Camp professionals hear many voices — co-workers, bosses, caregivers, alumni, health departments — and while camper voices are the ones we hear the loudest in the dining hall, they are often the ones we hear the least from, especially when making planning decisions in the offseason.
Camper councils are groups of campers who help make decisions (or provide advice for decisions). They look different at different camps — some have different camper councils for each session of camp and use them only during the session, while others have year-round camper councils similar to advisory boards. The age requirements, exact duties, meeting frequency and many other parts vary, but the aim of giving campers a voice is the key part of a camper council.
There's no group more impacted by our choices than campers, and they often don't have a seat at the table. Camps can look to other youth-serving organizations to see the importance and impact of giving the youth they serve a voice. Sometimes called youth advisory councils, youth advisory boards or other names, these groups are a great tool used by school districts, foster care organizations, healthcare organizations, cities and more to ensure the thoughts and opinions of the ones living and breathing the experience are being heard. Involving youth in big conversations helps us have needed insight when making decisions about or for youth and even provides great leadership opportunities for those volunteering.
To ensure your camper council feels welcome and valuable, make sure to have a plan before publishing applications. Think through what stakeholders need to know that a camper council is forming, what requirements you’ll have, how frequently you’ll meet, what the format will look like, what positions you’ll have, whether you’ll meet virtually or in person, what budget you have for meeting food or council T-shirts and any other logistics you can think of. GenerationON’s Youth Advisory Council toolkit is a great place to start.
After you have a plan in place, you can start finding camper council members. Some camps (especially those whose camper council only exist during the specific session) have campers run for/vote for camper council, and some put out applications. No matter how you choose to run your camper council, it’s important to spread the word as widely as possible and to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. If one camper knows about it, all campers should know about it. Sending an email to camp families and posting on your social media is a great place to start.
If you take the application route, make the selection process as equitable and as inclusive as possible by inviting extra voices to the selection table. Here are some great tips about equitable hiring that can also be used for a process like camper council selection (or staff hiring, CIT selection, etc.).
Early on, do the legwork to set your camper council up for success. Use some camp-like techniques to build a council community. Think about easy wins you can throw at the camper council — if you feel pretty sure that most campers would love new picnic tables put around camp and you know you have the money to get new picnic tables, it could be a great first project so campers can feel the success of their work early on.
Making It Fun
Camp is fun, and your camper council should be, too! Order some swag, give them ownership of a fun game or event and think of other ways to make it something campers want to be a part of.
ACTIVE Network Is Here to Help
At ACTIVE, we help camps and classes across the country stay top of mind among their audiences and grow year after year with seamless, easy-to-use program management software. Once we learn a bit more about your program, we can connect you with a software specialist to find the perfect technology for your unique needs. Whether you need day camp registration software to cut down on processing time or a more focused solution to generate revenue, our experts are here for you.
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