EDMOND — John Kastner is one of those people who wakes up ready to tackle the day.
That's a good thing, because he has a couple of dozen kids to entertain and supervise at Edmond's YMCA Summer Day Camp for kids ages 5 to 12. Kastner, 19, has been a camp counselor for two years, and most days it keeps him on his toes.
His first priority is making sure all the kids have fun in a safe environment. The way Kastner sees it, camp is an important experience in a kid's life.
“Camp is a place where you have a lot of great childhood memories, so we want it to be fun, so we want to make sure they have a blast,” he said.
Camp sessions begin at 9 a.m. and run Monday through Friday. The fun begins with a dance session. That's followed by that week's theme activity. After that is lunchtime followed by some free time to do arts and crafts, swimming or other sports before winding up the day with small groups and one more dance.
It's easy to see that Kastner embraces the challenge. He will be a resident adviser in the fall at Oklahoma State University and knows how to emphasize the positive.
“We talk about attitude and how it's caught, not taught,” he said. “If you have a good attitude, the kids usually do. The more excited you are, the more excited they are.”
That doesn't mean everything always goes smoothly. There are conflicts that sometimes have to be resolved or mediated. It's usually something simple, like who grabbed a ball first. Kastner has to take all conflicts seriously.
“A small thing to me might be the world to a kid,” he said. “You have to take it all seriously and find out both sides of the story, and by the end hopefully you get them to be friends. Sometimes your enemy at the beginning of camp is your friend by the end of camp.”
Making a difference
Jeannette Frazier, 32, has worked at the YMCA four years as a counselor and in her current administrative role handling check-ins in the mornings and answering questions from parents.
Her favorite part of being a counselor was watching the way the kids changed over the course of a summer.
“Some kids, they come in shy, and by the end they feel more up to learning new things,” she said. “That kind of growth is one of the most important things that they get out of the experience.”
Frazier also works with parents, something she said is important in making sure the kids get the most out of their camp experience.
“I get to know a lot of different people in this job. I like to help them with their questions because it's a good way to represent the YMCA, and when they understand what's going on, it makes for a better experience for their kids.”
But all good things come to an end. Kastner said spending five days a week with the same kids creates a bond that is hard to break, but at the end of the summer it is broken.
“You do get attached,” he said. “To see their smiles and excitement when they see you, it really makes it all worth it. You can tell you're making a difference in their life.”