Orientation and First Weeks
Zajac Ranch Wranglers (counsellors) participate in a two week training orientation that prepares you for the camp season. You participate in presentations of different disabilities, behavioural support techniques, and assisted daily living needs workshops. Additionally, you learn the basics of how to run activities such as high/low ropes, canoeing/kayaking, horseback-riding, petting-zoo, archery, arts-and-crafts, etc. However, the thing that prepared me the most out of those training weeks was bonding with my fellow counsellors. You go through thick and thin together during camp weeks and its comforting knowing you have a friend to laugh with or a shoulder to cry on right next to you.
Those connections helped a lot the first week. I was very overwhelmed the first week, as it was an adult week and one of my campers had higher support needs. I had never supported someone with personal hygiene, toileting, showering, and meals before like I had to for that camper. Additionally, I had zero experience in general with most of the disabilities in my group. So, its safe to say that shoulder to cry on was used a lot that week. Not being self-assured from previous experience really makes you constantly anxious that you're doing your job wrong, specifically with things such as attention-seeking and behavioural support. It was a crash course indeed. However, I became more and more thankful for that crash course week as it made the second and future weeks so much easier.
Accommodation and Living
Zajac Ranch's accommodations included things like:
- A shared dormitory
- Laundry Machines
- Workday Meals
- Staff lounge and fridge
- Wifi (though not the best as we're in the middle of a forest)
- Access to activities like canoeing on our off time with prior approval from the director
Day to Day
The general day to day of a summer medical camp week would consist of:
- Early wake-up at 7:30am and get all your campers awake and ready for breakfast and morning activities by 8:15am.
- Taking and assisting your campers to/at activities and encouraging participation.
- Assisting campers in their daily living needs such as showering, cutting up food, and brushing hair.
- Behaviour supporting campers through meltdowns, fights/bullying, attention-seeking moments, non-compliance, etc.
- Going to bed generally around 11:00pm-12:00pm, sometimes later depending on camper situations.
- Assisting with leading activities such as waterfront, canoeing/kayaking, leading a horse, etc.
- Entertaining campers with games, songs, and activities during down-time.
- Taking campers to get medication at respected times.
- Monitoring certain camper's symptoms such as skin colour, breathing, and lip colour to ensure camper health.
- Getting campers to bed and quiet by 9:30pm.
Learning and Adaptation
As a Wrangler, you get better the more camps you work. The first week you're thrown into the deep end of an Olympic sized swimming pool only to come out of some meager puddle on the sidewalk by the end of the summer. Being a strong Wrangler meant being someone who could take initiative, be entertaining, be firm yet kind, and someone who could be a good leader. My first week I struggled to cough up any ounce of firmness. It was hard to find a way to still be the "cool" Wrangler of the group yet still be firm with your campers when needed. Learning two things over my first 3 weeks really helped me succeed the rest of the summer: having and enforcing boundaries and that everyone has their own Wrangler style. These two things allowed my confidence with taking initiative and my leadership ability to really grow during my third camp and exceed in my final two camps.
Boundaries help set a line between Wrangler and friend for campers. You have fun with campers but professional fun. Boundaries included things such as high-fives instead of hugs, not disclosing your age or where you live, and keeping conversation "camp appropriate". Having them was easy, enforcing them was a lot harder when campers didn't understand why you wouldn't say certain information or give them a hug. Some going so far as to get upset and even angry. That is why another one of my other biggest tips is to set boundaries immediately with campers so they understand what they can and can't do with you from the start and they don't get as confused!
Wrangler styles are just different approaches to interacting with your campers in different behaviour scenarios. Some of my co-workers styles included:
- Being overly energetic and goofy to entertain and cheer up campers.
- Sarcastically bullying campers and allowing them to sarcastically bully them back plus having inside jokes to create closer connections to campers which allowed campers to open up about issues to them more easily.
- Being stern yet playful to set boundaries which allowed for fun but compliance from campers.
I found myself taking on a "big sister to "annoying" younger sibling" Wrangler Style. It worked best for me as it allowed me to still be playful and have fun with my campers while having recognition as their leader and gain respect. More so, it made campers understand that rules were not my making but were there to keep them safe so we could have fun.
Accomplishments and Challenges
My biggest accomplishment was my second to last week of camp. Already short-staffed for that week, we lost both our director and a unit leader on the Tuesday morning of the week's camp due to illness. Our program director was to act as director for the rest of the week until the director returned and I was basically appointed to act as a unit leader till the end of the week. Fundamentally, I would go wherever our program director needed me. Whether it be to help ratio for one of the four cabin groups activities and personal hygiene assistance, help serve meals, help lead activities, bring out and serve snacks, etc., I would do it! Though by the end of the week I was ready to take a nap, I never felt more proud of myself. I managed the feeling of all of my limbs being dragged in different directions by different people and was able to adapt and allow myself to become more flexible. This was the week I finally earned "Staff of the Week" and I was incredibly happy with myself.
My biggest challenge had to be during my third camp where I had a camper who just didn't want to be there. They barely participated the first day and second day morning activities and was overall wanting to go home right then. And when I say "going home right then" I mean they tried to run away from camp by running all the way from the campfire to the camp entrance gate that second day afternoon. It was the first time I actually became scared. Legally, the most we could do to stop them from running was to chase after and body block them until eventually they tired out and headed back with me and senior staff to the nurses station to call home. Trying to de-escalate a camper who was already so escalated they were trying to push through four staff for at least a kilometer was so mentally challenging. Luckily the senior staff got there in time to take over and I simply assisted. This experience challenged both my mental and physical resistance.
Social and Extracurricular Activities
The best part of this job had to be the people you work with and the experiences you shared together. Outside of work my co-workers and I went out to eat, went canoeing/kayaking, wrote songs and played them on the guitar on the spit, and even went to a BC Lion's game together. You bond so much during time outside of work when you have to scare a bear away by screaming "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson at it with your co-workers because you forgot to bring the bear horn on your canoe trip.
The end of the summer season was bittersweet. I gained so much valuable knowledge and insight into different disabilities that I would have never got to experience otherwise. However, my co-workers, to friends, to family I grew so close with, I may never see again. I will always cherish these people and this experience as it has both matured me and made me more spontaneous throughout the summer. I will miss the clean air, the mountain view, and the peace of quiet dewy weekends at the camp, but never as much as the laughter we shared, songs we sang, and memories we made together.