Camp for All: Expanding the Tradition

by Teresa Nicodemus

The camp experience has moved beyond the boundaries of programming solely for traditional audiences. Camp programs have evolved into communities serving all types of people from adults with disabilities and families to specialized programs for seniors and corporate groups.

Multigenerational Camps Are on the Rise

The boom in multigenerational camps has been phenomenal over the past decades. Family camp programs, according to the American Camp Association (ACA), are the fastest growing programs, showing an increase of over 100 percent in the last ten years. From 2005 to 2006 alone, the number of ACA-accredited family camp programs has increased 8 percent, supporting the steady rise in family camp programs across the nation.

Elderhostel, a nonprofit organization offering continuing education and recreational programs for adults fifty-five and older, has seen a marked increase in intergenerational programming since the programs began in the 80s. Over six thousand participants sign up for and choose from an eclectic bounty of 350 intergenerational programs. Programs for grandparents and grandchildren run the gamut from learning safaris in Botswana to reliving the magic of Harry Potter in a fantasy literature program in Oxford, England. ACA-accredited camp programs for seniors have increased 10 percent as well over the last year.

Multiple Audiences, Multiple Missions

In a series of in-depth interviews with camp professionals from various multigenerational camp backgrounds, the motivation, advantages, rewards, challenges, and the "why factor" for offering camp programming for the nontraditional camper is revealed in candid conversation . . . .

Family Camps

Rick Kone, camp director
Paradise Farm Camps
Downingtown, Pennsylvania
Program: Offers a mother's program for children ages three to twelve years old and single mothers
Session length: One five-day resident camp session during the first week of August
Number of participants: 20 to 25 single mothers and their children, approximately 80 total

How does your programming differ from a traditional camp?
We offer activities for the mothers only, the children only, and parent and child combined during this session. We might have yoga, self-defense, and aerobics classes. Motivational speakers will teach basic skills (e.g., how to make twenty meals in twenty minutes for under $20 or how to survive in a family of two when you're the only breadwinner). We try to remind them it's okay to be a single mother. We will pamper them with a massage or a movie night.

What is the benefit of this program for participants?
Our goal is to help them appreciate what motherhood has to offer. We try to teach the philosophy from a quote from David O. McKay: ‘Motherhood is the most beautiful of all arts and the greatest of all professions.' This program gives these hard working mothers a good sense of hope. We have a talent show in which the mothers get to watch their children perform. They are so busy trying to survive; they may not notice their child's special talents. It is amazing to watch them look at their child with awe, wonder, and pride.

Anne Derber, executive director
Camp Manito-wish YMCA
Boulder Junction, Wisconsin
Program: Family Camp
Session length: One six-day session during the end of the traditional summer camp session at the end of August
Number of participants: 25 to 30 families, approximately 175 total

What are some differences in programming?
More emphasis is on family participation, and the schedule of activities is much more flexible. We are not taking attendance or choosing their activities for them. The emphasis is to involve the entire family in the decision-making and activities.

What are the rewards for the participating families? Camp staff?
The program is a wrap-up to the end of summer, and potentially the last time the entire family will be together for recreation. It offers families an opportunity to unplug, not answer the phone, and focus on time together.

Our family camp staff tends to be the moms and dads themselves in combination with college-aged staff. The advantage to this camp is the relationship building that goes on with the college-aged staff. Our staff gets a one-on-one opportunity to relate directly with parents and get immediate feedback.

Why should a camp offer family programs?
This program is actually like a recruitment tool through the families for our camp. It engages the whole family in the camp experience at Manito-wish down the road, fostering support for the camp and increasing interest in our alumni group and the greater Manito-wish family. The family camp experience is like freshman orientation, you get a tour, you understand what we are doing, know where everything is, and now you are comfortable sending your child here.

Points to Consider

  • Start a round-table discussion with the parents of your campers and determine the family needs of the community.
  • Talk to agencies and support groups in the major city near your camp. What can you do to enrich your community's family support efforts?
  • Partner with people and be community centered. You aren't alone, and get the community and families involved in your camp.
  • Be willing to keep your mind open to possibilities. There are so many others you can help. If you can help the parents of children, you are helping the children.

Grand Camps

Beverly Bridger, executive director
Great Grands Camp: Sagamore's Intergenerational Program
Raquette Lake, New York
Program: Various grandparent and grandchild age groupings
Session length: Seven, five-night sessions
Number of participants: Approximately 30 participants per session

How does the programming differ from traditional camp?
Instead of two kids in a canoe, it's grandma and grandpa. We do hiking and canoeing in the morning, have lunch, and in the afternoon generally a craft session, music session, quiet time, and swimming at the waterfront in the evening. Often we hold the following activity schedule: Monday night square dance, Tuesday night campfire, Wednesday night concert, and Thursday night is creativity and talent show night in which the kids and grandparents may tell a joke or show a craft they made together.

How do you prepare seniors for the camp experience?
We send out tons of material, like a welcome letter from the program director, an equipment list of don't brings and do brings, and an itinerary of activities. We have grandparents who are willing to be called by other grandparents new to the camp experience to serve as mentors and as sources of information. We also send a frequently asked question sheet.

John Litten, camp director
CYO Camp Christopher
Bath, Ohio
Program: Serves the fifty and older population
Session length: One, five-night session
Number of participants: 26-45 participants, enrollment has increased with one-fourth new participants every year

How does the programming differ from traditional camp?
In terms of programming offered, it is very similar to a resident camp for kids. The difference lies in that everything is optional. We say, ‘Here are the sign-ups, join us if you wish.' Some just fish all day, some want to do everything even the high ropes course. We do additional programming, such as field trips to the local chocolate factory, winery, and we hold hole-in-one golfing tournaments along a steep hill at camp.

What are health and safety issues to consider with this population?
One thing we do differently for them is to try to relieve them of strenuous walking. We will use a golf cart to pick them up for lunch, for example, if it is too far for them to walk. We will bring in nurses for health screenings, and we try to have an awareness of their needs.

Points to Consider

  • Go to your base of family campers first, assess the need for this program, and determine what is viable for you.
  • Your program may only serve thirty to fifty people; however, you get a lot of exposure from a PR perspective because you are offering programming for a unique audience.
  • When developing programming, you should schedule in downtime for the grandparent during the day. For example, you could have a 4 p.m. hour kids club, where counselors take the kids, and the grandparents get to relax for an hour. Seniors like a break during the day.
  • For this type of group, scheduling is really important. They like to know what the schedule is in advance. Use a chalkboard to post the schedule of the day or make an announcement of the itinerary for the day.
  • Adults like to have a variety of food and drink on hand. Possibly offer a buffet, keep the fruit basket always out, and coffee always on; offer a plentiful variety of food.
  • You should not expect from a grandparent any discipline of the grandchild. Your own camp rules should be well expressed; often the grandparent won't correct the camper, so the counselor may need to confirm camp rules.
  • You need lots of lead time, because it takes three different generations to plan when this is going to happen. Kids' summer schedules are booked quickly. It's not just the grandparent and child, the parent's schedule needs to be included.

Programs for Adults

Shannon Grieve, director
Camp Good Days and Special Times
Branchport, New York
Program: Multiple programs for adults diagnosed with cancer or sickle-cell anemia and adults who have family members diagnosed with these diseases
Session length: Weekend as well as one-week resident sessions
Number of participants: Approximately 210 campers served each summer.

What are the benefits to your camp in offering programming just for adults?
I think it's not only realizing the benefit of camp for their children, but understanding that adults can take away from camp just as much as the kids can. That is the unique opportunity that camp affords.

What are the benefits for the participants?
Our adult programs are so unique in that they are structured like the children's programs. This gives the opportunity for individuals to be themselves; friendships and bonds that come out of the adult programs are amazing to see. They will say the best friends they ever made they met at camp. They may run into each other at the hospital or chemo treatment, but camp is a different environment. They meet life friends.

Points to Consider

  • Clearly open lines of communication with potential participants; what are they most interested in?
  • Depending on the type of program, you might want to put together a recreational program with feedback from your participants.
  • Communication and taking potential participant's needs and desires into account are key.
  • This experience provides an opportunity for adults to be kids too; they want to do the ropes course, drive on the go-cart track, and swim. Adults don't have much exposure to these activities at home, but camp offers these activities and more that they are not typically involved in.
  • Keep a time line in mind when considering session length. A five-day session for adults may not be feasible because of their busy work schedules. Put together a schedule that fits their busy and hectic schedules and time lines.
  • If you are offering an adult program, think about other options for other family members too, maybe family camp or others. Make sure the adult camper's family members and loved ones are cared for when he or she is not there. This sensitivity helps motivate new participation.

Corporate Groups

John Deckard, director of client relations services and director of challenge education center
Bradford Woods
Martinsville, Indiana
Program: Challenge-based team building, focused strategic planning, facilitating dialogue

What are the positives of offering program year-round to corporate groups? Negatives?
Training corporate groups is a focus area of ours. Some camps take opportunities to work with corporate groups when they are available. Other camps consider it another component of their service arm, but we offer this programming year-round. There are positives to working with corporate groups rather than just drawing nontraditional audiences: you are able to reach a different client base or a different scope, and the revenue stream is lucrative. However, corporate groups have high expectations, and the service to the audience equates to a higher dollar amount. Another positive of working with corporate groups at your camp is that a large percentage of clients can become more than clients. They can become your supporters, donating money and items to your camp.

You are also expanding your portfolio and putting your camp in different networking circles. For example, we have worked with the Indianapolis Bar Association. Consider a high profile corporate client, and your camp's name is being used in conversation in the community among influential people. It is important to know how to leverage those relationships.

It's not fair to say there are negatives working with this type of clientele, rather there are uniquenesses. If you choose to work with corporate groups, be clear not to oversell yourself. We know we are not the Radisson or the Convention Center, and we must be clear on what we can deliver. Generally speaking, corporate clients are less flexible than traditional camp groups. They don't understand if they have to be moved from one building to another. However, once they get infused in the camp environment, they are OK. Be honest with them and direct, they have the highest potential to have walk-away power, and they can be the least forgiving of all your camp audiences.

What programs do you offer?
Some corporate clients start out with us by just wanting to rent our space because of the atmosphere. Many corporate clients have an agenda, and they want the setting. They may come back to us and request experiential activities for their employees to participate. They gradually move forward as in an evolution cycle and may ask us to provide challenge-based team building, focused strategic planning, and facilitated dialogue. We design the flow, activity, style (you can do keynote delivery or workshops with applications or experiential indoor/outdoor activities), and sequence. These programs are unique and personalized for each client. Many corporate programs are combinations of these styles. We will provide worksheets and workbooks for participants to take back and apply to their roles in the company.

Benefits for participants?
Being in a novel setting, we can heighten the awareness with others, creating a connectivity and sense of place, helping people form a new understanding of their role and circumstances. It is important to recognize and emphasize with your clients the fun behind these activities and the importance of fun in learning. We build off of a recreational concept, and there is value in that for all ages and all walks of life.

Points to Consider

  • Stay within your limits; don't jeopardize what you do to get this type of group at your camp. Leverage it right.
  • It's a different group of people with specific needs. You can't assume that your staff who are skilled with adolescents will be prepared to work with this type of group. You need to have people trained and prepared to interface with the corporate world. It's different, and these clients bring their own set of specific needs.
  • You have to consider language, style, and presentation. Consider your dress and appearance.
  • Recognize you will need to set up your facilities to accommodate these groups and have expanded menu choices. The first thing a corporate client may ask you about is cell phone reception — that's the first thing they ask you when they get out of their car. Be able to tell them if and where they can get a clear signal.
  • Get the groups that fit your program. It is an investment, and it's worth bringing out a consultant for recommendations.
  • Create relationships with corporate trainers. You can outsource facilitating the groups and just provide the setting.

Unique Camp Experiences

James Dawson, camp director
Camp Promise
LaGrange, Georgia
Program: Provides support, learning, and recreation for adopted children
Session length: Resident camp, 11 or more sessions
Number of participants: 30 campers for each session

What motivated your organization to begin offering camps for children in adoptive placement?
Twin Cedars saw the need for these camps specifically for children in adoptive situations. In 1995, the Department of Human Resources' Office of Adoptions began conducting weeklong summer camps for adopted children. Building on these early successes, Twin Cedars Youth Services, Inc. began offering Camp Promise in 2000. Camp Promise provides new opportunities to enhance interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, and trust in others through activities in the arts and sports in a group environment. We offer the camp to nine- to seventeen-year-olds.

How does programming differ from traditional camps?
Most of the programming is traditional — marksmanship, water sports, archery, arts and crafts, etc. The campers have the opportunity to meet kids in their same situation and to find common bonds. This is an important program that allows the children to experience a camp environment at no charge to camper families.

We are a traveling camp. We book reservations with state park groups and resorts for the session week. My staff and I visit the sites and prepare for each session. I have a staff of forty-five. For each camp site the amenities may vary. Some provide food service, some do not. We are prepared to bring our own food and provide our own food service.

What are the benefits to campers, camper families, and staff?
Camp Promise is unique. We have children from similar backgrounds, who can enjoy networking with their peers at camp, and families get a reprieve for the week. Each week-long session is available to children who are in adoptive placement or have been finalized in adoption through a state agency and are receiving adoption assistance.

Teresa Nicodemus, assistant editor of CAMP and Camping Magazine, serves on the marketing and communications team for the American Camp Association.

Originally published in the 2006 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.

 

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