Facilitating Life-Changing Experiences

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2021 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Naomi Fink, COL ’23


After hiking 12.5 miles on the Appalachian trail and canoeing nearly 40 miles on the James River over the course of five days, this is how one of my 15-year-old campers described her overall experience as part of the Wilderness Leadership program at Camp Stone, a co-ed, no-frills, hiking-intensive sleepaway camp located in rural Pennsylvania where I was fortunate enough to be a counselor this summer.

At Camp Stone, hands-on experiential learning is everything. The Wilderness Leadership program in particular, intended for teens entering 10th grade, is designed to teach campers the importance of community and power of resilience. Through hiking, camping, and team building exercises, this program pushes participants beyond what they thought they were capable of, prompting a jolt of personal growth and self-exploration that has an incredibly lasting impact. Creating these empowering moments and lifelong memories for my 69 campers along with my 13 co-counselors was certainly a challenging yet rewarding experience.

We started out the days bright and early, waking up between 5:00am-6:30am and playing music to get our campers up and out of their tents. We had 20 minutes to be dressed and ready for breakfast! During our first meal of the day, we also had our morning leadership discussion. These thought-provoking conversations, held in small groups and led by counselors, prompted our campers to think about their personal values and what it means to be a leader. Next, we helped our campers take down their tents, pack their sleeping bags and belongings, load the trailer, make sandwiches for lunch, and gear up with hats, water bottles, and sunscreen for a full day of hiking! Most days we hiked around 10 miles — though to many campers it felt like 20 miles!

Hours later, feeling exhausted but accomplished, we unloaded the trailer at our new campsite, set up our tents and sleeping bags, and prepared food for dinner. We helped our campers set up the grill and taught them how to cook until eventually they could take on the endeavor themselves with just a little guidance and of course supervision. Only once there was enough food for everyone could we begin to eat, though as a counselor, we always ate last. By the time we all finished dinner and cleaned up, it was typically between 10pm-11:30pm — time to send our campers off to bed and conduct our nightly counselor check-in. Sticky from daytime sweat yet bundled in nighttime sweatshirts, we went to sleep for a few hours, prepared to wake up and do it all over again.

This summer was physically and mentally challenging. I hiked, climbed, swam, slept in a tent, woke up early, and stayed up late all while caring for nearly 70 pubescent adolescents. Particularly as a Psychology major, I’m so grateful to have been a part of this program and to have helped facilitate life-changing experiences for my campers during this developmentally formative — and hopefully transformative — period of their lives. Thank you to Career Services at Penn for enabling me to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!


By Career Services
Career Services