My husband and I have come to the end of our six-year run as work campers (volunteers) at a regional park in Arizona. I have learned more than I thought possible. It has been wonderful, though sometimes trying and definitely hot. It’s been stinky and dirty at times, but I have learned a whole lot during our time as work campers.
It is not as much about learning new skills, although I can now get a toilet sparkling clean in under three minutes. It has been about perseverance, diligence, acceptance and a lot about human beings. Work camping has taught me a lot.
The truth about park hosts
We were hired as Park Hosts. Sounds great, right? Showing people around, selling firewood, telling campers what site they are in, walking the trails. Not quite. At 6 a.m. on training day, I was handed a toilet brush and a bucket. Turns out there are 10 bathrooms, 52 toilets, 10 major Ramadas, too many picnic tables to count, 123 grills, 83 huge 55-gallon garbage barrels, and trash to pick up for miles. I will admit that day one had me in tears and my husband asking if we had to sneak out in the middle of the night. I told him no, but I wasn’t touching a toilet!
Work camper job: Eliminated!
A year later (or maybe two) I started doing my fair share. It got better, I didn’t gag anymore and I learned to change gloves in seconds. We had a great schedule. We worked four hard days in a row and then had eight off to rest and/or travel. But now our job has been eliminated. The county parks have decided to hire full-time employees to clean. Seems they couldn’t get enough volunteers. Imagine that!
Whether it was fate, coincidence, or divine intervention, the timing is perfect. We have inherited my dad’s house about 20 miles from the park. We debated splitting our time between our two “houses,” but we ultimately decided that wasn’t what we wanted to do right now.
Reflecting during these last four workdays (yes, I am counting), being a work camper has taught me a lot, a lot more than I ever thought I would learn.
Being a work camper taught me a lot
There are a lot of life lessons in cleaning toilets! Here are a few things I’ve learned as a work camper over the years:
- People are really grateful for what we do.
- Working with a spouse requires you to give and take. We went from spending little time together to full-time RVing and working together all at once. Beyond needing patience and compromise, it required us to establish boundaries. In the end, we each took our own jobs and did not comment on the quality or lack thereof to the other person. We practiced that valuable marriage technique of keeping our mouths shut unless there was a fire, an upcoming preventable accident, or I was going to drive the county truck off the narrow trail again.
- Somebody has to do it! Behind so many faceless and sometimes disgusting jobs, there is a real person doing it. I say “thank you” more often now. I have more gratitude.
- Doing a good job is doing a good job. I did my best in my past corporate office job and doing my best still matters to me. It doesn’t matter what the task is in front of you.
- Don’t do it! Splashing water on a mirror, leaving toilet paper on the floor, or tossing a water bottle cap on the ground affects another person. Just please don’t do it.
- Give people the tools. Hand out an extra trash bag or two and people will pick up after their party themselves. Is that similar to the proverb, “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?
- We are all connected. Our job is important, and not just because we’re cleaning the restrooms. Picking up the cans, twist ties, caps, water bottles and litter tossed intentionally or unintentionally is of value. We are interconnected with the other park hosts that keep everything running—the Nature Center, the entrance booth, the campgrounds, trails and maintenance. In life, too, we are more connected than we can even imagine.
- Some people are just disrespectful—don’t buy into it! While the vast majority of people we encounter are well-meaning, there are some that don’t care or who want to act out. That is their issue, not mine. Don’t buy into it. Their anger doesn’t have to be my anger.
- Teaching kids is important. We can always tell what parents are teaching their children. Some kids trash the playground and others are taught to pick up after themselves.
- There is a season for everything. We are entering a new phase of our RVing life. Our work camper season has ended and a new one begins. One door closes and another opens.