City, organizations tackle summer camp staffing and lifeguard shortages ahead of summer

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 7:20 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- While the sights, sounds and warmer weather of summertime are still a couple months away, meeting the need for summer camping staff is an ongoing process in the Metro.

For the St. Louis City Parks and Recreation Department, their focus right now is tackling a lifeguard shortage.

“This year, we’re looking for anywhere from 30 to 35 lifeguards to help us open all our pools,” said Juakena Callion, program manager 2 for St. Louis Parks and Recreation. “We have had changes in our lifeguards because with the pandemic happening, we had to close down pools. Everyone was looking around for different jobs. So, when the pandemic opened back up, [there were] less lifeguards around. So, it has been a challenge and it still continues to be a challenge.”

The American Camp Association tells News 4 that demand for camps is surging, and camps are doing their best to serve as many people as they can with the resources and staff they have available.

Impacts from the pandemic have forced camps nationwide to change how they recruit, and many now target older kids and college students (ages 18 to 25) to fill crucial roles.

“And the challenge is not only does the city need lifeguards. Everyone needs lifeguards. It’s not just a shortage in the city. It’s a shortage in the county, and it’s a shortage nationwide,” said Callion.

The city was only able to open four of its seven indoor pools last year due to staffing, but the hope is that all seven can reopen this summer in order to serve a larger community of children and older adults.

“If the pools are open in their community, they don’t have to walk as far, so they have access to the pools in their area,” said Brendan Hayes, Supervisor 2 for St. Louis Parks and Recreation.

“Part of what is important to a youth development process is consistency,” said Flint Fowler.

Fowler is the President of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater St. Louis. He says they try to maintain competitive pay and benefits compared to other programs so they can hire and retain youth development professionals beyond a single summer season.

“We’ve been working with local colleges and universities and other training sites to overcome that. It is getting better,” he said.

The need for more staff does not mean places like Boys and Girls Club and the parks department are not prioritizing hiring those that have the training and tools to tackle their summer roles.

“The first step is, they come in and take a swim test, which is provided through Red Cross. After they pass that, then they go into the classroom,” said Callion. “Eight hours a day for the next seven days where they’re learning different things about CPR, what signs to look for, how to be around the pool, what safety areas, the rules and regulations. So, we’re very thorough with training our lifeguards before they sit on the stand.”

To apply to become a city lifeguard, you can go on the city web page here or contact Dana Foster at 314-541-6934.

Boys and Girls Club opportunities can be found on their site.