Vernon Parks and Rec. campers enjoy coming back as counselors

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Jul. 11, 2013
Counselor Nicole Ciampa plays 'knock-out' basketball with her group of campers at Camp Newhoca. Photos by Steve Smith.
Counselor Nicole Ciampa plays 'knock-out' basketball with her group of campers at Camp Newhoca. Photos by Steve Smith.

For many of the summer camp counselors in the Vernon Parks and Recreation Department's programs, their job is extra-rewarding, because they understand exactly what it's like to be a camper.

Brendan Konicki is in his fourth year as a counselor at Camp Newhoca. He had previously been a camper for about six years, between 2002 and 2009. In 2010, he started working as a counselor.

“I just started and really liked it, so I wanted it to continue,” Konicki said.

When he was younger, he said he made strong friendships, including with the counselors, at Newhoca. “I had a lot of friends that I stayed connected to,” he said, adding that some of his fond memories include riding the bus on the way to camp on the bumpy and twisty Grier Road. “Bouncing up and down, it was like a thrill ride,” he said, “and you always remember the year-end bash at Henry Park.”

As a counselor, he said his job is rewarding, as long as one takes it seriously. “Some of my friends say, 'You play with kids all day,' which is true, but my first priority as a counselor is the safety of those kids, and making sure I know where they are, and [that they are] having a good time.”

Konicki said the reward comes with that responsibility. “Some of these kids have known me for four years, and they respect me,” he said. “You get to know these kids and watch them grow up. That's the best thing.”

Konicki said that many of the kids have benefited from the camp's positive reinforcement, and noticeably become better campers and have a better outlook in general. One pair of siblings in particular had first come to camp with behavioral difficulties, and at one time, were separated to different camps. Over time, they became popular and fun kids.

“They're hilarious,” Konicki said. “You can tell they just needed a positive role model, or just someone they could go to, have a good time with, talk to and trust. I'ts amazing to see and it's great.”

Nicole Ciampa went to teen camp at Henry Park, and said she remained connected with Parks and Rec., volunteering at other events, including the annual Easter Egg Hunt. “I liked what they did for me as a kid,” she said. “I made a lot of good friends, and I just like to help out. It definitely helped me become more social, because I was a quiet kid. It also helped me stay in shape, because we are outside exercising and staying fit. It's much better for kids than staying home and not doing anything [physical].”

Ciampa said it also helped her become more responsible, and she sees some of that being passed on to her campers. “We're doing a lot more now, including a nature program where we read to them about nature and go on hikes,” she said. “We also help them learn how to behave socially, and what's morally correct.”

Ciampa said she has seen many of the children make behavioral mistakes, but then learn from them. “They run and cut in line, but we just take away five minutes of swim time, which is the end of the world to them,” she said. “They learn that's not right, and they fix their behavior. They learn to settle down and stay calm. A lot of our games are team-building, and teach kids to work together.  That's definitely vital, because in the real world, you have to rely on each other to be successful.”

Sports, outdoor games, boating, swimming, arts and crafts are among camp activities. There is also a new emphasis on literacy, to help kids avoid the "summer slump."

Lessons learned at camp also include social interactions, safety and cleanliness.

Joe Coll was a camper about as far back as he can remember, up through middle school. He decided to become a counselor while pursuing his education degree (he now has his master's) and thought it would be a good way to work with kids. He is now in charge of the teen camp at Henry Park.

“I try to instill the social aspects with them,” he said. “More of their fun is based on communicating and socializing, so I teach them how to communicate, and how to act appropriately.”

Coll said he likes the interactions with his charges, and also likes to see them enjoy themselves. “It's better than them staying home or getting into trouble elsewhere,” he said. “If they are here, under me, I know that they are being taken care of, having fun and hanging out with kids their own age.”

While Konicki, Ciampa and Coll all like seeing their campers grow and mature, they all agree that the best part of summer camp is the fun.

“We have activities lined up every day,” Coll said. “We try to make it fun and we do make it fun. Kids enjoy coming back.”


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