Dear camp directors of any town or city,
Last summer, when my daughter was 21, two years post sem, she was hired to be a “Pioneer Counselor” and “Counselor Driver” for a camp in the U.S.. They flew her out, buying her a one way ticket at the last minute. This should have been a 5 hour straight flight, no stops. To save a few dollars, the camp director booked her a ticket for a five hour flight with a three hour stopover, and then another four hour flight.
She arrived a day before the other counselors. The apartment she was taken to was in bad shape. There was one bathroom for 10 girls. The weather was humid, and there was no air conditioning or even ceiling fans. They later installed some ancient wall units, which dripped yellow liquid onto my daughter’s bed nightly. The car my daughter was to drive all summer was a 15 year old van with no seat belts in the back seats and no traction on the tires.
My daughter, who’s been driving since sixteen, was pulled over for the first time in her life because the tires swerved on a hilly road, and another driver, worried for my daughter’s safety, called the cops.
When my daughter was hired, she told the camp directors she was on a special diet, and in order for her to take the job, she would need to be provided with food that she could on eat on her diet. The director assured my daughter her food needs would be met. This unfortunately did not happen, and my daughter often found herself eating cereal and milk for dinner to avoid going to bed hungry. Eventually, she started using a large portion of her meager salary to buy her own food, because no matter how many times she asked, and how she phrased it, the camp directors did not meet her dietary needs.
The biggest issue my daughter faced last summer was the fact that she was the only driver. By day, she drove around her bunk and by night and during the weekends she drove around the counselors. My daughter was a wreck by the end of the summer. Shabbos was work for her too. “Shabbatonim” meant sleeping on the floor of the center and cleaning up on end.
It also meant a chance of no healthy food (no official meal invites – they were often just given the “kiddush” food at the center), and a cold shower if my daughter didn’t fight with eight sixteen year olds to be ahead of the “line.”
My 21 year-old daughter did not feel like a mentsch, let alone a decent human being. Her bedtime was often past two AM. She basically worked 24/7. The counselors, being normal teenagers, wanted to be driven around all day and night and my daughter was the only driver. This meant a two hour drive both ways every weekend for the counselor activities. What the camp directors and fellow counselors failed to realized was that the other girls got to sleep on the way home. My daughter had to be alert and awake to drive on the highway at midnight, and be at camp the next morning, with a perfect schedule that she made herself.
Finally, when my daughter signed on for this job, she made it known she had to be back home for a simcha only a day after camp ended. The directors assured her this was not an issue.
When it came time for her to go home, they made an issue out of the fact that tickets at the time my daughter needed to fly were more expensive (remember they only booked a one-way) and they made my daughter pay the difference in fare, regardless of the fact that they had waited till the last minute to book the ticket and regardless of the fact that they knew my daughter had to be home at that specific date before they hired her. Her return flight was another cheap ticket. This time with two stopovers, so my already exhausted daughter spent an entire day traveling, without luggage, money or food for the plane.
My daughter does not ever want to work for a camp again.
She tried to assert herself but the director was an intimidating, manipulative presence and somehow always made my daughter feel at fault for asking that her basic needs as an adult to be met. He never took notice of the endless amount of labor he required her to do. The van wasn’t clean enough, her schedules weren’t perfect, no matter what, the sheer amount of physical labor that my daughter did was never enough.
I am writing this in the hope that camp directors worldwide will think about how they treat their staff. I know now is the time when camps are hiring and when young girls and boys look for summer jobs. Please put yourself in my position. Would you want your daughter treated like this? Think about where you send your kids, and if you’re a director, think about how you treat your staff. You might also acknowledge that we all know eachother, that the Chabad world is very well connected and you can be sure I tell everyone I know who has a young daughter looking for a summer job just where they shouldn’t go.
By the end of last summer, my daughter was simply 100% spent. We are still recovering from my daughter’s experience, and as my younger daughter starts High School and becomes eligible to work in a camp, I will think twice before sending her away.