I love finding out how people got to where they are in life, and I know many of you do too, because “how do I get a full-time job in camping?”, is a super common question.
That’s why I started this “Path” series, to find out from those working in the industry, how they did it.
And I’m really excited so share Jason Brown’s story with you.
I connected with Jason at TriState – and can I just say how grateful I am that my little ol’ podcast allows me to connect with really cool people doing neat things.
So check out Jason’s winding path to a full-time career in camping.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Jason Brown. I have been working with children in some way, shape, or form for the past 16 years, and am about to begin my first summer as a full-time camp professional.
When I’m not at camp, my wife and I live in a beautiful converted barn house just outside of Philadelphia with our two cats and our soon-to-be-child (due in October). In my free time I enjoy watching hockey (Go Bruins!), staying active, and listening to camping podcasts.
How many years have you been involved in camping?
Camper: I was a camper for 8 years at Wanakee UMC in Meredith, New Hampshire. I started attending one week-long session every summer, gradually increasing to as many as four, and then eventually becoming a CIT.
Counselor: I was a counselor for three years at two different traditional 7-week camps. One was in Maine, and the other in northeast Pennsylvania.
Outdoor Educator: I was an outdoor educator at Nature’s Classroom in Charlton, Massachusetts for a combined four years (though we say eight seasons to make it sound longer).
Full-Time Staff: I am about to begin my first summer as the Assistant Operations Manager at a summer camp in Pennsylvania.
What positions have you held?
I have been a Counselor in Training, General Bunk Counselor, Assistant Group Leader, Group Leader, Field Group Leader, and am now the Assistant Operations Manager for a camp in Pennsylvania.
How did you become involved in camping?
I began attending camp the summer after I turned nine. I had heard of Wanakee through my grandparents’ church, though the idea of “camp” was still pretty foreign to me. My family wasn’t overly religious, and to a certain degree I think the week-long church camp was what we could afford. I can recall my mother teaching me The Lord’s Prayer on the drive up to camp “just in case.”
Fast forward I graduated college with a degree in Psychology, and only knew that I wanted to work with children, and that I did NOT want to be a therapist. Nature’s Classroom happened to be attending a career fair on campus about a month before graduation. I had attended the program in fifth grade and loved it, and had been working at camps for the past two summers so I thought “What the heck,” applied, and was soon offered one of the greatest jobs I have ever had.
What was your “ah-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a camp professional?
I had just been suddenly let go from a job at a hotel in Golden, Colorado, and on my way home I decided that I wanted to go back to when I was having fun at work. I had been working in kitchens, and had been a classroom teacher, and neither of those had me waking up every morning excited to go to work.
The last time I was? When I was working at Nature’s Classroom and going to camp in the summer. How could I do THAT full-time? So when I got home, I sat down with my wife, and we mapped out how to make it happen.
What did you study in school? How has it helped you in your camp career?
I have a Bachelor’s in Developmental Psychology, a Master’s in Elementary Education with a focus on Science and Environmental Education, and a Diploma in Culinary Arts.
My degrees look good on a resume, and have opened the door to opportunities that have fostered skills that I use in my current position. Your degrees will help get you an interview, but it’s the experiences that you’ve taken from those degrees that will get you a job.
What was your “path” to your current position?
I left Nature’s Classroom after three years to pursue my Master’s in Education because it honestly just felt like the next logical step. I had established myself within the company, and felt that my choices were to either stay there long enough to be offered a job as a program coordinator, or become a classroom teacher. I chose the latter, got my M.Ed., and landed a 5th/6thgrade position at a Gifted & Talented school in Denver, Colorado.
And I hated it….
OK, I didn’t hate all of it. The kids were great, and I made some really good friendships with some of the staff members, but I always felt like I was fighting an uphill battle to please parents, administrators, myself, and just about everyone else. Amid panic attacks prior to starting lessons, I quit teaching halfway through the next school year, and swore off working with children.
But what to do? I wanted to have fun again. I wanted to do a job that left me feeling fulfilled, and was about as different from teaching as possible. So I enrolled in culinary school, got a degree, and found it very difficult to hold down a job in the field. (The culinary profession has almost as high a turnover rate as education)
My wife and I packed up our belongings and moved back to New England to work for Nature’s Classroom again. While there, I poured myself into finding an entry-level year-round job at camp. It took some doing, and a little longer than expected, but I was eventually offered my current position in late January of 2018.
If there was one thing you could have done differently early in your career, what would it be?
I wish that I had known that there was something I could do after outdoor education other that become a teacher. Though I treasure the experiences and memories I’ve made over the last 10 years, I often feel as though some of it was a waste of energy (and money) to end up where I am.
What is your advice to a “shiny new” camp director?
I once had a director describe his job to me as “I’m not allowed to say ‘That’s not my job.’”
While I admire his tenacity, I think it’s important to know where the responsibilities of others fall, where your scope of knowledge might be surpassed, and to establish a system that allows for clear chain of responsibility. But at the same time, it is all ultimately going to come back to you, so be ready.
What advice would you offer future camp directors?
These jobs exist; you just have to know where to look. You can totally be an “adult” and still spend every summer at camp. Start small, get involved, and learn as much as you can from anyone willing to teach you.
How to connect with Jason