Pictured above, L-R:  Caroline and Elizabeth Costello, Jason Schoellkoph
photo credit:  Samantha Sabato

A Wilton teen’s first summer job is often very identifiably Wilton-esque. Whether it’s scooping ice cream at Scoops, working the Village Market checkout aisle, or babysitting for young Wilton families, Wilton affords lots of job options for teens. Sometimes, even young kids will see teenagers at work around town and say, “When I’m that age, I’ll work there too.”

One of the most popular summer job options for Wilton’s teens is working as a counselor at the Wilton Family Y‘s Camp Gordyland. It’s almost a rite of passage for many of Wilton’s youth, working their way up from camper to CIT to counselor.

But beyond just hiring kids to clock hours and teaching them to be punctual employees, Wilton Y staffers who oversee hiring and training for camp staff, are very conscious about instilling a deeper, philosophical way to approach their jobs. They’re hoping to help shape kids to become better citizens of the world.

“The staff shirts all say ‘role model,'” explains camp director Aaron Britton. “We’re more than just the people who are taking care of the kids. We really are role models for everybody.”

Kim Murphy, the Y’s senior director of childcare and day camp program, says employees learn that how they carry themselves outside of the job matters too. “What do you do when you’re at Orem’s Diner with your friends and you’re wearing a camp shirt still, those kinds of things. It’s actually a part of our training. Just opening their eyes to the community and that they are a constant role model whether they are here or anywhere else in the world.”

One person has seen the approach from two different perspectives is Chris Foley, the director of special needs for the Wilton Y.

“Before I worked here two of my kids came here very young to go to camp, we always belonged to the Y, we did programs at the Y, like little kid gymnastics, and swim lessons. But I never understood really what’s here as far as what’s offered, not only for the campers who come here but for the kids who work here.”

Part of that, she says, is that teen employees get exposed to kids from places outside of Wilton.

“We have kids from ten towns here, all different towns, all different lifestyles, kids from overseas. We have kids here who are only speaking foreign languages. We have four kids here this week who only speak Spanish. We’ve had kids who speak Chinese, Japanese, Arabic; and the camp counselors and paras get so involved with them and get to know them. They know what goes on outside of Wilton,” Foley says.

Murphy says the Wilton Y team at every level is trained that they can have a profound impact on each child. They learn how to empower and encourage the kids in their care. It’s one of the ways they try to reduce and hopefully eliminate bullying. “One of the biggest parts of our training this year, coming from the Y USA, is trying to get us all thinking that we are ’cause driven leaders,’ no matter what our status is, whether you are a counselor, director or a senior director,” she says

Part of that training is teaching staff that how they speak to each other and to the children really matters, in the words they use and the things they pay attention to. Britton explains:

“The child didn’t just climb the climbing wall, they overcame the obstacle. It’s teaching them that they were persistent to accomplish that goal. It’s not, ‘Hey you rang the bell,” it’s that, ‘You were persistent, you kept your commitment.’ We don’t want to hear, ‘You did a really good job,’ we want to hear, ‘You did a great job picking up that garbage that wasn’t even yours, and if you keep doing that this place will be clean.’ It makes a big difference.”

Perhaps the best people to explain how working at the Y is transformational are two current teenaged staff members. In their own words, they tell us what they get out of spending their summers working for Camp Gordyland and why they love what they do.

Jason Schoellkoph, 18, paraprofessional for special needs campers

I’ve been here for a while. Since I was maybe 4 or 5 years old I have been a camper here and around when I was 5 or 6 I got very sick and it led to some psychological things. So I actually had a paraprofessional with me who helped me tremendously. I think one of the reasons my mom had me in this camp for so long is because of the great special needs program that they have here. Because, you know, I wouldn’t have been able to function without it. Yes, they are supervisors for people who need that, and they are mentors for people who need that, but also, for a lot of kids paras are friends. A lot of kids really need that buddy—that’s what I needed.

Over time I got better, but I always knew that when I was sixteen this is what I wanted to do. So, yeah, it’s so good to give back in that way and it’s so good to do it right here in the place where I grew up.

I now have been working here for three summers.

For the campers I work with, I think the most important thing is just that they feel at home, they feel welcomed, they feel that they belong and that they are happy. You know, because when they have that, really everything else follows. And that’s all they need to grow and develop.

Wearing the role model shirt? It does have that subconscious effect on everyone, I see it amongst my peers obviously. It definitely makes me feel as though I have a sense of responsibility and just kind of reaffirms what I am here for, in a kind of way. For paras we also have this heart on the sleeve, so it kind of helps with that message because it is more of a one-on-one kind of experience. That’s how I see it.

Caroline Costello, 18 years old, CIT director (counselors in training)

I grew up here and went through the Wilton Public School system, I also have been in the after school program since I was in 3rd grade until 6th or 7th grade, and I have been coming here as a camper since Busy Bee which is about 3 or 4 years old.

I would definitely say I’m a Y kid. There’s this little group of kids who I grew up with, some of whom their mom worked here so that was my friend group growing up. We all classify ourselves as Y kids.

I was promoted mid summer last year and as a camper I always strived to become a director. So when I was promoted it kind of was a full circle moment. It was a very sentimental moment. This is my fourth summer. I started out when I was fifteen as a volunteer and then once I was sixteen I was able to be a full employee.

I was a CIT myself and my CIT director was one of my best friends. And one of the things I strive to do every day is sort of be that best friend to my CITs, but along with that, to be their boss as well. Which is a hard balance to find, but I think that I’ve found it.

Wearing the Role Model shirt means a lot to me because I have kind of worked up the system to be where I am today. To know that I’ve been able to achieve my goal that I’ve had since I was a little one means a lot and every morning when I wake up, no matter how early it is or how little sleep I’ve gotten, I’m always so excited to come to camp. I’m one of the first ones to get here, I’m always just very excited. I just, I can’t describe how much I love this place.

I graduated in 2015, so now I’m off to college but I’m still here every break. I work after school all year round whenever I can, but when I’m out in public, I see kids everywhere I go. Last night I went to dinner and I saw a child I know from the Y. I see them at the movie theater, everywhere. With that you hold a responsibility that you always need to have that role model and director self on front. Whenever I see kids outside of the Y, I do put on my director face. It’s not much different than my outside YMCA face, but I need to make sure that I’m always respectful and that I’m talking to them as I do at the Y. Who I am here is who I am outside of the Y as well.

Just how much this place means to me, during the summers I was here longer than I was at home. I was an AM/PM care kid, with my sister. We were here from 7:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night, even later, we were the late kids. That’s why I think of this place as my second home.

My year revolves around it. I look forward to school ending because I knew that that meant camp was starting. And I love school, but I love camp.