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Camp counsellor and youth campers in a canoe on the water
Marika Heilker started out as a youth camper at YMCA Camp Elphinstone. Now, the 19-year-old is preparing to return to the Sunshine Coast facility as a counsellor for the second time in 2022.

When Marika Heilker thinks back on her early experiences at YMCA Camp Elphinstone, she’s mindful of how the young adults serving as camp counsellors made a lasting impression – one that she still feels to this day.  

“I wanted to be them. I just thought they were really fun and cool and I really liked how they were all just themselves,” said Heilker, who was a preteen the first time she arrived at YMCA Camp Elphinstone. “They were all super-unique people and had such great friendships between them. To the kids, it looked like they really loved what they were doing.” 

Things have now come full circle for Heilker, 19, who will return to YMCA Camp Elphinstone this summer as a counsellor and surely be a role model to youth campers in the same way staff members once inspired her. When she arrives on the Sunshine Coast for the season, she’ll be joining an enthusiastic team that still has positions available for the summer ahead. The camp is seeking energetic individuals to serve as counsellors, senior staff, program instructors and kitchen/facilities staff.

A biology student at the University of Victoria, Heilker has followed the path from camper to counsellor at Elphinstone and been delighted by every step along the way.  

“I didn’t want to stop going there, so the next step was to become a counsellor,” she said. Encouraged by the camp staff she looked up to, Heilker completed the multi-week Leadership Development programs at YMCA Camp Elphinstone before moving into a volunteer counsellor position in 2019. Although she’s taken on new challenges and increased responsibilities each year, she’s found herself enjoying her time at camp more and more, too.  

“Being a camp counsellor is even more fun than being a camper because you get to be there for such a long time,” she laughed. “You form great connections with the kids but you’re also making a ton of friends among the staff, which is nice.” 

Being part of that tight-knit, supportive team with so many common interests and shared values is another reason why Heilker has been drawn back year after year.  

“I just love the community and the vibe,” she said. “It’s the one place where I can be myself and feel who I am the most when I’m there, because the community just really lets you be like that. 

“We all like being outside, everyone loves kids – which isn’t always a common thing for people around my age – and is super enthusiastic to participate in all of the songs and activities that might make some people say, ‘I’m too cool for that.’ Everyone enjoys doing those fun things, and they don’t try to be somebody else.” 

Accommodations and meals are included for all overnight camp workers, with paid positions offering competitive wages. But having gone through the experience of being both a camper and a counsellor, the chance to have a positive influence on young people is yet another reward that Heilker loves about Camp Elphinstone. She recalls the smiles on faces of children she helped learn to sail, or the excitement level of a girl who overcame a fear of heights on the climbing wall. 

“It’s a great place to work and I’m so excited it’s back,” she said. “Would you rather be working inside at a grocery store or waiting tables? I don’t think it really compares to being outside and playing games all day.  

“I mean, you’re getting paid to play capture the flag. Like, come on – it can’t really get much better!  

If this sounds like the ideal way to spend your summer, too, click here to access the 2022 YMCA Camp Elphinstone Employment Opportunities handbook, learn more about the positions available and submit an application to join our team.