The kids at Skedaddle Camp are spread out across the infield of the running track behind Oak Bay Recreation Centre, munching away on a snack.
It’s 9:30 on a sunny Monday morning in August and the last week of camps for the season.
Milling about amongst the children, clad in green T-shirts, are a half-dozen young men and women in their late teens and early 20s.
They joke around with the kids and help them clean up after themselves, while keeping one eye on the rest of the group. It’s hard to tell who’s having a better time, the campers or the camp leaders.
Oak Bay Rec has been hosting these summer camps since 1986 and this week reached a major milestone, surpassing 10,000 registrations for its 2011 summer programs, the vast majority of those being campers.
As much as that number speaks to the popularity of the community programs, a large reason for the camps’ success is the hard work and enthusiasm of the camp leaders.
“I always look forward to it,” said Braeden Varney, in his fourth year working with Oak Bay Rec.
“Sometimes when you’re hanging out with the kids at the beach, you’re pretty thankful for it. It’s nice to work outside in the summer.”
There are many different types of camp, from the aforementioned Skedaddle, to Aqua Adventures, to ones with themes such as Harry Potter or Star Wars.
Varney currently works as a team leader attendant, spelling off other camp leaders when they need a break and providing support to all the camps. He’s been at it long enough that he’s grown to know many of the kids in the community.
“I feel like I know half the kids in Oak Bay,” he said. “It’s pretty funny when they see you out of the work environment without your camp T-shirt on – they don’t know what to do.”
For camp leaders like Varney, the job is often one of their first experiences in the working world. The skills they develop here can be a major benefit as they head into post-secondary school and set out on a career path.
“Working camps, you have to have a lot of communication with your colleagues,” he said. “When you’re planning days, everybody has to be on the same level. Communication and interpersonal skills are really important.”
In some cases, the job can translate into a career with Recreation Oak Bay itself. Caitlin Carlson parlayed her work with the camps and as a lifeguard into a position as the organization’s acting aquatics co-ordinator.
She cautions that as appealing as the job can sound, it’s not for everyone. “I am a firm believer that some people are not cut out to do this,” she said.
For people who still have some of that childlike wonder, Carlson added, it can be a perfect fit. “Being excited about what the camp’s about has been really important – not being too serious and realizing that it’s about the children and you need to be like a child in some ways.”
Varney has grown to enjoy working at the camps so much he can’t see himself in a career that doesn’t involve children.
And the rewards are worth the effort, he said. “Putting a smile on their faces is the best part of my day.”