Mary Charlotte Gitlin spent most of her summers as a camper at Camp Wright in Stevensville, so the natural transition was to become a counselor in training, or CIT.
“Camp Wright had a very positive impact on my life, and I wanted to be able to give back to the community and provide the same atmosphere for other kids,” says Gitlin, 18, of Timonium.
She enjoyed her time as a CIT so much that she hopes to become a full-time camp counselor this year.
“It’s a great opportunity, and as much work as it is, it’s also a ton of fun,” Gitlin says. “For kids who want to become counselors, it’s a good way to get a feel for the job without committing to an entire summer.”
The CIT program is offered at about 70 percent of camps accredited by the American Camp Association. Young teens are trained to eventually become camp counselors and gain lessons in leadership, risk management and problem solving. CITs are not paid, and some camps charge for the program, but others allow CITs to earn service learning hours.
“Counselor-in-training programs teach teens leadership, patience and communication skills that not only will make them great counselors, but will aid in their transition to the workforce,” says Tom Rosenberg, president/CEO of the American Camp Association. “Counselors-in-training are hands-on apprentices under the mentorship of experienced leadership staff.”
Becoming a CIT
Requirements for becoming a CIT vary, depending on the camp. But most camps require CITs to have finished their sophomore year in high school and to show a strong desire to work at camp and a willingness to learn. Most camps conduct in-person interviews and require applicants to describe why they want to become a CIT.
At Camp Pecometh in Centreville, the CIT program is two-weeks long and is for campers who have completed 10th grade, says Megan Sweeney, camp programs coordinator. They must register, fill out an application, answer creativity questions, and submit references and examples of how they have demonstrated leadership skills.
“We also gauge their reasoning for wanting to be in the program and what they think a leader is,” Sweeney says.
While some camps, such as Camp Wright, do not charge for the CIT program, other camps do. Camp Pecometh charges $549 for the two-week CIT program, which is comparable to one week at camp, and Camp Letts in Edgewater charges $1,699 for a four-week residential training program.
The CIT Experience
At many camps, the CIT experience starts off similar to that of a camper. CITs are often housed together in an area separate from the younger campers and are assigned their own counselors and supervisors. They participate in camp activities and shadow staff members in different areas of camp.
“For the first couple weeks, they are a mix of being a camper and being trainee staff,” says Dave Boyle, associate director at Camp Letts.
Over the four weeks at Camp Letts, the CITs are trained in different specialties such as lifeguarding, arts and crafts, water sports or ropes course work, Boyle says. As the training progresses, they begin taking more of a supervisory role over younger kids. Because of their age, however, CITs are never left alone with campers. Towards the end of the four weeks, CITs begin staying in the cabins with the campers and full-time camp counselors to learn the routines and responsibilities of a camp counselor.
“As they get better, we teach them how to facilitate and run a class,” Boyle says. “By the end, we can take them to archery or a sports field or canoeing and they would be able to independently run the class.” This includes writing the lesson plan, giving feedback and ordering materials, he explains. They are also trained in everything from initiating cabin talks to helping campers with homesickness.
Life as a CIT at Camp Pecometh is similar to Camp Wright in that they start off more like campers and gain training and leadership skills as the session progresses.
“We actually call our program Staff in Training,” Sweeney says. “The program is geared toward leadership development and being prepared for being on staff.”
A new outlook on camp
Becoming a CIT was a big transition for Katherine Dempsey, a Baltimore resident who attended Camp Wright for eight years before making the transition to CIT two years ago.
“I had to understand that I was no longer a camper. The days no longer revolved around what I wanted, but what the kids wanted,” says Dempsey, now 18. “The kids were a priority and even though at times I was so tired I didn’t know if I could make it through the day, the kids’ energy really helped me pull through.”
Dempsey says the experience was invaluable, and she is looking forward to working as a full-time camp counselor at Camp Wright this summer.
Julia Connelly, interim director at Camp Wright, says one of the most rewarding aspects of becoming a CIT is learning how everything works at camp.
“One thing that’s really special about being a counselor in training is we’re finally pulling back the curtain and they’re seeing the workings of camp,” Connelly says. “They get a new understanding of the hard work that’s involved and they really appreciate the people who were their counselors. They get to be a part of the magic. It’s so cool for them to use their creativity and talents to spread the magic.”
By Kristy MacKaben
What’s required to become a CIT
- Completed at least 10th grade
- Able to commit two to four weeks of summer
- An understanding that life as a CIT is different from that of a camper
- One or two references who will speak to an applicant’s work ethic, responsibility, motivation and leadership skills among other character attributes
- A firm grasp on why the applicant want to become a CIT
- Willingness to pay for the experience; there is a cost associated with the program at some camps
The CIT Experience
- Those applying to be CITs can expect to:
- Receive training in different camp activities
- Gain leadership skills
- Learn to run camp classes and activities
- Oversee cabin life from discussions to homesickness
- Be supervised at all times
- Gain skills for future employment as a camp counselor