Phyllis Ford, of the University of Oregon, supplies a poignant answer to this question.
We think it will hit home to most every camp director.
Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood there occurs in human development an age which is physically and psychologically impossible. It is that unfathomable stage known as the camp counselor, a creature undefined by psychologists, misunderstood by camp directors, worshiped by campers, either admired or doubted by parents, and unheard of by the rest of society.
A camp counselor is a rare combination of doctor, lawyer, Indian and chief. He is a competent child psychologist with his sophomore textbook as proof. He is an underpaid baby-sitter with neither television nor refrigerator. He is a strict disciplinarian with a twinkle in his eye, a minister to all faiths with questions about his own. He is a referee, coach, teacher and adviser. He is the example of manhood in worn out tennis shoes, a sweat shirt two sizes too large and a hat two sizes too small. He is a humorist in a crisis, a doctor in an emergency, and a song leader, entertainer and play director. He is an idol with his head in a cloud of wood smoke and his feet in the mud. He is a comforter in a leaky tent on a cold night and a pal who has just loaned someone his last pair of dry socks. He is a teacher of the out-of-doors, knee-deep in poison ivy.
A counselor dislikes reveille, waiting in line, inspection and rainy days. He is fond of sunbathing, exploring, teaching new games, and old car named Henrietta, and days off. He is handy for patching up broken friendships, bloody noses and torn jeans. Good at locating lost bathing suits, fixing axe handles, playing the uke and catching fish, he is poor at crawling out of bed on rainy mornings, remembering the salt and getting to bed early.
A counselor is a friendly guide in the middle of a cold, dark, wet night on the long winding trail to the latrine. He is a dynamo on a day off, exhausted the next day, but recuperated in time for the next day off.
Who but he can cure homesickness, air out wet bedding, play 16 games of lumni sticks in succession, whistle “Dixie” through his fingers, carry two packs, speak Pig Latin in French, stand on his hands, sing 37 verses of “You Can’t Get to Heaven” and eat four helpings of Sunday dinner?
A counselor is expected to repair 10 years of damage to Tommy in 10 days, make Jerry into a man, rehabilitate Paul, allow John to be an individual and help Peter to adjust to the group. He is expected to lead the most prized possessions of 16 adults much older than he. He is expected to lead them in fun and adventure . . . even when his head aches; to teach them to live in the out-of-doors . . . even though he spends nine months of the year in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles; to teach indigenous activities . . . when he can’t even spell the word; to guide youngsters in social adjustment . . . when he hasn’t even reached legal age; to ensure safety and health . . . with a sunburned nose, a Band-Aid on his thumb and a blister on his heel.
For all this he is paid enough to buy the second text in psychology, some aspirin, some new socks, two tires for Henrietta, and some new tennis shoes. You wonder how he can stand the pace and pressure. You wonder if he really knows how much he is worth. And somehow, you realize you can never pay him enough when, as he leaves at the end of August, he waves good-bye and says, “See ya next year!”