Dunwoody Nature Center Junior Counselor Kacie Lowrey, center, and campers Smith Ellis, left, and Christian Chaves, right, show off results from their shaving cream experiment.
Dunwoody Nature Center Junior Counselor Kacie Lowrey, center, and campers Smith Ellis, left, and Christian Chaves, right, show off results from their shaving cream experiment.

Katie Buckis, 18, knows that real work doesn’t always involve a paycheck.

As a junior counselor over the past few summers at the Dunwoody Nature Center, the Marist senior has assisted the camp’s teachers in the classroom by passing out crayons, helping kids with indoor and outdoor activities, and cleaning up after the camp day ends – including bathrooms.

Her experience has helped her narrow down her career choices: She is considering becoming a high school teacher.

“I just want to work with kids,” said Buckis, who hopes to do an internship at the nature center this summer, and has University of Georgia at the top of her list of possible colleges. “It’s a good way to keep yourself young. Kids are so interesting.”

As the end of the school year and the beginning of summer inch closer, teens throughout metro Atlanta are nailing down their job options.

Whether it’s paid work, volunteerism or unpaid internships, young workers get a glimpse of the many facets of an eight-hour work day, including cooperating with others and problem solving.

“It’s a great experience for the teen to get used to being responsible, for getting ready for camp, for being accountable,” said Dunwoody Nature Center Executive Director Alan Mothner.

Paid teen summer jobs often boil down to camp counseling positions as well as minimum wage jobs in the retail, restaurant and recreation industries. Teens also take advantage of company internships relating to their career interests.

The latest national information on employment and unemployment among youth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is from last year, and shows that from April to July 2014, the number of employed youth 16 to 24 years old was 20.1 million, up by 2.1 million.
Last July, 51.9 percent of young people in the 16-24 year old age group were employed, an increase from 50.7 percent from the year before.

The number of unemployed youth reached 3.4 million in July 2014, down from 3.8 million a year earlier. July is considered the summertime peak for youth employment, according to the BLS.

The city of Sandy Springs hires teenagers as youth counselors, typically ranging from age 16-18 years old for its summer camps.
The city will hire, at $8 an hour, about six youth counselors. Three are returning from last summer. The camps especially need teens with skill sets in theater, art and gymnastics.

The summer positions help teens “really get the big picture about things and how it’s going to be in the Springs’ manager of recreation and athletics.

The city also brings on volunteers for its special needs camp, Strycula said.

Josh Teal, a graduating senior at North Springs High School, worked his first job as a counselor for the Sandy Springs camps last summer, and will resume his role in a few weeks.

Teal’s earnings helped him buy a 2000 Pathfinder. He also learned a lot about working with children, something that could come in handy in his future career. Teal plans to major in technical theater at Columbus State University.

“I really learned a lot by interacting with [the children] and trying to figure out what they liked and what they didn’t,” Teal said.

Buckis started working at the Dunwoody Nature Center the summer after eighth grade, getting involved through the National Charity League.

“It’s a lot of fun to work hands-on with the kids, to get to talk with them and joke around with them,” Buckis said. “I’m really an outdoorsy person, and you’re always outside, unless there’s a thunderstorm.”

At metro Atlanta YMCAs, such as the ones in Dunwoody and Buckhead, 50 to 150 staff members are hired for summer work, said Nicky Rosenbluth, executive director of talent and leadership development at Metro Atlanta YMCA.

Several YMCAs are still adding to their aquatics staff. In fact, the biggest Y opportunities for 16 year olds are in the aquatics program, Rosenbluth said. The Y offers a unique opportunity for people meeting the aquatics staff qualifications to earn certification as a lifeguard or swim instructor. Applicants for aquatics positions should email: careers@ymcaatlanta.org.

Year-round, there are also front desk opportunities teens can look into. There are training programs for 13 to 15 year olds — called leaders in training or counselors in training, depending on the Y — whose volunteer work helps them develop leadership skills.

The YMCAs’ camp counselor search begins around November, hiring takes place in February and March, and training goes on in April and May.

Pay ranges from minimum wage up to about $15 an hour, depending on the employee’s qualifications.

“We try to instill in our teens that you’re not only in a job, you have an opportunity at a career,” Rosenbluth said, “even if it’s a career just through college or a career to come back to.”

–By Leslie Williams Johnson