Camp Quest Smoky Mountains is staffed and run entirely by adult volunteers (ages 18 and up) who take a week off of work or school to guide, challenge, listen to, chase after, and play outside with a big group of energetic, freethinking kids (and adults!). Most Camp Quest volunteers love the experience so much that they keep coming back year after year.
Counselors are responsible for the safety, well-being, and education of the campers. They sleep in the dorms with the campers and participate in programs and activities with the campers. In addition to this, counselors are strongly encouraged to run one or more programs throughout the week.
Please note that all staff positions are unpaid, one-week volunteer positions. Staff must also arrive at camp a day early for orientation and additional training. Staff members are responsible for getting themselves to and from camp. Meals and housing are provided. Background checks are performed on all staff members.
Senior camp staff review the applications on a rolling basis and accept new staff based on applicants’ qualifications and the expected number of campers.
Applications are typically released in January or February for the following summer. Prospective staff can apply via our registration site, Configio-- from the main page, click "Apply to Volunteer" in the top menu. Following your application, senior staff may reach out about an interview to get to know you. If selected as a volunteer, we will complete a background check. You will be required to complete virtual training before arriving at camp and to participate in orientation/additional training upon arrival.
Why do staff arrive a day early?
Staff arrive a day early for training and to prepare for camp. We provide some training virtually in advance of camp, mostly related to working with children and safety. However, once staff arrive, we offer further training related to the specifics of our location and camp session. We do teambuilding, get to know each other, and give newcomers a chance to learn from returning staff. We also do final preparations before camper arrival. It's important that staff members commit to early arrival for their own preparation and for the proper functioning of camp.
What is it like to be a staff member at Camp Quest Smoky Mountains?
It's fun and rewarding, tiring and challenging, renewing and life-affirming! Camp will require a good bit of energy and focus-- it's camp, after all! You're responsible for the safety and well-being of some rad young people. But most of our staff return year after year for a reason. It's a ton of fun working with our kids and with our staff-- we have some of the best humans around. You get to participate in many of the camp activities with the kids, enjoy time outdoors, and learn along the way!
What is required of staff?
Volunteering as a staff member is a weeklong commitment. We expect staff to use common sense, good judgement, and their training to work most of each day with campers. They must ensure the safety and well-being of campers, contribute to an enriching and fun camp, and alert senior staff to any arising issues. We expect that each staff member will lead a camp activity during the week, and many staff choose to lead a session related to their personal interests or skills. Additionally, we seek staff who exhibit teamwork, initiative, and the Camp Quest philosophy. We do not allow the use of alcohol, marijuana, illegal drugs, or other mind-altering substances at camp-- these endanger your capacity to care for campers and are grounds for immediate dismissal.
What do staff get out of camp?
A lot! Staff return for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common we hear is that it's special to them to be able to provide a caring, welcoming, and inclusive space for campers. Many of our staff understand what it's like to feel like an outsider and find a lot of joy in building a positive space for campers. It's also a lot of fun! There aren't a ton of times that adults get experiences similar to camp. It's a fun place to interact with kids and fellow staff, and you get to do cool activities as well. While camp requires work, it's a chance to engage in nature, detach from everyday life, connect with like-minded people, and learn! While it's not as interesting, you do also get meals and housing for the week of camp. Our facility has pretty good food and can accommodate dietary restrictions. We sleep in air-conditioned dorms and have hot water in our showers.
What staff positions are available?
Most first-year staff start as "cabin counselors." We don't actually have cabins (we sleep in a dorm), but we call it that anyway. Cabin counselors are assigned a set group of campers with whom they work throughout the day and for whom they are primarily responsible. You'll get to know these campers pretty well and will guide them, help them, and resolve minor issues with them. You'll have help from your fellow cabin counselors and from senior staff.
Additionally, our senior staff usually includes: the Camp Director, the Assistant Camp Director, the Medical Officer, the Program Officer, and the Firefly Coordinator. We will often recruit a first-year counselor to the role of Medical Officer (assuming they have the qualifications necessary), but we rarely if ever hire first-year staff to the other roles. You need to get to know camp first! If you are a first-year staff member and are interested in these roles, please express that to the Camp Director for consideration.
How are cabin counselors assigned to their camper groups?
We pair staff with their groups a few weeks ahead of camp time. Generally, we try to match staff to campers based on the staff's preferred age range, if they have one. We also consider the strengths of the individual staff member, their experience with us (if applicable), and any particular camper needs. We try to balance the number of campers in each group such that no staff member is overburdened. On rare occasions that a staff member has trouble with their group, we work as a staff team to ensure that they and the camper group have the support they need.
We are moving to a gender inclusive environment at camp this year, so staff will be assigned campers of mixed genders and will sleep in a gender inclusive dorm space. You can read our gender inclusive announcement to parents here.
Do staff get breaks?
Yes! We typically give each staff member an hour break each day. You can ask the Assistant Director if you need a longer break every other day, a shorter break twice a day, or a specific time for a break. There will also be low-effort and high-effort times of day built into the schedule. For instance, staff generally take down-time with the campers in the late afternoon (a great time for a nap), might sit nearby during certain activities, and are able to take free time some evenings after lights out. If you have concerns about the level of effort required for the position, please feel free to reach out the the Camp Director at email@example.com for more information.
Are staff required to be atheist?
No! Counselors are not required to be any particular religion or lack thereof. While our staff usually identify as atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinking, skeptical, etc., it is not a requirement, and we have had religious counselors volunteer with us in the past. We do ask that you share Camp Quest's values and philosophy in order to build a safe, inclusive, welcoming, and enriching space for our campers. Proselytizing or pushing a worldview on campers is not permissible behavior for a staff member.
Campers are encouraged to think for themselves. We firmly believe that children should not be labeled with worldview labels by adults, and instead should be encouraged to ask questions and explore different worldviews as they grow. We present atheism and humanism as valid and reasonable options for an ethical and fulfilling life.
Who are the counselors at camp?
Our counselors come from a range of backgrounds. Some are 18, others are 70+. They work in a range of professions and some are students. We've had religious counselors, though most are not. Some grew up in religious homes, others attended CQSM as children and returned to be counselors. We attract some really fun, cool, and interesting staff.
I can't come to camp, or I don't feel it's a good fit for me. How else can I volunteer or contribute to CQSM?
There are a few good ways. You can:
Donate! We use donations for camper financial aid and things like program supplies to keep camp fun, enriching, and well-organized.
Join the Board of Directors! We put out a call each December or January for new Board members. The Board provides strategic oversight of the affiliate, helps grow camp into the best it can be, and ensures sustainability.
Reach out to the Camp Director if you have skills in:
Communications and social media
Law, particularly related to non-profits, camp, or youth development programs
Contact us if there are other ways you'd like to get involved!