Get Involved - An Interview with Jalisa Danhof

The Summer Camp Society Interviews. This interview is the third of a series from Sarah and Jack interviewing change making camp professionals and sharing their advice because great leaders make great camps

Jalisa Danof


Jalisa is the Assistant Director at Camp Newaygo. She has served as the National Emerging Professionals In Camping Chair since 2011, where she helps foster the next generation of camping leaders. She regularly presents at National and Regional ACA conferences and was the recipient of the 2017 Jack Weiner Leadership Award.

How did you get started in camping?

My story is a little different that everyone else’s because it seems like most people kind of fall into camping.  For me, I decided to be a camp director when I was 9 years old.  I won a trip to summer camp from a speech contest, and in the first week I decided that this is where I was going to spend the rest of my life.  In my 5th grade yearbook - I wrote that my future profession would be “Camp Director”

I grew up in Florida 4-H camping and worked on staff for 5 years (until they lovingly forced me to go work at other camps).  I got a degree in Recreation and Leisure Services Administration with an emphasis on Camp Administration  from Florida State University. Three months after graduating I landed a full time job in camping.  The relief has been that this job  is exactly what I expected it to be!!  I was very prepared for this life.

What is something about you that makes you good at your job?

Jalisa at the Camp Waterfront
Jalisa at the Camp Waterfront

I think I’m a very charismatic person--I’m someone that other people want to be around.  I think that being an inherently really fun, social, engaging person is not only helpful with kids, staff and campers...if you’re someone people want to be around because you’re a positive, happy person, it’s going to draw people toward you who want to volunteer with you, work with you, and more.

I’m also a very humble person.  (Not at all.)

What is something that was really tough for you at the beginning?

I moved to Michigan where I didn’t know anyone in the entire state!  My nearest family is in Texas!  I never even visited before recreationally.  I had no resources socially here and my camp is in a pretty small town.  Putting in roots and making friends when there’s not a lot of young people in the town was hard to do.  I started in the summer and worked with a ton of awesome people, but then they left in August--so I had to learn to live in a town and state where I was completely new.

I joined a lot of clubs, volunteered to teach volleyball at a local school, tried out different churches, tried to do a lot of volunteer projects...I really went out of my way to leave camp to meet people instead of just becoming a hermit.

What is something you are working on getting better at right now?

Right now I’m learning a lot about construction--specifically, shiplap, infrastructure, rules for retention walls, and the process of getting permits from the fire marshal.  That’s a huge piece of what I’m learning because we are in a big construction phase of our capital campaign. We are renovating a 1940s building right now and starting some new construction in the fall.  

I think when you really love camp and you see it as your baby, it’s just like your kids, anything your kids do is amazing and you’re so interested!  I see that as my camp!  In my eyes, it will be the best bldg ever because of that and I am so interested in the process!

Jalisa as Director at Camp Newaygo
Jalisa as Director at Camp Newaygo

Why did you decide to make camping your profession, and what keeps you going?

I think it’s one of the rare places where your impact is very observable. You can see the difference you’re making in kids lives.  You see it in the confidence they gain year after year, and I think being able to see the impact I make is fantastic.  

Just like camp has been from the beginning for me, the thing that keeps me coming back is the relationships.  And now as a camp director, it’s the relationships you make with the families at your camp and the other camping professionals in your network.  Both the impact and relationships keep me working the long crazy hours without complaint.

What is your advice for someone who is a new camp pro?

One of the hardest pieces is to break into the industry--where do you find a job?  I think you have to be willing to relocate, even if it’s across the country.  

I also hear a lot about problems at people’s camps where their bosses don’t get it or there are problems in general--you need to be able to have an open and honest conversations with your supervisors.  You also need to try to change issues from within before you go look for another opportunity because all camps have issues.  The point of this industry is to make a rising tide that is going to rise all boats.  Try to become passionate about your camp and make it your own.

Unfortunately, a lot of young camping professionals are leaving the industry for a myriad of reasons--it’s too much of a time commitment, they decide to go into another profession that doesn’t have as much of a commitment on their social life, etc.--my thought has been to bring my life into camp--just live one life!  I try to get all of my friends involved in volunteering at camp, get my family to be a piece of this, and have them move family events so they’re not in the summer.  Instead of being at odds with your worlds, find a way to connect the two!