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A Camp Experience for Every Child: Eleanor Eells Award Winners 2013
Imagine a world where every child benefits from a camp experience . . .
This is the goal of camps across the country as we continue to strive for ACA's 20/20 Vision — to serve 20 million children through the camp experience by the year 2020. In the following interviews, ACA's 2013 Eleanor Eells Award winners share how they bring their camps' missions to life through innovative programming and partnerships.
Camp Red Cedar
Carrie Perry, CTRS, Director
Camp Red Cedar, located northeast of Fort Wayne, Indiana, boasts fifty-seven acres of woods and meadows and a sparkling ten-acre lake surrounded by a sandy beach. Camp Red Cedar's mission is to encourage children and adults with disabilities to move beyond their boundaries through recreational activities, outdoor education, creative arts, and interaction with horses in an integrated environment serving people of all abilities. Over 800 campers attend Camp Red Cedar each year. Perry shares more about the program:
How did camp influence your life?
I have attended camp every summer since third grade! I loved going to camp each year, where I learned new things, had fun with new friends, and my personal favorite, rode horses! My experiences at camp with horses inspired me to pursue a career in camp. I now have over twenty years of experience with horses, and my passion is working with the horses and individuals with disabilities and seeing the life lessons that unfold every day at camp.
Tell us more about Camp Red Cedar's programming.
Camp Red Cedar began as a privately owned, nonprofit, therapeutic equestrian facility in 1972 (known then as Red Cedar Center). Since that time, Camp Red Cedar has become a Premier Accredited Center through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International (PATH, Intl.) and expanded its programming to include a full complement of summer day camps for individuals with and without disabilities; specialty camps for children with autism, Down syndrome, and type 1 diabetes; year-round riding lessons; and rentals for special events. Camp Red Cedar also hosts field trips for school groups and able-bodied horseback riding lessons.
What are therapeutic riding lessons, and how do they benefit campers?
Therapeutic riding uses uniquely trained horses and equine-specific activities to achieve a variety of therapeutic goals including: cognitive, physical, emotional, social, educational, and behavioral. Some of the benefits include: increase in balance, sel f-esteem, coordinat ion, posture, strength, flexibility, sense of responsibility, teamwork, cooperation, self-confidence, and a sense of self-accomplishment while receiving therapeutic muscle stimulation. All of the therapeutic lessons are instructed by certified PATH, Intl. riding instructors.
What makes camp such a powerful tool in encouraging children and adults with disabilities to move beyond boundaries?
Camp allows for campers to just be themselves and have fun in the great outdoors. By offering a variety of activities, campers are able to try things they never thought possible and work on individual goals without realizing it. It's referred to as "learning in disguise," and camp is a great place for that to happen.
What is the most rewarding part about being involved with Camp Red Cedar?
Seeing the smiles on campers' faces when a familiar counselor greets them is so fulfilling. It's an incredible feeling to be a part of their first horse ride, first words, or first steps from a wheel chair. It is also great to experience their excitement (sometimes bringing them to tears of joy) after they receive their camp award. I just love being part of helping campers make new friends and live life to the fullest. Visit www.campredcedar.com for more information.
Fiver Children's Foundation
Christie Ko, Executive Director
Fiver Children's Foundation was founded in 1998 by Tom Tucker, a retired Wall Street executive who understood that in order to make an impact on a child's life, you need to make a long-term commitment. Today, Fiver serves more than 500 children, twelve months a year, for ten years, including a yearly summer camp component. Ko explains more about Fiver Children's Foundation:
Why does Fiver make a ten-year commitment to youth?
Educators, neuroscientists, and even economists have published evidence supporting two important principles. First, that character is critical to success in life, and second, that character can be taught. Their research suggests that character, rather than IQ, is the biggest predictor of future success in life. We have seen amazing transformations as a result of this approach, but change does not happen overnight. Over the course of ten years children feel safe and supported, which allows them to develop the courage to dream and the work ethic to succeed.
How does Fiver find youth for its programming?
Third graders are referred to the Fiver program from partnering community organizations that are located in particularly underserved communities throughout New York City and central New York. Upon referral, children are eligible for free or reduced meals according to federal guidelines. The mean income for a Fiver family of four is $27,000 annually. There is no minimum academic requirement for Fiver students. We aim to serve children who are average students and are in need of a long-term program like Fiver in order to reach their full potential. After being referred at age eight, children participate in developmentally appropriate summer and out-of-school time programs for the next ten years, free of charge.
How important is community and culture to the Fiver experience?
Fiver is effective because it is a culture that becomes embedded in the hearts of children, staf f, and everyone who becomes involved. They quickly discover that being a Fiver means striving to be the best version of one's self. Fiver takes a holistic approach to youth development by serving all of the children within a family as well as providing educational programs for parents. Fiver programs are developmentally appropriate, experiential, inquiry-based, and long-term.
What outcomes do you see in youth as a result of Fiver's long-term, yearround commitment?
Fiver believes in basing program development on proven methods, not simply on good intentions. We have completed a three-year, external, longitudinal evaluation on our programs, and we conduct regular program evaluation using formalized surveys and feedback from multiple sources. Our three long-term goals are for children to: develop 21st-century skills to succeed in school and work, become engaged citizens, and learn to make healthy and ethical life choices. Some examples of our outcomes include:
- 96 percent of program graduates have graduated from high school since 2000
- 93 percent of program graduates have gone on to college or entered the military since 2000
- 91 percent learned to be a leader at Fiver
- 87 percent learned to stand up for something they believed was right
What activities/programming does Fiver use to engage youth year-round?
Elementary school programs help children to discover their strengths, interests, and dreams. They are constantly encouraged to try new things and take healthy risks. These children are becoming familiar with the language and norms that make up Fiver culture.
Middle school programs focus on navigating changing relationships in preparation for peer-pressured situations. Fiver staff members provide workshops on the social and academic challenges of middle school and the transition into high school. Discussions around race, culture, and acceptance of differences permeate middle school programs.
High school programs are focused on applying lessons learned and receiving critical content for post–high school decision making. Students take part in extensive college access and career readiness programming and are exposed to dozens of college students and career professionals who serve as role models. Students engage in ethical conversations, debate social issues, and learn a framework for decision making. Fiver serves all of the children within a family and even provides educational programs for parents.
What are these educational programs, and why does Fiver serve families as a whole?
Fiver devotes a signif icant amount of time to developing a relationship with the families because we see parents as partners jointly supporting the dreams of their children. Fiver's current parent and family engagement activities include one-on-one parent meetings with their child's Fiver counselor, an annual family weekend retreat at Camp Fiver, participation in the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), family educational workshops, monthly potluck dinners and game nights, and annual bus-stop brunches when children leave for Camp Fiver each summer.
What is most rewarding in your work with Fiver kids?
Watching them exceed their own expectations — for example, when our teens return from their wilderness camping experience in the Adirondacks, I often hear them say, "I didn't think I would be able to climb that mountain, but I did it!" When they face challenges throughout their lives, they will remember overcoming obstacles at camp. Our hope is that those experiences give them the strength to persevere regardless of the size of the mountain in front of them.
Ultimately, we want for Fiver kids what all parents want for their children — for them to grow up to be happy, fulfilled adults who achieve their full potential in life. We want them to have the courage to strive for their dreams, and if they come up short, the resilience to try again. Then we want them to take what they have learned at Fiver and share it with the world.
Visit www.fiver.org for more information.
Focus For a Future
Jack and Paula Kaminer, Founders
Focus For a Future started in 2003 when Jack Kaminer helped place a deserving camper in an open spot at Camp Lenox in Otis, Massachusetts. From that simple beginning, Focus For a Future has grown to include eighty-two camps that provided scholarships for 243 campers last summer, valuing a total of $1,653,925. Jack and his wife, Paula, are both retired educators and have been married for forty-four years. They explain more about Focus For a Future:
From starting with one scholarship in its first year to providing nearly 250 scholarships last summer, what would you say has helped Focus For a Future stay true to its mission during its growth?
Our mission as a nonprofit organization is to help young people from underserved areas experience the unique benefits gained by attending a for-profit summer camp. The most important component in accomplishing this goal has been the personal contact we continue to maintain with those involved in the process.
Jack phones each camp owner and educator at the beginning of the yearly process, which starts in November. We, and some of our educators, make visits to several of the camps during the summer and/or contact each camp owner to see how the scholarship campers are doing. In the fall, we meet with our key educators and get input and feedback from them. Each spring we hold a "Thank You Dinner" and invite all camp owners, educators, supporters, and board members to attend. We believe that this personal touch creates trust and respect for Focus For a Future, which allows it to continue to grow each year.
Focus For a Future works with educators to select children for camp scholarships. When and why did you decide to develop selection criteria for campers?
Educators are asked to find children with the social and interpersonal skills that would most likely thrive in a camp environment. The camp scholarship is presented as a reward for excellent behavior and a good work ethic in the classroom. These attributes, combined with a financial need component, make up our criteria. After camp, children spread the word to school friends who, in turn, would love to be chosen. Once the educator explains the selection criteria to a child, it becomes a very motivating factor for school effort and outstanding behavior. It is why we call having the criteria a "win/win situation."
Children who attend camp through Focus For a Future enrich the camp experience for everyone. Why is this?
Probably the most rewarding part of our program is the extremely positive response we receive from our generous camp owners and volunteer educators alike. Because of the selection criteria and educators' dedication to finding children who are ready to thrive in camp, Focus For a Future campers have many positive qualities that they bring with them to camp. In addition, campers' enthusiasm for this new and amazing world called "camp" is contagious. You are both retired educators. In your opinion, what is the value of the camp experience for a child's education? The value of a positive camp experience for a child is immeasurable — its benefits can last a lifetime. The unique environment fosters an independence that most children don't realize until they a re away at college. They gain confidence as they try, and then improve, new skills while surrounded by the encouraging support of other campers and counselors. They learn the camaraderie of working as a team and the sportsmanship required after victory or defeat. Most importantly, lifelong relationships are fostered and maintained long after their camp years are over.
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of working with Focus For a Future?
Without a doubt, the most wonderful part of being involved with Focus For a Future is that we work together with some of the most generous, caring, and kind people we have ever known. Our amazing team of educators, camp owners, and board members, all helping to provide wonderful opportunities for children, gives us the encouragement to continue to seek out more opportunities to fill open camp spots with exceptional children.
Read more about Focus For a Future in the November/December 2013 Camping Magazine article, "20/20 Toolbox: Focus For a Future — A Win/Win Organization." Visit www.focusforafuture.org.
Heal the Children
Scott Ralls, President of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey
ACA, New York and New Jersey's Heal the Children, Hurricane Sandy Relief program donated close to 500 free summer camp sessions to children whose families suf fered distress from the massive October 2012 storm. Under the leadership of ACA, New York and New Jersey, over 100 day and sleep-away camps participated in the program. Ralls shares more about Heal the Children:
How did the idea for Heal the Children arise?
Members of ACA, New York and New Jersey created Heal the Children in response to the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. It was formed to provide free summer camp sessions to any child who lost a parent on September 11th. After Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, we once again saw children in our own communities suffering great loss, and we responded the best way we knew how — by giving these children a safe and wonderful summer and allowing them to leave their worries behind, even if only for a little while.
Why are camp experiences so beneficial for youth suffering a great loss, such as the devastation of Hurricane Sandy?
Camp can change a child's life, especially for a child suffering a hardship. Camp is a supportive community where children can take a break from stresses at home, focus on making new friends, and enjoy all the great activities that camp has to offer.
How were children identified for camp scholarships?
ACA, New York and New Jersey worked closely with local relief agencies to identify children in the most devastated regions who would benefit from a summer camp experience through Heal the Children.
What have been the outcomes or family/ camper responses to the program?
We received numerous e-mails and calls from families who received camp sessions through Heal the Children thanking us for providing their child with a wonderful summer camp experience. Their children thrived at camp while parents appreciated the time they had at home to rebuild their lives after the devastating storm.
What have been the responses from camps that were able to host campers through Heal the Children?
Many of the camps that participated in Heal the Children are either located in areas that were affected by Sandy or the camp directors reside in the areas hit by the storm, so this was very personal to them. They were happy to help children in their own communities overcome the difficulties of the storm and see these children having the summer of their lives.
Heal the Children is an example of camps coming together quickly to address current societal needs. Do you have any advice for other camps about the process of identifying needs, coming together, or spreading the word?
It takes just one person to come up with an idea, but it takes the camp community to make it happen. Camps have the power to turn a tragic time in a child's life into something positive. If a disaster happens and your camp is able to provide a camp opportunity to children, reach out to other camps about your idea and see how everyone can work together to make a larger impact on the children affected. I'm sure you will find that you aren't the only camp that wants to help out and that your fellow camp professionals will be more than happy to participate.
Visit www.ACAcamps.org/news/healthe- children-program-hurricane-sandy for more information.
Ohio Operation: Military Kids
Theresa Ferrari, Project Director
Operation: Military Kids (OMK) was begun by 4-H National Headquarters and Army Child, Youth, and School Services as a pilot program in five states in 2004. Ohio became part of the national OMK when the initiative expanded in 2005. Based at the Ohio State University in the 4-H Youth Development program, Ferrari explains more about Ohio OMK:
How does the deployment of a family member affect military youth, families, service members, and the community as a whole?
Separations brought on by deployment of military service members affect many aspects of a family's life: family roles and responsibilities, family routines, and family members' health and well-being. When a parent is deployed, military youth experience many changes, from daily routines (who will help the child with math homework or take him or her to soccer practices) to bigger milestones (such as birthdays, receiving an academic award, and getting a driver's license). There may be increased family conf lict, increased behavior problems, and problems at school. Teens may worry not only about the deployed parent, but the parent who remains at home. They often feel isolated because they don't know others in the same situation. All of these situations can bring about greater stress.
If we adopt a st reng ths-based perspective, we also know that deployment, despite its obvious challenges, can be a positive experience. Military youth experience a great deal of pride in their family member's service. Taking on new roles and succeeding can instill confidence in one's abilities. The family members at home may bond together in support of each other, and they may experience the support of the community.
How can a camp experience benefit the youth and families of service members?
Both campers and parents tell us that the connections they make with other military kids are the best part of camp. This is especially important in a state like ours that has so many military families who are geographically dispersed throughout the state, where they might not otherwise have a chance to meet other military youth. When they come to a camp specifically for military youth, they realize they are not alone. We also hope that they are learning teamwork, independence, and interpersonal skills from going to camp, and our surveys show that is the case. We also see that the benefits accrue over time.
What types of camp opportunities does Ohio OMK offer?
Ohio OMK offers a variety of camp opportunities, including day camps that focus on a specific topic area, five-day residential camps, camps for teens, and weekend family camps. We try to offer activities throughout the year, but many of our camps are concentrated in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Camps have grown in popularity and appear to be one of our best methods for reaching youth.
In many ways, our camp programs are just like any other camp — cabins, counselors, campfires, crafts, canoeing. Of course, all of the campers are from military families, so that gives them a common bond. The unique aspect is an infusion of military culture. This occurs in some very subtle ways, such as service members embedded as part of the staff who might teach about flag reveille and retreat. But it might also be a helicopter landing on the camp field to transport visiting military leaders. And how many campers can say they've done a two-mile run with some Navy SEALs?
OMK is a national initiative. How many military youth are located in Ohio, and are there any challenges that military youth and families face that might be unique to Ohio?
Ohio has nearly 33,000 military youth between the ages of zero and eighteen. There are military youth located in every one of our eighty-eight counties. We are certainly not the largest military youth population, but we have a signif icant amount considering our state has only one active-duty military installation. I don't think the situation in our state is unique. It's important for those who work with youth to understand the scope of the military presence in their respective state.
What is your favorite part of being involved with OMK?
I've watched youth as first-year campers and how they change in just one short week. The quiet child is singing camp songs on the last day. I've seen them come back year after year. They continue to keep in touch with their camp friends. I've seen some grow from young campers into camp counselors who are role models and leaders. Some of our college-age counselors have gone back to campus and started OMK student clubs. Some of our counselors are choosing careers that involve working with military families.
Our youth demonstrate incredible resilience, and to see good things come about from difficult situations gives me hope. Knowing that we might have played a part in making a difference in a child's life, and might have helped him or her get through a difficult time and come out better on the other end of it, has been the most rewarding part of being involved with OMK.
The other thing that has happened because of OMK is I have met so many service men and women. I have so much respect for them and their willingness to serve our country. Without OMK I never would have had the opportunity to work with them and get to know so many of them personally.
Refugees to Camp
Neal Andrews, Founder
What is now known as Refugees to Camp began in 2009, when founder Neal Andrews helped three boys from Myanmar attend camp for one week in the summer. Since that time, Refugees to Camp has boomed in popularity among refugee children as a way to enjoy nature, make friends, and acclimate to American culture in the summer. RTC has served children from Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Myanmar, Congo, Sudan, Haiti, and Albania and sends children to camps in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York. Andrews, who was recently honored as an outstanding volunteer in Albany by the City Council PTA, shares more about RTC:
What made you want to start helping children of refugee families attend camp?
I went for f ive years to Adirondack Swim and Trip Camp in Gabriels, New York. There I learned many things about myself and the outdoor environment. I climbed the forty-six highest mountains in New York while at camp. I learned to canoe and swim. Camp was a wonderful summer experience.
The first summer I volunteered with resettled children in Albany, New York, the children stayed home and watched TV. I thought, "What a waste of three months," so I wrote letters to some camps and asked if they would sponsor newly arrived refugee children in their camp communities. It was great when Treetops, Brant Lake, and Poko all agreed to host my children.
Are there any challenges in explaining the camp experience to refugee families?
Sadly, coming from refugee camps, families do not understand the benefits of summer camp. But I only had to explain camp to the first boys. Since then, it has been word of mouth from child to child, and I have not had to explain. Refugee children in Albany jump at the chance now to have such a great opportunity. That first year, my campers cried on the way to camp because they were nervous; but coming home they cried because they wanted to stay another week!
What aspects of the camp experience do refugee children particularly enjoy?
Children have been amazed at how much English they learn when they are immersed in an English environment. To be out of the inner city with many exciting opportunities, nutritious food, and a nurturing environment leads the children toward a more successful future. Also, refugee children who live with their parents have limited exposure to American culture outside of school. To have the children associate with peers at camps helps them to be more comfortable in their new society.
What motivates you to keep putting time into RTC?
Absolutely, it is the tears, hugs, and thanks that are received after camp. It is so great to hear that they had a great time, learned to swim, climbed a mountain, and that they want to go back.
This year we expect to have 100+ children to be placed in camps in five states for at least two weeks each. Low-income refugee families depend heavily on outside funding to allow their children to go to camp. The future of RTC is very dependent on grants, donations, and additional interested volunteers to make it all happen. In a perfect world, we would hope no children are suffering in refugee camps.
Contact Andrews at refugeestocamp@ gmail.com. Visit www.volunteersforrefugees .org for more information.