June 6 was the day my summer truly began. At 6:30 I woke up, put on my bathing suit and sweats and drove to my favorite place: work. My coworkers and I greeted each other in the parking lot, blinking away the mist of the early morning as we started our trek down the hill to the beach.
Coming down the hill, we could see the bin, a big metal box that sits on the sand for the entire summer, filled with camp supplies. When the bin appears, everyone knows that it’s summertime.
To explain: I have the best summer job in the world. The last two summers, I’ve had the privilege of working at California Junior Lifeguards, a summer camp that most kids from Southern California attend at some point during their childhood. The camp helps kids feel comfortable in the water, teaching them ocean safety and the importance of an active, outdoor lifestyle.
That first day of summer, my coworkers and I set up camp for the first time — raising tarps, hammering boundary flags into the sand, stacking surfboards and sand toys — and 30 minutes later, we had built a magical place that would soon be flooded with hundreds of children.
Each morning we would schedule the perfect day as we anxiously awaited the arrival of our campers. Our activities often included runs, games, buoy swims and surf clinics. Sometimes we would take our campers on special excursions to play kickball at a nearby park or to Shell Beach, a marine-protected cove where we could go snorkeling and explore the wildlife.
Although I loved playing games like Nation Ball or Tanks, my favorite parts of being a counselor were the opportunities that I had to connect with my kids — whether that be eating lunch with them and talking about their hobbies, helping to resolve conflict between campers or watching them succeed at something that they previously had been scared to do.
This last thing is something that I got to experience a lot this summer, and it will always be my favorite part of working with kids. While many kids were excited to go in the ocean, each week there was at least one camper who was scared to do the buoy swim.
I’ll admit, the swim is a daunting one — the buoy is placed far past the impact zone where the waves crash, and for someone who has never swum that far before, it can be very scary. We never force the kids to participate, but we always encourage them to do so. I had so many kids face their fears and complete the swim this summer, and it’s always so inspirational to see this happen.
Often the kids ask me to swim to the buoy with them, and some hold onto my arm the entire way there. When we get to the buoy, though, I always make them let go to touch the buoy on their own because even if they swim next to me the whole time, I want them to remember that they accomplished this — nobody else did it for them.
Each day this summer, I woke up excited to go to work for that very reason. Each day I had the opportunity to help my campers achieve their goals, whether those goals be large or small. I helped them gain confidence in themselves and their abilities, I comforted them when they were scared and I congratulated them when they succeeded. There’s no other way I’d rather spend my days.
As we cleaned up camp for the last time, my coworkers and I said goodbye to each other — some of us for the last time. One of my coworkers said she might get a different job next summer, then shook her head.
“I’ve spent the last 13 summers here — as a camper, as an intern and now as a counselor,“ she said. “There’s nowhere else I can even picture spending my summer.”
When she said that, I realized for the first time how much of an impact I was making on my campers. Many of them would attend Junior Lifeguards every year of their childhood, and some, like my coworkers and me, would work here through high school and college.
As she was leaving, one of my two-week campers ran to hug me.
“I have a present for you,” she said and handed me two bracelets that she had made me. “Thank you for being the best counselor ever! These were the best two weeks of my whole summer.”
I almost cried then and there, overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity I had to impact my campers’ lives. With my second summer at camp coming to a close, I realized just how lucky I was to be there.
Molly Green is a sophomore from Orange County, Calif. studying Writing Seminars.