is changing your life as well. Maybe you signed up for this job for the clipboard or because your friends were doing it, or for a new experience, but by the end of the summer, you have grown and changed and been shaped by the magic of camp. That part isn’t listed in the job description, but for me, as well as Duvan, Logan, Jonas, and so many others, what we gained from camp far exceeds what any of us imagined it would be.

Does this story remind you of your first camp counselor?

We want to hear about your first, favorite, most life-changing camp counselors. Whether you remember their name or not, share your experience with us. You might be included in the next issue of “Letters from Camp.”