We’re known for having some of the most mission-minded, joyful, hard-working, determined, and innovative staff out there. Every year industry leaders, schools, education organizations and our camper families approach us and ask where we find our incredible people.
The answer is multi-faceted and includes having an inspiring mission to develop innovators who envision and create a better world, working with supportive colleagues and managers who encourage you to bring your authentic self to your work, and valuing diverse perspectives and the experiences that come from personal learnings and previous careers.
In part two of our three part Camp Director series, Matt Van Beck (Los Feliz 2017-2019, 2021), Max Filippoff (Costa Mesa 2018-2019, 2021), Gee Campbell (Long Beach 2018-2019, Los Alamitos/Long Beach 2021), and Beth Sondel (Oakland 2006-2008) share how their job interests led them to Galileo, the lessons they learned at camp, and what they’ve been empowered to do in the world as a result.
What are some jobs or experiences that you’ve held prior to working with Galileo?
[Matt] I was an aspiring spoken word poet but also rotated between two outdoor education jobs. During the school year I worked at Arrowhead Ranch Outdoor Science School where I spent the week hiking and teaching natural sciences and conservation to middle schoolers in the San Bernardino National Forest. During the summer I worked at Whale Camp in New Brunswick, Canada where I taught Marine Biology as we studied whales, sea birds, tidepools and botany of the island.
[Max] I was working as a nurse before joining Galileo and have also dabbled in theater. I’ve also been an actor for school district safety videos, so if I look familiar, it might be because you’ve seen me pretend to have an allergic reaction.
[Gee] I was a site coordinator for an after school program, and I was able to take the kids in my community on field trips to places that they’d never been before like to the beach or to climb rocks in the wilderness. We even had an ice company come to campus to make some fake snow for them to play in! I loved that I was able to craft a program that could change a student’s outlook on themselves and the world.
What drew you to Galileo?
[Matt] While I moved to Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune for my creative endeavors and spoken word poetry, I also knew that I wanted camp to be a part of my life. I value loving the work I do while also feeling like I’m making a difference in the world, and Galileo involved both of those.
[Gee] Galileo’s mission drew me in. I had planned on working at a sleep away camp but I saw this program that was starting camps in Los Angeles, and I felt like I was being called by Galileo. I was captivated by the program and its mission to help others while developing their staff, and I could tell that this would be an opportunity to grow and learn more myself.
[Max] There’s a special kind of magic that happens at Galileo when you remind kids that they matter and are powerful and that they can create wonderful things for this world. And I wanted to be part of creating that magic.
[Beth] I was a new teacher the first year that No Child Left Behind was introduced, and as much as I loved working with my students, it was challenging to tailor my instruction to standardized tests. I knew from my past experiences at summer camp and from reading that true learning and growth happens when young people have meaningful relationships with each other, their teacher, and with the content itself. I was drawn to Galileo as an opportunity to cultivate educational experiences free from academic pressures.
What kind of people join the Galileo team?
[Matt] Galileo draws people who are passionate about creating change. Galileo isn’t just an educational organization, it’s a transformative space that provides people hope by empowering them to make the world a better place.
[Gee] Galileo creates an environment where everyone feels welcomed. They meet individuals where they are but then urge them towards growth and transformation, so staff learn something new about themselves and the world around them.
[Beth] As the founding director of Camp Galileo in Oakland, I met the most incredible, creative, iridescent folks. The community we built together only further convinced me of the need for deep relationships in educational work. We were a team and a family, and that allowed people to bring their full, quirky, passionate selves. And because we brought our full selves, the campers felt empowered to take more risks and to explore the boundaries of their own interests and abilities.
What makes working at Galileo unique?
[Matt] One of the most unique things about working at Galileo is definitely the work culture. Not only is it a place where people are encouraged to be the best versions of themselves, but it does so by dismantling shame culture. At Galileo we learn to embrace our mistakes and normalize giving and receiving feedback, and also assume people’s best intentions. This creates a safe space where people feel both seen and heard for their unique perspectives.
[Gee] I’ve never worked in an environment where people were held accountable in such a positive way. At other workplaces, when a mistake was made, yes it was worked through, but there was often a reprimand and fear involved. The fun atmosphere in all areas of Galileo work and training is also super unique. The best work retreats I’ve ever been on were the fun and interactive Camp Director retreats, even when doing workshops and planning for camp.
[Beth] Working at Galileo gives people a chance to reinvigorate their teaching, reconnects them to what they love about working with young people, and discover techniques and practices to bring back into the classroom. In addition, becoming a Camp Director was an opportunity to develop my leadership and management skills and to explore whether or not I wanted to enter into school leadership.
[Max] I’m not sure if there’s another job where you can get a pie in the face as part of a regular work week. Maybe clown college?
What are things you’ve gained from working at Galileo that you bring into your personal and professional life now?
[Gee] It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s just for now, not forever.
[Matt] On a professional level, I learned the art of flexibility and on the spot problem-solving. No two camp days are ever the same, and it’s important to be able to adapt to whatever needs each day calls for. On a personal level, camp built my confidence. It gave me a safe space to lean into my unique talents, and it reminded me to celebrate and embrace all the things that make me uniquely me and to not let fear hold me back. We often let our insecurities get the best of us, and having such compassionate and encouraging coworkers and friends truly helped me see the value of my shine. The way I’ve learned to embrace my vulnerabilities and find validation through that process has truly been life changing.
[Max] Galileo taught me the value of a heterogeneous group. I’ve always been a fan of collaborating and talking ideas out, but the end result is so much better when the other minds at work have different pasts, perspectives, and philosophies. Galileo also supported my nursing career. Though I picked up plenty of clinical skills and knowledge at school, it was the GIA (Galileo Innovator’s Approach) that supercharged my practice. My work at Galileo helped me to develop and implement new COVID screening, testing, and prevention protocols at a local health center during the pandemic, and it continues to be a part of my work in the field!
[Beth] I grew a lot through my three years as the Oakland Camp Director. I developed as an educator, but even more so as a supervisor and mentor. I learned how to offer loving and honest feedback and how to stay organized, and I still draw on those practices as the Director of Education at the Women and Girls Foundation where I run social justice advocacy and civic engagement education programs for young women and femmes. I learned from how to mentor young staff members by building an understanding of their hopes and dreams, and I learned how to truly listen to young people and tap into my own playful side. More than anything, I learned what is truly possible when a team of people come together and commit to building a magical, creative, and nurturing space for young people.
Stay tuned for our third and final installment of All Roads Lead to Camp: CD Stories, coming soon! In the meantime, interested in joining our changemaking summer team or being a Camp Director? Stay up-to-date through our jobs mailing list.