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What it takes to become a CIT

What it takes to become a CIT

Local camps can be excellent resources for securing a meaningful first job. Becoming a counselor in training (CIT) provides teens with useful skills and an opportunity to take on real-life responsibilities in a supportive environment.

If your child has expressed interest in becoming a CIT, there are several factors to consider in deciding if he or she is ready to take on this responsibility.   

What is a CIT

CIT's play a significant role in the everyday workings of camp activities and organization.

"CIT's assist camp counselors with supervising of the campers and help with other camp duties such as filling up water jugs and walking campers to different stations," says Matthew Veronesi, New Windsor director of Parks, Recreation, Buildings & Grounds.

But their purpose does not stop there.

"Being a CIT allowed me to have the best of both worlds," says 20-year-old Madi Ross of Marlboro, recalling her own CIT experience at Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Spring. "I was able to enjoy the life of a camper while at the same time have a level of respect and authority." Ross describes her first CIT role as extremely active, participating in rock climbing and swimming when supervising campers.

Not all CIT programs offer participants payment. If disappointment arises from a non-paying role, Liz Duncan-Gilmour of New Paltz assures teens and parents not to get discouraged.

"This was a great opportunity for my son to really do grunt work and not get paid, and I think that was a really good thing," says Duncan-Gilmour referring to her son's experience as a volunteer CIT at YMCA Camp Chingachgook on Lake George. "I think it's important for kids to take on responsibility and 'step into to their own' strength. It was very positive overall."

CIT requirements

Most camps have similar age requirements for CIT programs, focusing in on the high school population.

"The town of New Windsor CIT Program is open to teenagers ages 13-15," says Veronesi. "If they are selected, they will be trained in First Aid, CPR and the leadership skills necessary to be a counselor. Day-to-day they get hands-on training during camp."

Some recreational departments require stricter prerequisites before qualifying to become a CIT.

"Our progressive leadership program starts with leader in training (LIT) prerequisite," says Jeanne Scigliano, recreation director for the Town of Beekman.

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With this program, teens must participate in leadership workshops directed by lead coordinators and complete the LIT program before being considered for a CIT role.

Applications and interviews

Like any job, there is an application and interview process to become a CIT. Applications typically can be found online, but the interview process differs from program to program.

"We do group interviews once a month," says Scigliano, generally conducted from March to June.

Scigliano strongly encourages parents to allow their teens to be independent during this process.

"They should let their children fill out applications and interviews on their own. Encourage kids to become responsible for the job".

Veronesi strongly agrees. "Many parents fill out the application, make phone calls to set-up the interview, ask all the questions. Let your teen take responsibility and do these things or they really aren't learning."

Desired qualities

Supervising youth is a serious responsibility and Scigliano expects applying CIT's to be role models when working at the camps.

"We don't want just anyone in the program," says Scigliano, seeking qualities in trainees such as taking initiative, being independent and creative, and loving kids and the public.

"They should be focused, mature, be able to take direction, and listen to authorities, and work well with peers and kids," says Kathleen Bauman Geher of New Paltz, pulling from her daughter's experience as a CIT at a YMCA camp in the Hudson Valley. "They will work with different-aged kids with a huge range of needs and personalities which can be hard to navigate."

Ross, with past experience at a sleep-away camp, recommends that prospective CIT's focus on being flexible. "It's important to keep in mind that not everyone at that camp is coming from the same home. Every counselor should have an open heart, mind and ears."

When it comes to preparing teens for a CIT position, Geher says, "Having attended a day camp is probably most helpful so potential CITs know what to expect from the daily structure of camp." However, teens who have not attended camp can still use life experiences to successfully prepare themselves for the role.

"A great way to prepare for being a CIT is to have them be around younger siblings or cousins," says Veronesi. "There is no better training than this. The other stuff they will learn on the job."

Leadership courses and clubs are also excellent activities to participate in if interested in the CIT program, suggests Scigliano. 

Lifelong benefits

Though every CIT program is unique, the lifelong benefits your teen gains from this opportunity are priceless.

"I was impressed at the level of responsibility that my son showed me in this experience," says Milena Barrett of Clintondale, whose son was a Young Ambassador at Monhonk Preserve. "I was able to see a different side of him and he was able to be independent. It made me feel good as a parent to see him do this on his own."

"The CIT program is a great program and it works," says Veronesi, highlighting the possibility of securing employment after completing the CIT program. "Going through the program doesn't guarantee the teen a job as a camp counselor when they become 16 years old, but it definitely gives them a huge advantage."

"Anyone considering this role, I strongly suggest just getting up and doing it," agrees Ross.

Where to look

To find options for CIT programs in your area, the best place to start is with your local parks and recreation department. Network with friends and family or even explore social media pages dedicated to camping.

But again - let your teen take the lead!

"They should be willing to put in the work," says Barrett. "Make sure that you find something that interests your teen. Don't just make them do it."

Michelle Peterson is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie with her spouse and two sons. She's most recently pursued her dream of writing full-time, with the support of her loving family and a great deal of coffee.

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