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Ever heard of CITs? They are counselors-in-training, and are typically kids between the ages of 12 and 16 who work at some of our area’s premier camps and programs to get on-the-job experience. Last summer, my 15-year-old daughter spent the better part of four weeks as a CIT at Camp Fire’s Camp Sealth on Vashon Island. She still raves about the experience.
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“Being a CIT is great because you’re in the gray area: not quite a camper and not quite a counselor,” Caroline tells me. “And all that leadership stuff they did [with us]: A-plus!”
Every CIT program is specific to the camp (you also might have heard the position called a “program aide” or “leader in training”); some require applicants to have previously attended the camp where they’re applying. Although there’s no official tally of how many such programs exist in our area, chances are good your camp has one. Just look for information on leadership and teen opportunities on a camp’s website.
This isn’t a paid job — which may be perfect if your kid isn’t quite ready for gainful employment but who still needs something to do this summer. Your teen may also may be required to pay to attend the camp; prices range from $25 for a weeklong day camp at the Boys & Girls Club to $2,800 for a monthlong overnight program at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island.
To become a CIT, teens apply to the camp’s specific program. They’ll likely need personal references and to write about why they want to be a CIT (perfect training for those future college and job applications!). Encourage your kid to complete the application themselves, says summer camp director Carrie Lawson of Camp Fire Central Puget Sound. After all, being a CIT is about independence, she notes.
It’s also a good first step in the transition from being a camper to becoming paid staff, says Lawson. “The CIT moves from being an individual enjoying camp to understanding how can they can give back to the other kids attending camp,” she says. “How can they make sure someone else enjoys camp?”
CIT programs teach teens leadership and how to work with children, she says, adding that CITs build self-confidence and learn how to make decisions — both independently and as a team — and how to manage responsibility for themselves and for others. But it’s not all work. CITs get to enjoy the same activities they loved as campers, too.
“[You also] grow a lot as a person, mostly [in] how you treat people,” says Anna Dingfield, a Camp Sealth CIT alumna. “I’m a different person than I was before my CIT experience.”
Find a CIT program near you
After completing Camp Don Bosco’s CIT training week ($500; ninth- through 12th-graders), CITs can work at weeklong camps ($100 fee per week).
The CITs at Camp Fire’s Camp Sealth ($875 fee; rising 10th- and 11th-graders) spend four weeks (with two weekend breaks) on site, including a full week of living at camp, when each CIT assists with one cabin group.
The CIT programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of King County vary by locale (free with membership, except North Seattle and Broadview-Thomson, which is $25 per week).
After participating in the YMCA’s Leader in Training week ($145–$165 fee for Leader in Training Week; ninth- through 12th-graders), kids have the opportunity to serve as CITs at their local branch camps ($15–$20 fee for each week).
CITs in the Stroum Jewish Community Center CIT Program on Mercer Island ($105 fee; rising ninth- and 10th-graders) sign up on a week-by-week basis.
After girls complete a weeklong Program Aides Adventure Overnight program (prices from $536; seventh- and eighth-graders) at The Girl Scouts of Western Washington’s Camp River Ranch, they can serve as experienced program aides during day camp programs (fees from $252; seventh- through 10th-graders).