| By Lisa Fernandez
Your child is too old to be a camper, but too young to get his or her first job. But summer is coming, and you don't want them to be couch potatoes until school starts in the fall. And you're not willing, or financially able, to send them off to Europe on a backpacking trip with their pals. Don't fret.
There are some excellent choices out there for your tween or teen. They can become CITs. For the uninitiated, that's Counselors in Training. And at some places, they even have a trendier name: LIT, which stands for Leaders in Training.
Basically, your early teen gets to play counselor, and even get paid a small stipend at some camps. They learn the value of hard work, the early-morning get-out-of-bed schedule, patience dealing with all sorts of children, and the behind-the-scenes look at how a camp really runs. They also might end up appreciating your role as a parent, seeing how you work all day, come home to make meals, and schlep them around town to see their friends. Counselors in training assist the counselors with the daily routines of camp: Planning the programs, putting on Band-aids, supervising overnight campers, and helping children navigate the ups and downs of life five days a week, sometimes for eight weeks of the summer.
"It was awesome," said Ella Plotkin-Oren, 16, who was a CIT last summer at Camp Kee Tov, a Jewish day camp in Berkeley, where she earned $350 per month. "I made money doing something that I really liked."
She said she learned great leadership skills and a ton of patience. "I realize how much work goes into it," she said. "Even for 5-year-olds, you have to learn how to be welcoming and funny. It was really fun to be a counselor, giving the kids all the fun that I used to have as a camper."
Here's a quick take on a few Bay Area camps that offer CIT or LIT programs—they are similar to what many other camps offer—that you and your responsible camper might want to investigate.
Camp Kee Tov pays its CITs, who must be going into 10th grade. Previous attendance at Camp Kee Tov is a bonus but not required. Applications opened in November and were due in January. CITs who can work both July and August sessions get preference. The stipend is $350 per session. www.CampKeeTov.org.
All the Oakland parks and rec centers, such as the ones in Montclair and Redwood Heights, offer nonpaid, volunteer CIT programs for teens ages 14 and 17. That also includes the city's boating summer camp at the Jack London Aquatic Center on Lake Merritt. For that one, boating program coordinator Laura Defelice said that CITs must previously have taken the advanced sailing class as a camper and a one-week Junior Leadership Camp. CITs get to choose to work from between one week at a time up to eight weeks of the summer. Defelice said that the young counselors in training can choose what weeks they wish to volunteer, but that it must be a full week at a time. The application process opened on Feb. 1.
While the CITs don't get paid, Defelice said that they are first in line for jobs with the city when they turn 16. Plus, she said, "It's a great opportunity to improve your sailing skills when you're teaching others." www2.oaklandnet.com/government/o/opr/s/boating/OAK031578.
Children can be CITs at Sarah's Science camp as young as 11 years old and as old as 15 years old. They're teamed up with a counselor to help with younger campers, and they also get to participate in lots of the projects and activities. An optional First Aid Certification is provided, and CITs can work for one week or many weeks. There is no salary; the CITs pay the same fees as the regular camp program. www.SarahScience.com.
Monkey Business Camp offers a youth leadership program for children as young as 10 years old. The children don't get paid, but the camp sessions are discounted at least 75 percent for those in this program. The older the child is, the more work he or she will be doing and the greater the discount. There are several programs to apply for, including from working with 3- and 4-year-olds to helping lead outdoor camp sessions. Founding director Heather Mitchell said she's looking for young CITs to be enthusiastic, outgoing, and have a "helpful attitude." She said having some experience with younger children, such as babysitting, would be a plus in getting accepted. www.MonkeyBusinessCamp.com.
The YMCA in Berkeley offers a LIT program to teach those entering ninth and 10th grades how to be Leaders in Training. There's a two-week session in July that costs $300 for members and $330 for nonmembers. The reward at the end of learning about responsibility, team projects, and activity planning is a river rafting trip and a day at Six Flags. www.YMCACBA.org.
The Oakland Zoo CIT program application period opens on March 1 and the deadline to apply for rising ninth-graders is May 1, according to education specialist Koka Yamamoto. CITs are not paid and are required to work a minimum of three weeks. Members pay $60 and nonmembers pay $80 to participate. Yamamoto said that high-schoolers who love children as much as animals are encouraged and that candidates should also be energetic and responsible. There are about 40 CITs each summer. www.OaklandZoo.org.