Bay Cliff hoping to hire more students for summer camp positions


Photo courtesy of Seth Rowles

Zeke Oswald and a Bay Cliff camper wear cowboy hats to a Western themed dance at Bay Cliff Health Camp. The camp provides opportunities for disabled kids in the U.P. to have positive and therapeutic summer experiences.

Katarina Rothhorn, Features Editor

Seth Rowles’ favorite part of his childhood UP All Star experience only lasted for a few hours, but it made a lasting impact on the trajectory of his life. As a part of his UP All Star title, Rowles, along with other All Star kids, visited Northern Michigan University for a week and stopped at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay and had dinner with the campers. 

That night inspired Rowles to apply for a counselor position at Bay Cliff the summer after his freshman year of college and he returned for the next three years. 

“I definitely oversold my caregiver experience on the application,” Rowles said. “But still just being with the kids and those small moments in between all the stress compelled me enough to come back the next summer. And as I kind of moved on in my career, which really shifted towards doing mental health therapy for children, I kept coming back.”

Rowles is now the camp director at Bay Cliff Health Camp and is hoping to reopen the camp’s doors after two years of online programming due to COVID-19.

In a typical pre-COVID summer, returning counselors make up about 20% of the Bay Cliff staff and many of them tend to be NMU students. The friends, family, and co-workers of these returning counselors make up a sizable percentage of new counselors who join the Bay Cliff team.

“What we found when we really dig into how people hear about us to apply, it’s a lot of staff recommendations,” Rowles said. “Former staff recommendations or people who are involved with a club being like, ‘hey, this would be a great experience for you.’”

Unfortunately, due to online camp sessions for the past two summers, the returning counselors and staff recommendation pipeline has gotten significantly smaller.

“Because we haven’t had [camp] for so long, we kind of lost that momentum,” Rowles said.

Zeke Oswald, a December 2021 NMU graduate, was one of the counselors who fell in love with Bay Cliff after being convinced to be a counselor by a family member.

“My cousin Steve and actually a bunch of my friends from college had went there beforehand,” Oswald said. “There was a certain point where my cousin Steve kind of cornered me and was like ‘hey, you should really work here. It’d be great for you and it’s good experience.’”

Bay Cliff Health Camp is a great experience for both the staff and children who attend, but it is not your typical summer camp. Besides the expected summer camp activities such as arts and crafts, swimming and scavenger hunts, the campers also attend daily therapy sessions and have various goals they are encouraged to work on throughout the seven week camp. 

Bay Cliff is a therapeutic camp for children with disabilities ranging from ages three to 17. They offer a wide variety of therapy services including speech, occupational and physical therapy to kids in a fun environment.

“Definitely the therapy is what makes us very unique and there is nowhere like us that does a camp for children with disabilities that’s overnight for this long,” Rowles said. “That gives them time to really work on therapy goals and move forward.”

For Oswald, being able to see his three campers make progress with their therapy goals and come out of their shells was one of his favorite aspects of being a counselor at Bay Cliff.

“They would come back to the unit after therapy with stuff that they’d have to do, and as a counselor, you help them out with their therapy goals,” Oswald said. “I think that’s really what camp is all about. Helping them become more independent and really helping towards that goal I think is one of the best parts of being a counselor.”

The camp also provides a space for kids to meet others like them and find close friends. 

“I just see the kids get to just be themselves as opposed to having everyone look at them and just think ‘oh, that’s my classmates with cerebral palsy,’” Rowles said. “They get to kind of develop their identity and be around other kids that look like them and have similar experiences which is really what I think the kids enjoy the most. We’ll have kids who their best friends are at camp, even though they only see them for seven weeks out of the year.”

This social aspect of Bay Cliff was difficult to replicate during the online sessions of camp, which is one of the reasons Rowles is looking forward to having camp in person this summer. However, this comes with a few challenges. 

“Our first consideration is making sure whatever we do, we can do it safely. But we’re really really excited to get back at it and hoping that we can replenish our staffing pipeline,” Rowles said. “I think there’s no question that we will have plenty of kids that will be very interested … I think it’s just really important that we acknowledge that staffing is going to be a challenge for us. And if we can’t get a staffing ratio that is safe, we have to start telling kids they can’t come, which is our nightmare because we want everyone to utilize our services.” 

Oswald is unable to continue being a counselor this summer as he will be starting medical school in August, but he will take his experiences at Bay Cliff with him.

“It’s definitely one of those experiences that I could go back on and talk a lot about,” Oswald said. “It’s been really meaningful to me. I think it’s really important as somebody that’s going the pre-med route to get that service experience and get that experience of caring for others.”

Students planning on going into pre-med, nursing, social work, speech, language, and hearing science fields and more will benefit from working at Bay Cliff, according to Rowles. The counselor position includes housing, meals and a salary for eight weeks along with amazing experiences. 

Students interested in applying for a counselor position at Bay Cliff Health Camp can fill out an application at their website or contact Rowles at [email protected].

Despite the nearly two-month time commitment and unknowns going into camp, Oswald still recalls positive memories from his time at Bay Cliff. 

“I was really unsure at the time and even the day that I went to camp, I was super nervous about it,” Oswald said. “But everyone at camp is super inclusive and super friendly and you’re all there for the same purpose. I just decided off a whim hearing from other people and I ended up really enjoying it, it was really good for me.”