Better Than An Internship:
Takeaways From Being A Songa Staff
By: Jenn Hare, ‘99
In recent years, the pressure on college students to take on summer internships towards a specific career has become stronger and stronger. The prevailing wisdom is that padding a resume and getting one’s foot in an industry door are essential to career success. We who have worked on the Songadeewin staff for multiple summers know better. Summers spent working at Songa are rewarding and fun; moreover, they instill confidence, skills, and strength in young women. We recently surveyed over sixty current and former staff to hear what they had to say about the benefits of working at Songadeewin. The responses we received illuminated the countless ways in which Songa positively impacts the lives of staff.
The ability to stay calm under pressure stands out as a major skill staff acquire from their time at camp. Veteran staff Mel Joyce, who is now an admissions director at an independent school, wrote:
“When I think back to my most challenging moments on Songa trips, it makes navigating normal life seem easy. I literally have a specific moment on a portage that was the most physically and emotionally challenging moment of my life – whenever anything really challenging comes up in my life I reflect back on that moment and remember how tough I can be.”
Other staff echoed this, saying that problem-solving at work now is easy for them because of the training and experience they had leading Songa trips. Successfully organizing a trip and solving problems on the fly clearly give Songa staff the confidence and wherewithal to confront anything they might face in the workplace. As former staff and now medical student Jesse Briggs put it, “There’s nothing quite like running into unexpected issues in the wilderness to teach you how to improvise.”
Staff also find that working at Songa gives them invaluable experience working with a variety of people. Former staff Liz Mott, currently an advertising event manager, wrote about how much she learned to work collaboratively.
“Whether it was working on a more intimate scale with my cabin/trip co-staff or on a large scale with the longhouse group or the staff as a whole, it’s valuable moving forward in a career to have had an experience living and working with people in a variety of different situations.”
At Songa, a huge portion of staff training is devoted to building teams and learning how to work and live in a community successfully. Staff continue to hone these skills throughout the summer as they build partnerships with trip and cabin co-staff and are coached by staff leaders through any communication issues that arise. Additionally, staff learn to mediate conflict between campers as well as how to manage group dynamics. Staff reported that all these experiences made them much more empathetic and flexible when working with others. Ali Hare, a longtime staff who has also worked in child welfare, noted:
“More than anything else, Songa taught me how to work with other people. I’ve found that when working with difficult people or under difficult circumstances, I’m patient and tolerant when others are not.” When staff come back for multiple summers, they build on those skills and become more and more adept at collaboration.”
Why is Songa such a special place to work? The balance of challenge and support that Songa offers makes it a uniquely fertile environment for personal growth. Songa asks a lot of its staff – to work 14 hour days with energy and cheer, to organize and execute weeklong trips into the wilderness, to teach with love and expertise, to pivot and re-adjust plans midstream when situations change. However, at every step, Songa offers the most supportive environment possible for its staff. The culture of Songa is one of encouragement, where effort, determination and personal triumphs are constantly celebrated. This culture fosters growth in staff as well as campers. Furthermore, pre-season staff training creates bonds of friendship which make us feel we are never addressing any problems alone – our friends and mentors are always there to help. Kate Ward worked on staff for many years before becoming an urban planner. She noted that
“Songa is a unique environment where you can push yourself, and grow – but with the safety net of all the other awesome staff to be there to catch you if things don’t work out.”
Longtime staff, current leadership team member and middle school teacher Susannah White mentioned the “trusting relationships and comfort with camp that [she] built over time,” which allowed her to feel safe enough to keep taking risks like public speaking and creative problem-solving.
Indeed, perhaps the most worthwhile thing gained from working at Songa is the fortifying relationships with fellow staff. Fellow staff become your biggest cheerleaders, the first people you call with sad or exciting news, and role models who inspire you to be your best self. As Mel Joyce wrote, “Songa friends have been my roommates, world traveling companions, sounding boards, co-workers, and family.” Another longtime staff, middle school teacher Hazel Stauffer, noted, “I gained the best friends of my life. I also gained a mentor in Ellen who is a wealth of knowledge and insight.” The women of Songadeewin are brilliant, hard-working and strong of heart. What could be more enriching than to spend summer after summer working by their sides?
Jenn Hare, ‘99 was a charter camper at Songa on Dunmore. She joined the staff in 2005 and earned her ten-year jacket in 2015. She has been on the Leadership Team since 2011 as Longhouse Leader for Nawaiwan. At the end of last summer she and Lolo Cappio, co-Longhouse Leader for Willoughby reached out to former staff to gather information in the article.