How can I re-live working at summer camp?
October 12, 2010 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I really loved working at overnight summer camp in the mountains when I was a freshman and sophomore in college. Are there any similar jobs or volunteering gigs or programs that can help me re-live that sort of "camp" experience as an adult, and on the weekends during the year?

I loved working at summer camp for the following reasons:

1) Meeting a new group of people from all over

2) Making friends with those people

3) Being productive, working and helping out in a structured environment

4) Being outside all the time

5) Living in another place and a sort of dorm-ish environment, even if only for a few days

Now I'm a 22 year old graduate with a full-time job, but I'd love to find something that gives me that same sort of "camp-style" experience. There has to be some sort of outdoor weekend program where I can volunteer or work part-time?

Volunteering for an outdoor ed program seems to be the closest idea I can come up with, but further research suggests this is for high school-aged students who need to do their community service and the last thing I'd want is to be a creepy, lone 20-something. Does there exist any overnight weekend programs, camps, or outdoor trips that meet my criteria, or are in the same spirit as a summer camp, only it's year-round and during the weekend? I'm in the DC area.

(Anonymous because of friends who read Metafilter and don't know I'm on it - this would very clearly give me away.)
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I have a few friends that worked as wilderness therapy instructors. It's a pretty good gig if you like the outdoors and are into camping out a lot. You work like a week on, and then get a week off, but the pay is decent, and you meet a lot of other young people in their 20s. You do have to be able to work with people (mostly teenagers) who have behavior issues, but it sounds like the training is pretty good. Mefi me if you want more specific info.
posted by Rocket26 at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a big hippie/raver music-festival/camping scene in the area. Not exactly what you're looking for, I suppose, but you'll be outside and meet a great group of folks. Plus, there are always volunteer opportunities, be it ticket taking or set up/break down or trash pickup or what have you.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2010

I volunteered at a pediatric oncology camp for a week in the summer, maybe see if there's one near you? I volunteered during teen week, and they were particularly looking for older volunteers, most were about my age or older (I'm 24). And it was awesome!
posted by piper4 at 2:40 PM on October 12, 2010

Check out the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. The AT goes from Maine to Georgia and the maintenance work is done by volunteers. Go off into the woods and maintain shelters, clear overgrowth, teach classes, etc. with some like minded fellow volunteers.
posted by bartleby at 2:46 PM on October 12, 2010

And if you want to try that kind of live-rough-and-have-fun-with-strangers as a travel thing, check out the Green Tortoise.
They take a bus, turn all the seats into convertible bunkbeds, fill it with the kind of random fun people that are into travelling via a rolling international youth hostel, and head out, camping out in national parks along the way. Everybody cooks together, maintains the bus, goes off on adventures, etc.

Camping road trip with 20 other random folks who are into that idea, often travellers from other countries seeing the USA on the cheap in an interesting way. They're based on the west coast, but they do a few cross-country trips. In fact, you just missed the last run this year of the 14-day Boston to S.F. Southern Dream route. Maybe next year?
posted by bartleby at 3:03 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Appalachian Mountain Club comes easily to mind - lots of outdoors events, and if it's the satisfaction of work you want, they do run trail crews and things like that.

I wouldn't worry too much about being creepy by volunteering for a youth program that does outdoor activities. As a former camp person myself, I know you're not likely to be creepy, just a really good person who embraces camp values and wants to contribute and enjoy yourself. Most program people understand that motivation. And not only that, but in any responsible program, you will fill out an application and undergo a CORI background check. So you don't have to worry that you will seem odd - there are screening systems in place to be as sure as possible that you're OK.
posted by Miko at 3:11 PM on October 12, 2010

The organization Earthwatch sounds like it would interest you. They coordinate a wide variety of research and volunteer projects all over the world, most I think about 2 weeks long. It's very camp-like, lots of fun, useful, and your expenses are generally tax deductible. Have fun!
posted by Corvid at 4:45 PM on October 12, 2010

I don't know about DC. In California, you could work towards being a crew leader for Volunteers for Outdoor California. See here for the schedule of a sample weekend, in which people camp out on a park and are fed, in exchange for doing restoration or trail work.

Other categories to investigate might include Habitat for Humanity or biological field research (if you have the appropriate background; you'll probably have to make a dozen phone calls to find people who need extra help on the particular weekend when the newts are migrating or whatever).
posted by salvia at 5:31 PM on October 12, 2010

If you're interested, some absolutely awesome people I know are having their 10th annual "Random People Camping Trip" the weekend of November 19th, about 3 hours south of DC. I imagine a few folks will be driving down from DC/NoVA. Over the years, more people have gotten involved, and so there's a range of ages (but almost all are 20-30), and are goobs of fun. This year, about 25 people are in so far. If you MeFiMail me, I'd be happy to get you more info.
posted by Alt F4 at 8:52 PM on October 12, 2010

For short term gigs, there are groups that do mountain biking and they hold volunteer weekends to help keep up maintenance on the trails. Not overnights, but it's a start.

When I was a Girl Scout leader, we were told of several women (not attached to a specific troop) who were available to come camping with our troop if we needed some extra volunteers. You might investigate that type of link through the appropriate gender.

I have also seen some archaeology teams who were looking for volunteers to help on a dig. This was in the city, so it was not overnight, but you would definitely meet some cool people that way. Check with your local university.
posted by CathyG at 9:00 PM on October 12, 2010

There's a fairly wide range of volunteer opportunities (for adults as well as kids) with the National Park Service (since you're in the DC area, lots of cool NPS places nearby!), the Maryland Park Service and Virginia State Parks.

All of the pages have links for more info. The NPS Volunteer page allows searches by "state" but also includes DC and US territories -- on the same page, there are some downloadable PDFs (including a general brochure about the NPS Volunteer-in-Parks (VIP) program), so don't miss those.

Since there are so many different parks and kinds of volunteer help needed, it can't hurt to call and ask a volunteer coordinator if there are (or have been) events/programs with an outdoors+overnight aspect short enough for a weekend.

Just the fact that you're interested in volunteering consistently for a number of weekends will probably be a big plus. If there is indeed overnight part-time work on weekends for a park service, then volunteering would also be a good way to get your foot in the door.

Another site to check out: (yeah, don't forget the /gov/) which is "America's Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal." You can look up upcoming volunteer events from various other government agencies, including the NPS, the Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others. There are often short-term events that are outdoors -- try plugging in just a location and that should give you a good idea of the general pool of listings.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 10:31 PM on October 12, 2010

Years ago my friend worked at this place in Florida. I gather that given the weather in Florida, they can live outside all year long, so it ran all year. Basically, it's alternative education in the woods for troubled teens. She camped in a tent with the kids/worked 24 hours a day for something like 4 days a week, and then on the 3 days off she (and the other folks with days off) lived in a group home run by the camp, where they had a room.

She looooooved summer camp, mind you (she was a GS counselor in college, as well as working in group foster care homes), but I don't think she lasted a full year--I don't think anyone did there, really, it sounded like it had high turnover. Even besides whatever went on with the kids, which she didn't comment on, I suspect that kind of schedule was sort of draining and weird even for her, plus she didn't exactly feel like she had a "home base" to go to even on her days off. It sounded like on the days off all anyone did was lie around the living room being tired and nobody really could figure out what to do with the time off. Dating didn't exactly work too well under the circumstances either.

So, something like that exists, and my friend was your age when she worked there, but I don't know if she'd recommend the experience. It could be interesting to try for a while, but keep in mind that the immersion factor could get tiring.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:09 PM on October 12, 2010

Student Conservation Association might have something like that in their 18+ program. I know they used to have something going on in the DC area but I'm not sure if it's still around or if they're accepting new members.
posted by elysenavidad at 11:14 AM on October 13, 2010

If you're willing to travel across the country, I highly recommend this experience.

I did this several years ago out of a mild obsession with Catalina. It's a beautiful place. I met many interesting and friendly people, and did fun/tiring work in gorgeous surroundings. And, coming from Minnesota, the experience of camping in great weather sans mosquitoes was a revelation! :)
posted by mefireader at 11:55 AM on October 13, 2010

« Older Gift for someone moving to Thailand?   |   bulgur is bulgur? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.