CIT stands for counselor in training and is typically a program for high school students to volunteer within your camp program. If the program is set up properly, it will provide students on the job training to assist your paid counselors in hopes they become counselors down the road.
A CIT program can not only help current staffing needs by having extra hands on deck, it’s also a feeder program to provide a pipeline of quality paid counselors who will already have training and experience. Here are some guidelines to start your CIT program.
Plan and Outline Your Proposed Program
When starting, put together the outline and materials that will guide your program. Like your staffing plan, you want to have a plan to recruit, train, manage and retain your CIT’s. Here are some things to include in your program outline:
- A volunteer job description. Set clear expectations for your CITs and treat them like staff.
- Outline program benefits that you can market to potential CITs.
- Create marketing material for recruiting CITs. You want to market your program as on-the-job training that could lead to employment. Make sure your potential CITs see the value of joining and don’t think of it as just working for free.
- Create a timeline on how you envision the volunteers come through your program. This would be from the time they are recruited to when they complete the program. You want to make sure you are prepared for the commitment it takes to manage your program.
- Have an application for students to fill out and apply.
Partner with Local High Schools
The best thing you can do to get your CIT program started is to partner with all your local high schools. Get the principal and guidance counselor on board with the value your program will bring their students so they can help you promote it and recruit.
Many high school programs and clubs will also have mandatory volunteer hour requirements. If students know they can get their required hours in your CIT program, it provides a fun way to do so and will gain attention. Partnering with schools is key in making sure students get this information.
Set Clear Expectations
When your CIT program starts to gain traction, it’s important to set expectations before they officially join. If you fail to set expectations prior to getting started, you may see students start to drop out, which is the last thing you want. Here are a few things you can do to make sure they know what there’re committing to.
- Have time commitments and availability as part of your application process. It’s ideal to find students who can commit for the entire program, but chances are they will tell you which weeks of camp they can work. Schedule them accordingly. If they cannot work the entire program, you can set minimum requirements.
- Do an orientation with their parents in attendance. This should be the only time you want their parents involved, but it’s a good idea to make sure they know what is required as well. If something does come up, they are the ones who will hold the student accountable. After orientation, there is no need to have their parents involved once they join the program.
- Review the counselor handbook with them. You will treat them the same as staff within your CIT program so go over some main points in your handbook and make sure they are aware of what they can and cannot do as part of your program prior to joining.
Training and Development
The most important part of your CIT program is the training and development of your volunteers preparing to be future staff. Having untrained volunteers in the field can become as much of a liability as having untrained staff, so you want to put forth the effort needed to prepare them. Here are some guidelines for training your CITs:
- Put them through the same training program with your paid staff.
- Add training with just the CITs to get them acclimated to your program and review expectations before you get them started.
- Use ice breakers and teambuilding to get them out of their shell and working together.
- Train your counselors on how to get the most out of the CITs they work with and what tasks are appropriate to take on. If your counselors are not utilizing the skills of the CIT they are working with, you may end up with a disconnected volunteer who is more likely to drop out.
Managing Your CITs
Once camp starts, you will begin to manage your CITs the same way as your staff and treat them as assistant camp counselors. Here are some guidelines to manage your CITs:
- Be as flexible as you can with scheduling and only schedule them based on their availability that meets your minimum requirements. Schedule out the entire camp and once they receive and confirm their schedule, make them responsible for filling a shift if something comes up.
- Make sure your CITs are given some responsibilities within their groups. They shouldn’t just do all the dirty work or things their counselors don’t want to do. Give them the opportunity to coordinate activities and other camp things just as counselors would.
- Don’t leave your CITs in charge of groups on their own. They should be paired with paid staff to assist them where needed.
- Keep parents informed if disciplinary action is needed or if the student is not meeting expectations. The last thing you want is a CIT who has to be supervised like a camper. If that’s the case and improvement is not made, remove them.
- Give recognition after they complete the program. Make sure to keep in touch with those who advance to a paid staff member and have a way to facilitate that transition. Those not ready can continue in the CIT program until they can become a staff member.
Planning, creating partnerships, training and managing your CIT program can provide your camp with a consistent flow of quality staffing resources. Combat any shortfalls you may have with staffing with a well-run and organized CIT program that will take your camp to the next level.