Camp Haiastan: What do you appreciate more about Camp Haiastan now that you are on staff and not a camper?
Aram Najarian: As a camper, you don’t fully realize how much work goes into helping Camp Haiastan run. All that you see is the fun activities that are already set up as well as the great meals and clean dishes waiting for you in the Mess Hall. As a Staff-in-Training, I get to have an up-close experience of what it takes to keep Camp Haiastan a clean, safe and fun environment for all campers. Seeing the smiles on all of their faces as they participate in activities motivates me to do the best I can so that they can have the same experiences that I once had.
Ava Movsessian: What I appreciate now as a staff member is all the staff members from my past. Never in my life did I think so much work went into running camp. As a staff member, you are signing up to watch over hundreds of kids over the course of eight weeks. It’s daunting putting it into words, but it truly is the best job in the world. Now I understand why those past counselors would devote their whole summers to this place. When I was younger, the counselors never showed signs of fatigue and always gave us kids 100-percent of their energy 100-percent of the time. How they did this I have absolutely no idea, but they made me love this place, and because of them I am now working. It takes someone special to devote their summer to giving back to the place that gave us all so much. Now that I am one of these people, I realize what an accomplishment it is to go full circle. I now have a greater appreciation and respect for all those who have worked and those who will work in the future.
Haig Shamlian: During my nine years at Camp Haiastan as a camper, I took the fun times I had for granted. Now, as a first-time staff member, I see how much staff members have to sacrifice to provide campers with a good time. As a lifeguard, a big part of my job is to stand on the side of the pool during free swim making sure the kids are safe. However, while watching them have fun in the water, I must remind myself that I can’t just jump in and play a game of 21 with them. I have a job to do. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that I am not here for my own enjoyment, but instead to provide campers with an enjoyable experience of their own. I have a newfound respect and gratitude for all the previous counselors, lifeguards, Armenian school teachers and administration that gave up their time, effort and sleep to provide me and my fellow campers with a great summer experience.
What message do you have to future first-year staff on how to create the best summer ever for our campers?
A.N.: Be a dynamic problem solver ready to adapt to any situation. While working at Camp Haiastan, I have noticed that no two challenges are the same, so being able to assess the situation quickly and efficiently allows for the day to run more smoothly. The campers will appreciate you more the less time that is spent worrying about issues that have come up during the session.
A.M.: Take that one extra step and be present with the campers. By doing a little bit more than what is in the job description goes a long way. If you do this, I can guarantee they will all love you. The best staff-camper relationships happen when you are joking around with them in moments you aren’t necessarily scheduled to be watching them. The campers see when you seek them out during free time or spend just a few more minutes with them during lights out. I am a lifeguard this year, and I feel as though the reason I have a relationship with campers, seeing as I do not have my own cabin, is because I go out of my way to spend time with them. Dock duty is my favorite. Instead of just sitting on the chair watching the kids, I cheer them on, alert them about incoming fish, tell them camp legends and share my camp store, all while regulating the amount of bread each kid gets so there are no issues. By doing those tiny things, kids come back to the dock for the stories and a peaceful time in a bread argument-free zone, which is one of my greatest accomplishments as a lifeguard. To create the best summer ever for the campers, you have to go that one extra step. It makes the kids’ time at camp so much better.
H.S.: My piece of advice for future staff members is to remember that they are not here for themselves. It is easy to fall into selfish traps such as taking naps during free time or spending time alone during the night activity. I can guarantee we will all give in at least once. But, try your best to spend any available time with campers. Whether you join them in one of their favorite activities or teach them one of your hobbies, they will treasure the time spent with the people they look up to.
Sevan Soukiasian.: As an AYF member and an Armenian, I feel a force to educate campers as well as myself about Armenian issues and culture. Ever since the first day I walked into the rec hall and sat in Armenian school, I knew it was my future role as an Armenian. For each of the 50 weeks in between camp, I would anticipate coming back to Camp Haiastan and making more friends, eating meals together and—my personal favorite—being immersed in Hai Tahd activities. Seven years later, I had the opportunity to apply as a Hye Jham teacher and filled out the application with no hesitation. I’m sure there are campers from this season who have similar goals of becoming a counselor, lifeguard, Hye Jham teacher, or even an Oriort or Baron. What I have to say to those kids is to listen to your intuition. Realize that it’s much more than a summer job. It’s part of your Armenian identity that can give back so much more than what you can put in for a whole lifetime.