Eliot Golding started spending summers at Camp Kabeyun on Lake Winnipesaukee when he was 10 years old. After five years as a camper, he later returned as a counselor.
Golding, 27, who lives in Portsmouth, returns again to the boys-only Kabeyun this year as the Alton camp’s waterfront director.
“A big part of me being a teacher was my time at camp and realizing how much I liked working with kids,” said Golding, who teaches at The Cornerstone School in Stratham.
More than 13,000 people work in New Hampshire summer camps, helping entertain and enlighten more than 70,000 campers each summer. About 4,000 of those workers live in New Hampshire, according to the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association.
Some of those workers come from other countries.
“Most of our staff are home grown,” said Marijean Parry, director at the girls-only Fleur de Lis Camp in Fitzwilliam. “They’ve come up as campers or counselors in training and became counselors for us. We do hire international staff as well.”
Her staff of 40 or so includes some people from England, Scotland and Australia.
“I think it’s gotten increasingly more challenging (to hire staff), and I think it’s, in part, because the labor market is tight and, in part, because people can make more money in other kinds of work for the summer,” Parry said.
She said young people have “so many more opportunities and to do many different things during the summer months as well as so many different expectations.”
Campers become leaders
At Camp Robin Hood in Freedom, many former campers stay on to become counselors. The camp has eight groups of girls and eight groups of boys.
“The eight girls leading our girls camp, they’re also from the same group (of campers),” said owner Richard “Woody” Woodstein. “They’ve known each other for 10, 12 or 13 years.”
Robin Hood, which employs about 150, also relies on 50 people from overseas, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Spain as well as Central and South America.
The counselors spend the entire day with their charge of students.
“It’s the best job for a kid who won’t have that kind of responsibility until they’re parents themselves,” Woodstein said.
Garrett Colgan-Snyder, director of Camp Hawkeye in Moultonborough and spokesman for the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association, said they try to build their staff from within.
“Like many camps, we try to retain, train and recruit our own participants to be our own staff,” he said. The co-ed camp offers a two-year leadership program for high school students.
The camp has about 30 workers, with two-thirds trained in its leadership program.
Golding offers a comparison between teaching and camp counseling.
During the school year, his influence over his students ends at 3 o’clock when the kids go home. At camp, the interaction continues from morning to evening.
But, he says, “the teaching skills, regardless of whether it’s a math lesson or a history lesson or a swimming lesson — certain things overlap in terms of connecting with kids.”