Sure the hot, sultry days of summer may seem a million years away, but if your teenaged child is looking ahead to making some summertime cash, two upcoming camp expos — both on Sunday, February 13 — may provide a gold mine of information about summer jobs as camp counselors as well as give parents of younger children a wealth of information about summer camp programs.##M:[more]##

The Princeton Healthcare System sponsors the 2005 Camp and Kids Expo at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village starting at 11 a.m. And Mercer County Community College is holding its Summer Camps Open House from 12 to 3 p.m. at 1200 Old Trenton Road.

Sharon Vlasac, director of Youth and Special Programs for Mercer County Community College, says Camp College for young people needs roughly 40 counselors. The positions are highly sought after, and just as many campers return every summer, so do counselors because they enjoy the working environment and they know they’re getting valuable experience for their professional careers.

Vlasac, who lives in Hamilton Square, has been in her current position for the last seven years, but has been at MCCC for more than 22 years in jobs that include assistant director of human resources. Over that time she’s developed a keen eye for what makes a great counselor. As a parent and the grandparent of a five-year-old who can’t wait to attend Camp College himself (the minimum age is 7), she’s also developed a sense of what parents are looking for as well. “You can’t go to work and onto the rest of your day unless you feel your child is happy and safe. We want to leave parents’ minds free from worry, and to assure them their children are going to have fun. The learning is gravy. We’re looking for counselors who will help us fulfill that goal.”

MCCC has camps for children from preschool through elementary school as well as sports and other specialty camps designed for children in middle school through ninth grade.

The majority of the Camp College counselors, says Vlasac, are college education majors. They also hire counselors who will be high school seniors in the fall — many of them, in fact, who have been campers themselves. “Obviously we’ll look for the person who works well with children and has a strong sense of responsibility. It also helps to have expertise in the area they’re applying for, whether its sports or theater camps or something else. An outgoing personality is good. We’re looking for energetic people because they’ll be working with energetic kids all day.”

The salary starts with minimum wage and goes up depending on experience and education. Applications have started to roll in. “We have a consistent fan base. People who have worked here refer it to their friends and family. And the people who have worked here often want to come back.”

Vlasac says summer counselor looks great on the resume but beyond that, it’s the experience itself that can’t be measured in mere words or money. “It’s about teamwork, customer service, learning to be responsible for more than yourself. It’s a serious commitment and the job is dependent on energy and creativity. For anyone going into teaching, you pick up skills that are invaluable.”

Joanne Lupica, director of the Recreation Department for Township of Plainsboro, is also looking for counselors to work with the more than 600 children from West Windsor and Plainsboro who participate in the summer programs. Lupica, who lives in Robbinsville, has been with the township for 18 years, and before that, worked for a nonprofit running programs and services for children. Has she noticed any particular trends in summer job seekers? “I’ve found kids are remarkably the same now as they were 18 years ago in that they’re eager to start the work process. It’s refreshing to see that it’s still a milestone for them. They’re still nervous about interviewing. We try to make it an educational experience.”

The township is looking for a half day camp director to oversee four and five year olds. It is also looking for a full day assistant director for grade school aged youngsters.

Senior counselors, who supervise camper groups, must be at least 18 and have camp or other relevant experience. Junior counselors, who assist the supervision of camper groups, should have some experience with children and must be at least 16. There are a few openings for volunteer counselors who must be at least 14. Applications and job descriptions can be picked up at the Plainsboro Municipal Building and are also available at www.plainsboronj.org.

Senior counselors can expect to make $7.50 to $9.25 an hour. Junior counselors start at $6 an hour and can go to $7 an hour. Everyone gets a written evaluation at the end of the summer that can be used to open doors to other jobs down the line. Volunteers receive community service hours, required by many area schools for graduation. Job seekers must be available for the entire summer session from June 27 to August 19.

“Regardless of whether they’re selected for an actual job they’ll feel it was a worthwhile process. They will have gotten some experience in jobhunting and picked up valuable tips on what’s important in the way they present themselves,” says Lupica. She says that for the highly coveted paid positions, it helps for teens to show they’ve had some experience, and volunteerism is a great way to do that. “It shows a potential employer that this individual has taken up a responsibility, made a commitment and followed up. For a 16-year-old who has no real job experience, this can be a very big deal.”

Lupica says the entry levels jobs don’t require camp experience. Something like extensive babysitting will provide a good base. One kid even created a playgroup in her neighborhood. “These things tell us that the teenager knows how to deal with kids. Working with kids isn’t for everybody. We don’t want them to get into a job and then realize they don’t really enjoy being with children. We ask them did they go to camp? Do they know what kinds of activities are offered? Being a summer camp counselor is a great way for a young employee to stand out. It’s very difficult breaking into the employment scene, that catch-22, how do you get that first job experience? This is a great way to do it.”

Counselors also attend preseason training and orientation. Senior counselors must already have or receive Red Cross first aid and CPR certification. “We provide the program,” says Lupica. “They have to show up and pass. We’re going above what the state requires, which is one person on staff being certified. We feel it’s far safer and wiser to have as many people as possible certified.”

Lupica says the highest level of competition for summer camp counselor positions is keenest among teenagers since most of them can’t drive and need to look close to home for employment. While there are part-time, year-round jobs available, they cut into homework time and sports and seasonal opportunities are scarce. While many teenagers go to summer schools and travel programs, they can be very expensive, and the majority of young people need or want to make money.

“They see it as a great job. They can be outdoors, use their creativity, and put their own fingerprint on the program.” Lupica says the hiring process has already begun with college student’s home over the winter break. She recommends that anyone looking for a counselor position start early. “Take a look at the local camp guides published by newspapers. You don’t even have to wait for the current year to come out. Look up back issues libraries carry. Camp catalogs are designed for parents but they’re a great job hunting tool and they’ll tell you the date range you’ll need to be available and what kinds of activities they offer.”

“They should look at themselves and the experience they’re presenting. If they feel they need to strengthen that experience base there are volunteer opportunities available throughout the year so explore those as soon as possible. Having it on their application makes them a stronger candidate and we’ll take a closer look.”

2005 Camp and Kids Expo, Sunday, February 13, Westin at Forrestal Village 609-497-4480. Sponsored by Princeton Healthcare System Community Education and Outreach. 11 a.m. Free.

Mercer College Summer Camps Open House, Sunday, February 13, 1200 Old Trenton Road. 609-586-9446. Noon to 3 p.m.