The Outdoor Leadership Course is a two-week program for young people interested in developing outdoor leadership skills. Trained leaders guide OLC participants on a challenging, six-day, 30-mile backpacking trip into the High Sierras. Throughout the session, campers develop backcountry navigational and survival skills, practice wilderness first aid skills, and participate in GAC activities.
The purpose of the OLC is to challenge teens to learn and grow in self-awareness, develop maturity, and discover the value of community and working with others to solve problems and accomplish shared objectives.
There’s no shortage of people who believe teens leaving high school need to be taught more skills than reading, writing and basic math to be successful, thriving adults. What are those skills, though, and how do we incorporate this kind of learning into busy schedules and short attention spans? The OLC was designed to equip and empower campers to learn and practice hard skills that lead to the development of five specific life skills: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
“Being a part of OLC has influenced my life after camp because it taught me how to be a leader and being a part of a high school swim team, being a leader is a big part of staying together as a team.” – Sophia, OLC Participant
Teens are more likely to be a leader upon completion of an outdoor leadership course. After arriving at camp, OLC participants will receive leadership training before departing on the backpacking trip. They will do exercises in team building, learn conflict
resolution techniques, and practice positive communication. While in the wilderness, campers will have the opportunity to learn and practice map and compass navigation, outdoor cooking, Leave No Trace principles and ethics, sustainable backcountry living, and wildlife biology.
All OLC participants will be a “Leader of the Day,” which means each camper will use navigational skills to determine which path to take, when to stop for breaks, and what to do about any situation that arises while hiking. At the end of the day, the “Leader of the Day” will receive feedback from trip leaders and peers.
Achieving independence is essential to making the transition to adulthood, and participating in an outdoor leadership course away from home is a perfect way to develop independence. The hard skills learned during the OLC — navigation, outdoor cooking, wilderness first aid, camping, and hiking — require independence, curiosity, and creative problem solving.
“I really enjoyed getting to discover myself in the woods, thinking and hiking and communicating with my fellow campers.” – Blake, OLC Participant
Effective communication is arguably the most important of ALL life skills. Whether we communicate verbally or non-verbally, at home, school or work, we are constantly communicating with the world around us. Trained trip leaders use positive guidance to facilitate reflection, dialogue and group discussion at the end of every night. They make sure each camper thinks about what happened that day, what successes and mistakes were made, and how to grow from those experiences. At the end of the course, all OLC participants will have developed positive communication skills with peers and counselors.
Research shows that wilderness courses are well-suited to teach outdoor skills, self-confidence in general and confidence during adversity. Participation in an outdoor leadership program has a positive impact on emotional intelligence, specifically on stress management and adaptability. All OLC participants set personal and group goals before leaving on the backpacking portion of the course and work to accomplish those goals throughout the session with the help, direction, and encouragement of trip leaders.
Effective OLC participants are responsible for personally handling their equipment, completing tasks carefully and on time, admitting their role in mistakes, and working to correct those mistakes. The OLC equips campers to take the initiative to make their own decisions, fulfill obligations, and grow from their experiences.
In addition to the skills OLC participants learn and the growth from the program, there is a lot of FUN to be had as well!
“What I enjoyed about the OLC was that everyday was different, some days we would do longer hikes, and others we would have lot of time to relax and the enjoy the people and scenery. One of my favorite days out in the backcountry was when when we hiked about 5 miles and then hung out in a river for the rest of the afternoon, and then made quesadillas for dinner. The food was always amazing, and there was always plenty to eat. My favorite lunch was probably Nutella and English muffins. We had a lot of Nutella.” – Charlotte, OLC Participant
OLC 1: July 10 – July 23, 2016
OLC 2: August 7 – August 20, 2016
Written by Alison “Bean” Moeschberger
I still cringe every time I hear a counselor tell me that they’re not returning to camp next summer because they have to get an internship to prepare for their “real job.” It stings because this is my real job, but, more than that, I believe wholeheartedly in the training and life preparation counselors experience while working at summer camp. It would be easy to say that camp counseling is a good internship for people who want to work with children for their career, but the work experience camp counselors gain at camp translates to strong, employable skills that any company would be excited to see in their applicants.
6 Critical Skills Counselors Develop at Camp:
There is no greater responsibility than caring for other people’s children. Camp counselors are responsible for the 24-hour care of a group of children. They have a very significant presence on the camp’s organizational chart, and their work with campers is essential to camp’s operation.
Camp provides a unique opportunity where counselors live, work, and play together. The friendships they develop over the summer are some of the strongest and most long-lasting relationships. Camp counselors learn to live in community with people who have very different personalities and life experiences. They adapt and work well with a range of people.
Creativity & Problem Solving
Whether it’s altering the plan for the day because of weather or figuring out a more efficient way to move 10 children from one place to another, camp counselors are constantly provided with opportunities to solve problems and be creative. They must be flexible and be able to think quickly when alternative solutions are required.
Without the distraction of technology and social media, camp counselors strengthen their communication skills by engaging in face-to-face interaction with campers and fellow counselors. They learn how to lead group discussions and practice conflict resolution almost daily.
Children want and need positive role models in their lives. Camp counselors are closer in age to campers than most of their adult role models at home, and the unique relationships they can form are hugely influential as campers navigate adolescence. Counselors are forced to examine themselves and share important life lessons with their campers. They need to remain appropriate in their language and appearance at all times, and living closely with children often causes counselors to see themselves from a different perspective. It is a powerful experience to be a role model for a child.
The nature of the job as a camp counselor is humbling. Camp counselors focus primarily on the safety and happiness of the campers in their care, at the expense of personal freedom and privacy. Young adulthood can often be a very self-centered time. People seek instant gratification and act more spontaneously. The selflessness practiced at camp makes counselors happier and more fulfilled, and we often hear that counselors feel like the best version of themselves because of camp.
Internships are temporary positions that are designed to provide on-the-job training and work experience, and there is no better internship than becoming a camp counselor.