Returning Staff Highlight 2022

Staff playing a game on the green

As we approach the summer of 2022, we are really excited about the staff who will be joining us!   Working at camp is a fun and rewarding job plus it helps young adults build skills for professional development such as leadership, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork to name a few. Most of our staff are college-age and they will carry these learned skills back to school and into their careers.  We also have staff who are in graduate school, changing careers, or taking a gap year after graduating. It’s always exciting to hear about what brings staff back, and also what they gain from their summer experience as they look towards their future.  Here’s a glimpse into three of our returning staff members who are in different places on their career paths. 

Porter AndersonPorter Anderson 

Porter is a senior at Centre College in Kentucky, majoring in Environmental Studies.  He is from Charlotte, NC and is a former camper who is now in his 6th year as staff. Porter will be the Brookside Head Counselor this summer.  He was an SIT twice, an intern, a cabin counselor, and last year served as the Blacksmithing Program Leader for most of the summer, before moving into the Young Leaders Head Counselor position for the last three weeks of camp.  

Porter says “I chose to come back this summer because of how much of an impact both being a camper and a staff member at Gwynn Valley has made on me and also because I genuinely love working at camp every year. Another reason I came back is that GV feels like home to me, I can be myself 100% of the time and see the same thing in other campers and staff. Camp has taught me so many life skills that have helped me tremendously throughout my college career. A few of the most important ones include my ability to work with people in a professional setting while still having fun, time management, crisis management, and keeping a level head. GV has also taught me things I did not know about myself and has helped me realize just what career path I want to pursue after I graduate, outdoor education.” Porter fondly recalls falling in love with camp as an SIT:

 “I was surrounded by amazing staff and mentors to look up to for the first time in my life and felt like I needed to strive to be better just like they did. Every year since then I have come back and now I realize that I have become the person that people look up to just like I did to the older staff my first year. Overall, everything from big to small at Gwynn Valley has impacted me and if you ask my friends at college about camp they can tell you that I might just talk about it a little too much.”  

Emma ThamesEmma Thames

Emma is currently on the MD track at UTHealth Houston’s McGovern Medical School, following in her parents’ footsteps to become a doctor.  She attended Rhodes College for her Bachelor’s in English Literature with a minor in Health Equity.  Emma was a camper for six summers while her father, “Dr. Todd” Thames, served as the camp doctor. While in college, he had been a counselor at Gwynn Valley. This will be Emma’s third year as a staff member and she will be providing programmatic support across camp. When asked why she was returning to camp, Emma replied “we are lucky to get a solid 10 weeks off, and I wanted to spend it in a place that was rejuvenating for me, while also offering a chance to develop soft skills under great leadership and mentorship. Camp has been, and will always be, such a special place for me, and I know that taking the opportunities to intentionally recharge and create mental and physical space is so important, especially in careers like medicine that demand so much from you. I also can’t deny that escaping the oppressive Houston humidity and heat was a motivating factor.”

Emma has a hard time picking her favorite thing about Gwynn Valley.  She loves the landscape, the “lush greenery, old mountains, rain on the tin roofs, and watercolor sunsets.”  She loves the “challenge-by-choice” philosophy and like so many others, she loves the food.  When asked about what skills she has learned that will help her in the future she says:

“Physicians are often leaders in their roles, but sometimes lack formal leadership training, and camp has been a great place to work on those skills in myself, especially through the built-in mentorship my past roles have provided. Being supervised by and given feedback from people who are really invested in your personal growth is such a gift!”

Connor ErnstConnor Ernst

Connor graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2018 with a degree in Chemical Engineering.  He has been working for several years in this field and took a sabbatical last summer to work at camp.  He found Gwynn Valley through a friend with a mutual love for the outdoors, Austin “Stan” Riley, (a former GV staff member) who convinced him that working at a summer camp was a worthwhile endeavor.  He plans to take a sabbatical again this year and return to work in the Riverside program.  

Connor shared “as the winter of 2021 painfully meandered into 2022 I found it harder and harder to accept that I might not be a part of RS this summer. The community of Riverside, and what it enables in myself and the campers, is what drew me back to Gwynn Valley. The 3-week-long program with ample time spent outdoors allows for close friendships to form and opportunities for everyone to be vulnerable. This creates a supportive environment which, combined with regular growth opportunities provided by the adventures, gives me, and hopefully the campers as well, a strong sense of accomplishment and self-assurance.” 

When asked about the skills he has learned at camp he said, “Camp taught me a lot of interpersonal skills that I had neglected to cultivate in my formal education; engineers aren’t known for their people skills.”  He describes his Riverside experience as a great balance between team coordination and individual self-care achieved by communicating effectively.  Connor describes his favorite thing about camp:

“The greatest feeling that camp offers is watching one of your campers overcome a self-imposed limitation. Kids are incredibly versatile, resilient, and resourceful and watching them believe in themselves to push boundaries and grow into adults is very rewarding. That and the food…and rivers…and mountain bike trails…and climbing routes…”

We are so excited to have these three as part of our amazing team this summer along with many others. We have a great line-up of returning and new staff hired for the summer and are especially pleased that many of our international counselors have received their visas or have appointments at the embassies. Some have been waiting since 2020 to return to camp. We are counting down the days until summer 2022 when our community will come together for Gwynn Valley’s 87th summer.