We always say that our volunteers and staff are the fuel in the Experience Camps awesome-engine. Our counselors, who dedicate one week out of their summer to volunteer (some volunteer year-round), create endless opportunities for kids who are grieving–encouraging them to laugh and be silly, support their social-emotional growth, and help the camp operate safely and with maximum levels of fun, connection, and transformation. Interviewing and hiring hundreds of volunteers is no small feat. We sat down with Kathryn Robling, our Volunteer Manager, who has done over 70 interviews so far this year, to share how the process has been going and what she’s learning.
What are the trends you’re seeing this year from people applying to volunteer as counselors?
Those who have experienced a death of someone significant are very interested in supporting children who are going through what they did. It’s a perfect way to give back, and have a little fun in the great outdoors. Many of the people applying who have not experienced grief firsthand have close friends who have, and they have seen the effect grief has as well as the effect of getting amazing support. All of our volunteers seem to really appreciate the opportunity to build a more grief-sensitive culture.
What are the top qualities that make someone a good volunteer?
An individual who is authentic, supportive and fun to be around! We lead by example.
The more yourself you are, the better. When you can show love and compassion to people, lend a good ear, and share kind words, you’d be surprised how infectious that can be. Individuals who can hold space for others to grow, learn and move through their grief without judgment, remind our campers that they matter, that their experience matters, and that they are seen. And if you like to do slip-and-slides, drink milkshakes, and wear tutus, that doesn’t hurt in terms of being a good volunteer.
Do most of the people applying have firsthand experience with grief?
Historically, about 80% of our volunteers have experienced the death of a significant person in their life. It’s a really unique experience to come to camp with your own grief story. Our volunteers often say that they went to camp thinking they’d change the trajectory of a child’s life, and they do, but they also leave having their own lives transformed. They find community and support, and oftentimes, just like our campers, it’s the first time they’re around other people who have experienced something similar.
How do you make sure the volunteers are ready for the experience given that they may still be grieving?
Throughout the week of camp we make sure volunteers check in with our grief specialists. This gives our volunteers the space to process their own grief if something comes up for them. We also provide pre-camp training for our volunteers as well as a full-day of orientation to ensure they have the grief support they need. We always make sure there is a returning volunteer counselor in each bunk, which helps new volunteers feel more comfortable as well. Additionally, while our 3:1 camper to counselor ratio provides a lot of support for campers, it also provides a lot of support for our volunteers as they need it.
What is something that surprises volunteers about the camp experience?
When we talk to our volunteers during their interview, they’re usually most excited about giving back to our campers and helping transform their lives. One thing that usually surprises our volunteers is that they end up being transformed themselves. They leave feeling changed in a way that makes them grounded, supported, and often have a new outlook on life. Not to mention they had a blast from the past being able to channel their inner playfulness at camp!
For people who want to volunteer, what are the first steps they should take?
Check out our volunteer page and sign up for the summer. Then schedule an intake with our team to learn more about the role and get excited about supporting grieving children!
Kathryn Robling, Volunteer Manager for Experience Camps, has dedicated her life to mission-driven community development in the non-profit sector. With seven years of experience in managing community engagement programs, building community through volunteering remains part of Kathryn’s work ethic. Kathryn volunteers as a Board Member for Public Ceramics, a non-profit seeking to make ceramics classes accessible to people from marginalized identities.