Hickory Knolls Camp Counselor Leads from Experience
Tyson Jenkins’ time at Hickory Knolls has come full circle.
As a child he was a curious camper, realizing at an early age that his love for nature extended beyond camp hours. As he got older he moved into a counselor-in-training role, then camp counselor aide and this summer for the first time, he is lead camp counselor for the Jr. Naturalist program, mentoring counselors-in-training as they assist younger children in the Pathfinder camp series.
“It feels really special to be leading junior naturalists, since I was one of those kids; it was a really cool experience,” said Jenkins, 19. “I was always fascinated with nature, always loving to explore. Every summer I was outside learning more. It just never stopped.”
And it still continues, as the recent Elgin Community College graduate will pursue a degree in biology at Roosevelt University in the fall, a change from his original plan to pursue engineering.
“Working at Hickory Knolls is 100 percent why I changed my major and career path; I love working here, and I kept thinking about what I love to do and why I love to do it and that led me to a major in biology,” Jenkins said. In addition to summer counseling positions, he has worked part-time as a nature program facilitator, designing and leading programs for guests, answering and researching questions and handling reptiles, among other responsibilities.
“Everyone has a love for nature inside them, but as you get older, that wonder is sometimes pushed aside for other interests and the willingness to learn is more buried. But that didn’t happen with Tyson,” said Pam Otto, Manager of Nature Programs and Interpretive Services.
“Every summer Tyson was in camp, and he quickly became knowledgeable on a lot of topics,” she added. “You could tell he really wanted to be there.”
Overall, Jenkins said he wants to instill upon the kids in the Junior Naturalist program (for grades 5-10) what he learned in that same role.
“I want them to further their knowledge about nature and also, to help them develop their leadership skills,” Jenkins said. “I want them to be comfortable with leading groups and setting up activities for children – general skills they will need in school, clubs and volunteer opportunities.”
But most of all, Jenkins said, he wants his mentees and Pathfinder campers to have fun. “The point of nature camp is to have fun outside.”
And fun is exactly what he had in mind when he designed some of the Pathfinder camps including Nature Ninja Warriors, Magical Beasts and Dino Diggers. He drew on his first-hand experience to map out activities, knowing what keeps kids engaged, curious and having a blast.
“I know younger kids will look up to Tyson as a role model and want to be like him some day,” Otto added.
For more information about the Jr. Naturalist program or Pathfinder camps, call Hickory Knolls at 630-513-4399 or visit www.stcpark.org.