Person of the Week
KOA Work Kamper
You don’t realize that less is more until you live that life. I love it. My very best day was probably when I was doing activities and I realized that I could see the joy on everyone else’s face. I am working and they are on vacation. I’m working, but the joy on their face and mine are equal.
1. What led you to the mission of being a KOA Work Kamper?
I am a KOA Work Kamper. Right now I work in the office. In the off-season I do activities with the kids. I do housekeeping. I do activities. I do café. I’m in the store. I do maintenance. My husband is in maintenance. We are whatever KOA wants us to be.
My husband was a fire fighter for twenty-four years. I was a registered nurse. Our youngest son graduated from high school. We lived on a farm. We decided, “Let’s do something different. Let’s do something exciting.” Our friends had been Work Kampers for about two years. They came up to visit. They were telling us all about it. I thought, “I want to do this.”
One day we decided, “OK. Let’s sell everything.” We did. We sold everything. We bought a camper. We told all the kids, “I love you, but it’s time for Mom and Dad.” We just did it. We signed up to be Work Kampers and we fell in love with it.
Our first job was in Sugar Loaf Key down in Key West. It was bucket list time. I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I had never been out on the ocean. My husband had. Of course growing up in New York, he had experienced this ocean life stuff. I had never because I grew up in the mountains. I got to experience everything down there and at the same time being a KOA Work Kamper I got to be with people.
I love people. I love being around people. You get to interact with them. You get to have fun with them. You get to know them. You start to get to be family with these people down there. It was wonderful. I don’t even know how to describe the experience. The people I met down in Key West are now family. I talk to them frequently. I’m on the phone with five different families that I chat with at least once a month — most of them once a week.
We had our seventh grandchild on the way and we decided, “OK. It’s time to come home.” So we applied to work at the Cherokee KOA, North Carolina and got the job up here. Now we are within two to three and a half hours – at the max a six hour drive from all of our children. We do have some children in New York, but the majority of our children are within close proximity. (Click here to learn more about KOA — Campgrounds of America.)
2. What does this mission mean to you?
Freedom. Happiness. I am happier now having less than I ever was having more. When we downsized I kind of freaked out a little bit thinking, “OK. The horses are gone. The dogs are gone. The house is gone.” We still do have a small house on the coast that our son and daughter in law live in. But I breathe easier because everything I have I take with me. You don’t realize that less is more until you live that life. I love it.
3. What was your best day being a KOA Work Kamper?
My very best day – there are so many. My very best day was probably when I was doing activities and I realized that I could see the joy on everyone else’s face. I am working and they are on vacation. I’m working, but the joy on their face and mine are equal. I see the joy that I bring to the people just by putting a smile on their face. They see that little sparkle in your eye because you are so happy with your job and that makes them happy. I think every day is like that for me. It is so hard to pick a day because if you put that smile on, you just make it fun for somebody else.
It’s like with nursing. Someone will come in sick. Someone will be having a rotten day. But you can turn it around with joy. Someone might walk in and have had a miserable trip. There was a lady who had a day like that. She said, “I’ve been in that car for eight hours with three kids.” You could see it on her face. She said, “I’d like to check in.” I was like, “I’m so glad that you are here.” She looked at me like, “What?” I said, “I’m so glad that you made it safely.” Then things started to change. I said, “I bet you are ready to relax. Let me get you all checked in so you can get settled in and everything. You look like you could just sit back and relax for a minute.”
By the time it was over with, she was laughing with me. She said, “I’m so glad that I am here.” It is doing little things like that to make somebody happy, that makes me happy. I can be exhausted and be screaming in my head, “OK, I’m exhausted. I’m ready to go home and take a nap.” But making somebody else happy fills me with joy.
4. What was your worst day being a KOA Work Kamper?
My worst day was when there was an accident on jet skis. Fortunately being a trauma nurse, was helpful. There were some people who were taking the jet skis too far and went into the mangroves. A mangrove went into a man’s arm. The EMS guys came there and almost pulled the mangrove part out of the man’s arm. There is a major brachial artery there. Had he pulled out that branch, the guy would have died. I refused to let him do it and he was angry with me.
There were people yelling. There were people arguing. I had to take that moment and try to calm people down. It was a difficult situation. I had to deal with it. I had to stabilize him while diffusing angry people. In situations like that, you remain calm and talk to people with respect. That’s how I approached all of them. I did it with kindness instead of saying, “Well, I know more than you.” You don’t approach people in that way.
The injured person’s wife was there. She shouted, “You’re just a camp worker. You don’t know what you are doing.” I explained, “Mam. I was a trauma nurse for years. I have seen worse than this.” She was surprised. At the end of the whole scenario, I got everyone calm and backed off. I did the incident report. That was my worst day.
They ended up life-flighting the people out. There was another girl that had a head injury and a broken jaw. I think she also had her spleen injured. Within three days they were all back. The girl had her jaw wired shut. The family was back together within three days. The guy survived and came back the next year.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
The lesson that I took with that was to treat everyone with respect. Don’t overreact. Don’t ever treat anyone with disrespect in a traumatic situation. Don’t ever explode. Remain calm. If you remain calm, you will find out that everyone else around you will remain calm. You start seeing that calm spread throughout the crowd. It goes well.
I’ve been resilient my whole life. I’m very blessed. You take everything a day at a time. You take every situation in that moment. If you take it by the moment, then once that moment is gone — it is gone.
When someone says something or does something that hurts you, you can forget it and just go on. Then you have no baggage to carry. You have a great life. When you start building on that baggage and you don’t let it go, then you can’t move on.
It’s just about water off a duck’s back. You let that moment go. That moment is gone so you just go on the next thing. You smile through it and you push forward. There are days that you really don’t want to get out of bed, but you get out of bed. It is a different day, “Let’s see what is going to happen because it might be really cool.” Going forward is pretty awesome.
6. What advice do you have for someone who would like to be a KOA Work Kamper?
I would tell them to look at what they want. Do they want to travel? We have a lot of people who are retired. They don’t like the cold and they don’t like the heat. They will come to the Cherokee KOA and work every summer or they will pick West Virginia in the summer. Then they go to Florida in the winter. They go back and forth every year. It works great for them.
It is a requirement that you have a motor home or a travel trailer. You just have to be able to be mobile. You have to decide what you want to do. Do you want to travel the United States? Some people will only go to one KOA once. They then want to go to some place new. What do you want to do? Is that what you want to do? Do you want to just work summers and not work the winters and then go home? People will just do that. You have so many different options with KOA. It is amazing what you can do.
I would suggest starting out going to https://www.workatkoa.com. It is thirty seven dollars for the year. You can look at every job opening in the United States. You can pick where you want to go. You put in your application and the managers will call you and interview you. They will see if you are a good fit. They train you completely on everything. They fit your personality to the things that you will do.
For younger people, I say, “Go for it. Why not travel? You are young.” If you can afford to get yourself a camper that is better than a popup or a tent, you can work and travel while you are young. Someone might be leery about going to college right away. Had I known about KOA then, I would have done it as a young person. I would have had my kids do it. It’s an awesome life.