Youth Outside | Counselors in Training

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we share the profound impact our CITs have at summer camp.
Tailor Dolgin Tailor Dolgin
Associate Youth Programs Manager
February 26, 2022
Youth Outside | Counselors in Training

I was the kid at camp struggling with homesickness and cowering from the spiders that visited my bunk. I had friends attend the same camp year after year, become counselors in training (CITs) during high school, and then return to those camps in college as staff. I never understood their connection to camp until I met the CITs at our Mountaineers summer camps. Over the nine weeks of day camp that ran during the summer of 2021, we had nineteen teenagers join us at our Seattle Program Center to help create camp magic.

As someone who didn’t grow up as an enthusiastic summer camp attendee, the irony that my role at The Mountaineers is to eat, sleep, and breathe summer camp is not lost on me. And I feel so lucky to be inspired by our amazing CITs now every year. They are a wonderful example of how summer camp shapes its own future and provides community for campers and teens while school is out.

Expanding the role of a CIT

CITs volunteer to be a part of our camp community, doing everything from belaying campers to helping oversee swimming safety in Lake Washington. They teach bracelet-making and lead games of “where’s my water bottle?” They participate in safety talks, jokes, riddles, field trips, and most importantly, they empathize and engage with campers as their role models.

The CIT program was first introduced in 2013, and many of our CITs are involved as campers for years before they volunteer. As camps have evolved, so has the CITs’ role in the program. As we brought in-person camp back this past summer after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19, we were able to look at our CIT program with fresh eyes.

In the past, campers aged out of our programs after they turned 12, and did not have the opportunity to return as CITs until they were at least 14. We decided this just wouldn’t do. In 2021, we invited 13-17 year-olds to join camp as CITs. We also introduced a new type of CIT just for our 13 and 14 year-old volunteers: an All-Time Belayer. An All-Time Belayer’s role at camp is exactly what their name implies: they help belay campers anytime they are on campus. Eight intrepid 13 and 14 year-olds volunteered their time this past summer to brush up on their belay skills and support campers on the wall. Seven of the eight All-Time Belayers were campers from years past, a testament to the strength of our camp community.

CIT image.jpgAll-Time Belayer Matilda shows off her rope-stained hands. Photo by Mika McCracken.

Although our All-Time Belayers were helping hands all camp long, they were especially helpful during Advanced Climbing Week, a week of camp where demand for belayers is extremely high. This is the only week of the summer that we set the basalt columns for climbing. The crew of All-Time Belayers were responsible for belaying and cheering on campers while they learned how to crack climb. It was a delight to watch our CITs in action. The All-Time Belayer CITs supported the campers, stepped into and out of belay stations easily, and sought the guidance of counselors when campers had questions.

Junior Counselors

We also invited teens aged 15-17 back to camp in 2021 as Junior Counselors, filling a role similar to that of CITs in 2019 and before. Each week, Junior Counselors were assigned to work with a camp group and staff counselor. Junior counselors mirrored the staff counselor as they helped with games, safety, teaching, and group management. They worked closely with staff counselors to develop their leadership skills, lead singalongs during morning assemblies, and entertain campers with riddles. Eleven teens applied to be Junior Counselors this past summer, volunteering 40 hours during their scheduled camp week(s). Of the eleven, eight were returning campers and CITs, one was a member of Seattle’s Mountaineering Adventure Club (MAC), and two were new to our summer camps.

Several of our summer camp counselors found their way to our CIT program because they were interested in joining a summer camp community. Many were eager to volunteer for the program because they missed their summer camp community from years past. These teens have been a part of summer camp longer than most of the staff. They have been shaped by the counselors and campers who have come before them, and they found a home within our programs.

From camper to CIT

Although the majority of our CITs were returners, this past summer was my first time meeting and working with all of them. It was an absolute treat to watch the All-time Belayers and Junior Counselors interact with campers and staff alike. They were goofy, or serious when they needed to be, and absolutely prepared to hop in to help at any point. Several times over the summer, individual Junior Counselors pulled me aside to ask about the job requirements to be a counselor during future summers. As a Camp Director, there are few things more heartwarming than having campers return to your program as teens, ready to shape and support the next generation of campers.

In fact, the only thing better might be seeing those teens come back as staff counselors. Luckily for me, that is precisely what happened this summer. Three of our counselors had been CITs at Mountaineers day camps in the past. And of those three, two had been campers themselves! To see counselors come full circle and contribute to the camp community was truly incredible. Each brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table.

Seeing the depth of love for camp traditions in the campers, counselors in training, and staff counselors who return every year, I understand now how one becomes a serial camper. Summer camp becomes your community, your people, your place to grow, and your home.


Looking to get the teenager in your life involved with Mountaineers camps? Register for teen trips and volunteer opportunities!

  • Registration opens February 1 for backpacking and outdoor climbing teen adventure trips.
  • Applications for our Summer 2022 CIT Program open in February. Volunteers are accepted on a rolling basis until the program is full.
  • Can’t wait for summer 2022 to volunteer? Join us as a CIT for February or April Break Camp.

For more information about Seattle Summer Camps and our CIT Program, reach out to our Summer Camp Manager Tailor Dolgin at

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2022 issue of  Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

Lead image of summer 2021 staff and CITs pose for a photo before a rafting field trip. Photo by OAC Staff.