NEW YORK — At Camp Old Navy, there are no arts and crafts lessons, swimming in a lake or singing songs around a fire. At this summer camp, more than 1,000 teenagers fold clothes, operate cash registers and learn how to make a retail sale.

Camp Old Navy is a career exploration program for teens 13 to 18 years old, sponsored by parent Gap Inc., which partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of America.

Earlier this month, the teens spent a half a day being mentored by Old Navy employees. They discovered that working in retail is not as easy as they assumed.

“I thought [Camp Old Navy] would be easy,” said Jennifer Hamilton, 17, from the Boys & Girls Club in Springfield, Ill. “I thought all you have to do is smile and be nice to customers. But it really is a lot more work.”

Hamilton said the experience taught her “not to be judgmental of the people working in these stores, and to have more respect and to be nice to them.”

In its fifth year, Camp Old Navy has given over 5,000 underprivileged teens the opportunity to plan a career and a chance to succeed, said a Gap Inc. spokeswoman.

“Retail is an exciting career, especially for kids who can easily identify with clothes and are familiar with the Old Navy brand,” she added.

By going through training similar to sales associates, as well as completing similar tasks, the teens get a hands-on account of apparel retailing, which could spark an interest in it as a career.

“By sharing a work day with the employees, the kids get to learn that retailing includes more than merchandising,” said Brazellia Baker, senior director of teen services at the Boys & Girls Club. “Camp Old Navy gives teens the chance to explore related careers in retail that they never thought about before.”

Camp Old Navy is an outgrowth of the CareerLaunch program created by the Boys & Girls Club in conjunction with the Gap Foundation. The foundation was created in 1976 and is committed to making a difference in the communities where employees live and work, especially to children and families who are disadvantaged, Benjamin said.

This story first appeared in the July 29, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Camp Old Navy has already given a head start to many teens. Javier Veguilla, 18, from the Boys & Girls Club in Kips Bay, N.Y., was given an interview at Old Navy shortly after receiving positive comments from sales associates in the program.

“It is opening doors and giving me knowledge for the future,” Veguilla said.

Even if Club members don’t choose a career in retail, they still walk away from the program with important job skills such as customer service.

“If I ever plan on opening a business, Camp Old Navy was a good way to know what to expect,” Hamilton said. “Now I won’t be going into it blind.”