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Teaching leadership is Karyn Santl's passion

Extension educator
Karyn Santl
For a non-camper, Karyn Santl sure has made a big impact on 4-H camps. For the past 20 years, she has been working with camp counselor training at 4-H camps across Minnesota.

Camp counselor training has far-reaching effects. The teenagers who take the training learn leadership skills they'll use throughout their lives. "They're learning how to work with others, how to lead - lead a song, lead a game, teach content, deal with behaviors, group dynamics," Karyn said. "Things don't always go as planned, so they learn how to think on the spot and deal with adversity, even when they haven't had much sleep."

And it's not only the teenage counselors who benefit. Good quality training for counselors also affects the many younger youth who come to 4-H camps. Last year, nearly 4,000 Minnesota youth participated in 4-H camps. "It's always exciting when I hear from alumni about how much they related to their camp counselors," Karyn said. "They're role models and campers look up to them."

4-H teen counselor playing a team building
game with a young camper
Camp counselors receive thorough training in preparation for hosting younger youth at day and overnight camps. That training starts weeks or months before camp begins. For Karyn herself, camp counselor training is a year-round endeavor. Making high-quality training accessible to more 4-H counselors is a mission for her. She and a team of other youth workers have just developed an online camp counselor training that is in the testing and evaluation phase. It includes 20 videos on topics like 4-H 101, teaching, risk management and logistics, and homesickness. She hopes eventually to develop a full-blown online course for camp counselor training.

This thorough approach to training is related to Karyn's other professional area of expertise: program quality. "Part of that training is to help youth learn how a high-quality program looks and feels," Karyn said. "They transfer that knowledge from camping to other parts of their lives."

4-H camp counselors geared up for
super hero day
Why is Karyn so passionate about training young people to work in an environment that is not her personal favorite? It's because she has a passion for developing leadership skills in youth. "It’s one of the reasons I do what I do. I’m not a camper but I see youth growing skills and impacting younger youth through camps. Seeing the kids grow as leaders is my passion."

She believes that this goes to the heart of what 4-H does. "Camp is an authentic experience for leading. The counselors are actually in charge, using their leadership skills. It's hands-on, and that's what we're all about," she said.




by Ann Nordby
Center for Youth Development
University of Minnesota Extension


4-H camps, including day and overnight options are available throughout Minnesota.

There are many ways teens can build leadership skills through 4-H. Discover more about 4-H Citizenship & Leadership opportunities in your community.