Enriching Lives, Building Tomorrows One Camp at a Time: 2007 – 2008 Eleanor Eells Award-Winning Camps

by Teresa Prefontaine

The winds of change gust and swirl around the decades moving the camp experience forward into a future that waits for us in every creative mind that nurtures the advent of a new camp program. Eleanor Eell's must have contemplated the winds of time and change as she penned one of the broadest literary histories of camp in her book History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years (1861 – 1961). Much like an artist captures a landscape on canvass with skillful brush strokes of color, she would have used pen and paper or the clicking of a typewriter to tell the story of camp through her experienced eyes and a devotion to camp that only someone of her caliber could express. A leader and an inspiration within the field of camp throughout her life, she was instrumental in the Settlement House and Social Service Agency camp movements and a pioneer in therapeutic camping in the early 40s. She was one of the founders of the Fund for Advancement of Camping and served as director of the Fund in its crucial, formative years.

Eells had an equally influential role in the American Camp Association (ACA) tirelessly working to support programs such as ACA's 1970 Standards research and rewrite, and perhaps one of her greatest contributions to the camp field was her dedication to helping individuals and camps start new programs. In 1968, she was the first recipient of ACA's highest honor, The Distinguished Service Award. Eells passed away in her 94th year, but her legacy lives on in the Eleanor Eells Awards for Program Excellence. Many outstanding camps have earned this prominent award since 1976. Created in her memory, this influential honor has been bestowed annually to exemplary camp programs.

The following pages give you a glimpse into the wonder of camp through the individual voices of directors as they describe their award-winning programs with humility and emphatic certainty that the role of camp in the lives of children and people of all ages will continue to evolve and strengthen as the winds of change propel us through the decades to come.

2007 Eleanor Eells Award Winners

Ron Burton Training Village,
New Hampshire

Imagine a world where you only heard positive, uplifting words; teasing and put downs or any words that might hurt or otherwise demean someone's spirit were not allowed. There is a place in this world like that . . . the Ron Burton Training Village. Its mission is to build self-esteem, racial harmony, respect, and love for others among youth from lowincome communities through a program of spiritual, educational, and physical fitness in a wholesome, caring environment.

There are four core values of the camp: Peace, Patience, Love, and Humility. The camp's philosophy is to inspire the consideration of others before yourself and motivate an understanding that faith and morals need to be the foundation to approach life. Through athletics, campers are inspired never to drink, smoke, or take any kind of drugs. The importance of a respectful, loving, and peaceful relationship with God, their families, elders, and colleagues is underscored to the campers with a special emphasis on loving and respecting their parents.

Camp Coca-Cola,
Los Angeles, California

John Alm, now retired CEO of Coca- Cola Enterprises, was touched by the camp experience. Coming from a modest background and somewhat amazed at his own success in the corporate world, Alm was able to send his own children to camp. As he watched his children blossom from the camp experience, he realized that the children who could benefit the most from camp would be those children who could not afford to go to camp or who didn't even know it existed.

A grand idea began to form in his mind: what if we could change the odds for highpotential youth from risk-filled environments, inspiring them to pursue leadership roles? In 1999, the inaugural Paint Rock Canyon Program for youth who were at risk was founded by Alm. Because of the success of Paint Rock, Alm purchased a ranch in Wyoming specifically for a camp program and brought the idea to Coca-Cola. The corporation expanded the camp program as part of their charitable programs to four additional cities in the U.S. The programs became known as Camp Coca-Cola/C5 Youth Foundation.

"Alm built the program around the camp experience, melding two experiences together — the residential camp experience with hands-on, out-of-classroom, experiential education programs," explains Greg Kovacs, executive director of Camp Coca-Cola and the original director of the Paint Rock Canyon Program. "The students we select for this program come from at least sixteen middle schools in the LA Unified School District and are known as high potential youth from elevated-risk environments. None of the children pay to participate in this program, and all of them come from environments with limited to no supports or opportunities."

Youth are nominated for the program by teachers, counselors, or principals in the seventh grade. The program is a five-year, comprehensive youth leadership curriculum that follows the student from eighth grade to graduation. In the summers of years one and two, youth attend a four-week comprehensive camp experience focused on leadership development. Year three encompasses the C5 Bridges program where the youth plan and implement their own back-country trip experience focused on applying leadership skills. The program is sequential and progressive as the youth encounter new learning opportunities during each year of the program that strengthen their leadership qualities. The fourth summer involves the youth in a seven-to-ten day college tour. The fifth summer component is career driven and focused on a community advocacy project that culminates the community work they accomplished throughout the five years.

"The program has an intensive focus on helping the youth strive to be character driven, community focused, challenge ready, college bound, and committed to a better future — hence the 5Cs that the Foundation stands for," says Kovacs. "The program has been incredibly successful. We have a high retention rate with 78 percent of the youth completing the program; 100 percent of those that stay in the program graduate from high school; and 98 percent have gone on to college."

Camp Howe ECHO (Environmental Caring and Helping Others) Program,
Goshen, Massachusetts

"My husband and I have been taking a long hard look at all the people and organizations that have contributed to the lives of our two sons. Both of our sons have autism and have been attending summer camp at Camp Howe for many years," writes the parent of Camp Howe campers in a letter to the camp. "One of my sons told me a couple of days ago that Camp Howe taught him that being 'cool' was just being yourself. Wow! This from the little boy no one was sure was going to talk! Now Camp Howe didn't teach him to talk, but that's where he found his voice!"

Camp Howe has been in operation since 1928, but in the last thirty-eight years the camp has been running a full inclusion program, offering affordable programs for all youth in the area. The camp serves approximately one hundred campers per week for seven weeks during the summer and focuses on creating an environment in which all children can learn and grow, learning to accept differences in others. "What makes the camp unique is that we run a full inclusion program in which approximately 15 percent of our campers have a disability that requires additional support. Children with disabilities are fully integrated into every aspect of our programs," states Terrie Campbell, director of Camp Howe ECHO Program. "All youth benefit when they live, laugh, and play together. Inclusion fosters a global acceptance of people's differences and similarities."

The inclusive environment overcomes many barriers. Children learn to overcome fears and believe in their abilities. The camp builds its program and facility around the campers and according to Campbell, has one of the first handicap accessible high ropes courses in Western Massachusetts. The course allows individuals in wheelchairs to enjoy the high ropes course. And, even those children with no physical disabilities can participate in the course in a wheelchair to experience first-hand the challenges faced by individuals who are wheelchair bound.

"Any child that attends Howe does not have a fear of being ridiculed. It's a community that supports every level of success, and success for each child is different," states Campbell.

Circle of Tapawingo,
Sweden, Maine

Sandi Lando Welch, founder and president of Circle of Tapawingo, who was a camper at Camp Tapawingo from 1959 to 1967, thoughtfully pens in her essay Thoughts on Circle of Tapawingo: "In the forty years I have been visiting, camp has not changed much. But when I think of the friends I made at camp, I laugh. These girls touched my soul forty years ago . . . . Now, my camp friends are back in my life. We are all volunteers at Circle of Tapawingo, a nonprofit organization that provides a free week of overnight camp to young girls who have lost a parent to death."

Welch's inspiration for Camp Tapawingo came from a simple phone call to the owner of Camp Tapawingo on September 12, 2001, when the owner said she could not talk to her because two of her campers lost their mothers in the World Trade Center attack. "I hung up the phone and wrote a grant proposal. We had the grant by December and enough volunteers from Camp Tapawingo to start the Circle of Tapawingo program with twenty-six volunteers and thirty-one campers in August 2002."

This summer, Circle of Tapawingo expects to serve one hundred campers from ages eight to twelve in a one-week residential camp experience. Campers come back to the camp at age fifteen as junior volunteers, and many eventually become full volunteers at age nineteen. The campers benefit from this unique program in many ways from realizing other children have experienced loss of a parent to understanding it's important to laugh at the same time you feel the need to cry.

Welch sums up the week-long camp experience with heartfelt words: "We volunteers don't have to work to make Circle of Tapawingo a success. We are so thankful to be where we are that our campers catch our joy. For one week, a group of young girls who lived through devastating experiences smile."

UCLA UniCamp, University of California, Los Angeles
The essence of the UCLA UniCamp program is relationship based — camper and UCLA student. At least 160 campers ages ten to fourteen participate in each eight-day resident camp session. A total of five, eight-day sessions occur each summer. The UniCorp program serves older campers between the ages of fourteen to eighteen. This program provides a service-learning opportunity for campers, enabling them to obtain leadership experience helping in camp operations. Each year, UniCamp inspires nearly 1,000 children from low-income families to envision better futures as they grow and learn along-side nearly 350 student volunteers. Founded in 1934, UniCamp is the nation's largest university-based camp. Every summer, children from low-income areas in and around Los Angeles enjoy the camp experience, living in open air cabins, testing their skills on the climbing tower, and singing camp songs in the dining hall.

"The unique factor about the UniCamp summer experience is the profound leadership development, service learning, and experiential learning that takes place not only for the camper but the UCLA student as well," explains Wally Wirick, executive director of UCLA UniCamp. Recruitment for student volunteers begins in the winter for the following summer program. Each year, UCLA students undergo a rigorous eighty-hour training program spanning four months. Student volunteers mentor campers throughout the camp session inspiring them to succeed in school.

"UniCamp offers a return to simplicity in nature. No electricity, no use of electronic devices, no distractions from the noisy city the children come from," says Wirick. "Nothing curtails the mentoring relationship that develops between the camper and the UCLA student as they work together at camp to make a difference in each other's lives."

2008 Eleanor Eells Award Winners

American Sign Language Department at Windsor Mountain,
Windsor, New Hampshire

When you visit Windsor Mountain International during an evening campfire, you might hear and see joyful singing . . . "I've got everything I need right here in my hands . . . ." Some are singing the words, some are signing the words, but everyone is smiling and singing with their unique voices or body language.

The mission of this unusual program is to create a diverse community that welcomes campers who are Deaf in a hearing culture. It is the only integrated Deaf/hearing summer camp program for children that is based on the philosophy of experiential education. "The Deaf children who join our program are a part of the Windsor Mountain community and are supported by Deaf role models and staff as they experience the realities of living in a hearing world," states Sarah Herman, director of Windsor Mountain, formerly known as Interlocken. "Some people who are Deaf don't integrate into the hearing world, but inclusion is our goal at Windsor Mountain as we recognize the strengths of each individual and break down barriers."

"There are limited opportunities for the hearing to be exposed to Deaf culture. Here everyone is learning and recognizing that the hearing and Deaf alike can be friends and learn from each other. Our camp offers a global opportunity as well; at least 30 percent of our community is international," says Herman.

This fully integrated summer camp includes hearing and Deaf participants ranging in age from eight to fifteen who enjoy experiential based activities including dance, sports, drama, art, adventure and more. "We bring worlds together," says Herman and thanks to generous donors, financial aid is available.

America's Camp,
The Berkshire Mountains

Three camp directors, Jay Toporoff, Danny Metzger, and Jed Dorfman, part of Camp- Group, LLC, an organization of multiple camps, wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children affected by the 9/11 tragedy. They came together with an idea. "Let's do what we do best for these children, we thought, during a meeting. Let's offer a week of summer camp for them free of charge," says Jay Toporoff. And so, America's Camp was born. "We knew we had to be sensitive to grief issues, so we partnered with the Center for Grieving Children, who provided grief support and training for our staff. It was so unusual to work with that many children who had experienced the same loss at the same time."

The Twin Towers Fund set up by Rudy Giuliani was the camp's primary benefactor. The first summer of 2002, the camp opened with seventy-eight campers between the second and tenth grades, who were children of fire fighters, police officers, and emergency responders who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Every year since the inaugural camp session, the number of children participating has grown. Now the camp serves at least 280 children. "It is not considered a grief camp for these children, but a place where they won't be a 9/11 kid, but just a kid," explains Toporoff. Every year the campers create a cooperative art project that is uniquely special to that year of camp. One year, the campers designed their own decorative quilt with each camper designing their own quilt piece. Another year, they worked together to paint a group mural. The art projects have introspectively allowed the campers to express their feelings of loss. According to Toporoff, the camp's art work will be on permanent display as part of the 9/11 museum, which will be built at the former site of the World Trade Center.

Camp To Belong,
Littleton, Colorado

Imagine yourself as a child, being taken away from your parents and separated from your siblings while placed in a foster care home. For Lynn Price, founder and president emeritus of Camp To Belong Summer Camp, this was unimaginable. She found a solution in Camp To Belong, which she established in 1995. She created a camp that is dedicated to reuniting brothers and sisters, offering siblings in foster care and other out-of-home care the opportunity to stay connected and create lifetime memories.

The Camp To Belong Summer Camp is the only program of its type in the country and continues to expand from Colorado to other states, Canada, and England. The camp provides a one-week session, five nights and six days, of uninterrupted time for siblings to reunite during camp activities, including hiking, swimming, art and specialized programs. Participating campers are between the ages of eight and eighteen. Campers celebrate a birthday event in which they have the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays with their brothers and sisters complete with a birthday cake and a mock store in which they can shop for a birthday gift for their sibling. "It's an emotional rollercoaster in the first hours the siblings are together. It's not the typical excitement you usually see at the beginning of camp," says Price. "The silence is thunderous, because you don't know who is upset with who, and they need time to get reacquainted. It takes about twenty-four hours until they engage and trust each other again, and then they have a grand time reconnecting and getting along."

According to Price, this one-of-a-kind program has been the catalyst for new legislation for sibling placement, visitation, and recruitment for foster and adoptive families for siblings.

Camp Harmony,
Beverly Hills, California

Enrique, a sophomore in college, with his mind filled with thoughts of the future, couldn't help but remember the past for a little while. He decided to contact Camp Harmony again, a place where as a child he felt such a sense of belonging. Sending an e-mail to the camp director, he reconnected with the camp, and those memories of boarding with his family at a Los Angeles shelter came alive again. As a child, camp was his safety net for three summers. Once again, after being away from

Camp Harmony for so many years, he was welcomed with open arms. But, this time, he came to work as an adult support staff member. It was the best summer of my life, he says, because now I can finally give back to the one place I always felt safe and loved. Camp Harmony was established in 1989 with extraordinary goals in mind. Its purpose was defined as providing children from poverty and homeless backgrounds the opportunity to go to camp and learn from positive teen and adult role models. "We want to give them all the love they can take and all the food they need," says Wendy Klappholz, executive director of Camp Harmony. "The program teaches children independence and the importance of staying in school. It gives everyone a break. The children get to go to a new and fascinating place, and the parents get a break from care giving for a while. The children who come to camp experience a learning opportunity that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times,
Los Angeles, California

In the mountains above Palm Springs in Southern California, children play at Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. They play, and for a brief span of time, they aren't children with cancer, they are simply children having a great time playing outdoors come rain or shine.

Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times celebrated twenty-five years of operation last August, and the camp continues to thrive, working with over ninety different hospitals and hundreds of doctors and nurses to identify families in need of respite and children in need of normalcy and "good times" despite their diagnosis of cancer. The camp collaborates with not only hospitals but organizations such as Padres El Conta Cancer (Parents Against Cancer), a Latino parent support organization for Latino families with a child diagnosed with cancer, and We Can, a network of parents whose children have been diagnosed with brain tumors. "We have been very successful in collaboration with hospitals, organizations, and individuals, who help us identify family needs and who help us recruit at least fortyfive to sixty-five volunteers per session from doctors and nurses to activity counselors," states Brian Crater, director of Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times.

The real bottom line for participating campers is their diagnosis of cancer from leukemia and brain tumors to bone tumors. As a result, the campers have additional challenges the camp must meet. The children are dealing with loss of mobility, cognitive ability, self-esteem, and loss of social peer groups that have developed since their cancer diagnosis. The camp program offers a normalizing child and family experience that many of the children thought they could never experience. Many of the campers never thought they could participate in a sleep-away camp or ride a horse or do archery. For nearly eighteen hundred children ages nine to eighteen these activities become a reality for them at Camp Ronald McDonald each summer. The camp encompasses multiple programs including serving siblings of children with cancer, family camp weekends, and programs for both English and Spanish speaking children.

"Camp is a community building experience. These children meet other children suffering the same challenges, undergoing the same treatments, and benefitting from the same bonding opportunities," says Crater. "We could do this program as a service in a hospital setting, but camp creates a special community and helps these children develop life-long friendships in an enriching outdoor environment."

Casey Family Services,
New England/Maryland

Shaun Taudvin, life skills specialist for Casey Family Services in Portland, Maine, leads a group of youth through the Appalachian Trail. But this isn't just any camp trip, this is a work-readiness experience for youth between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. And, they are working hard helping to build fifty miles of trails through Maine, building a stone staircase with muscle and determined hearts, and paddling the St. Croix River way while stopping to help build new camp sites along the river and picking up litter. Taudvin believes in the power of hard work in the outdoors to foster change and build unity and leadership among this struggling group of youth, who have been in and out of the foster care system for much of their young lives.

During this eleven-day long, experientialbased camp program sponsored by Casey Family Services, youth learn white water canoeing skills, become leaders, learn group living skills and decision making, and work hard under adult supervision. Casey Family Services is the direct service agency of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Its mission is to build better futures for disadvantaged youth and their families and raise public awareness about policy reform and child protection issues. The organization also recommends and helps to place youth who are in the foster care systems in special camp programs in the Maine area. "I think that placing kids in the outdoors in an unfamiliar environment in a group setting gives them learning opportunities not only with their peers but with the environment, offering potential for growth and development of positive self-concepts," explains Taudvin. "This opportunity in the outdoors gives these kids a safe environment to share their stories with each other, take healthy risks, and to say 'I am worthwhile and capable of being a leader.'"

Casey Family Services offers a variety of programs for youth from pre-adoption and post-adoption services, family preservation, family reunification, and foster care to finding a permanent home for youth. "The biggest goal for these kids," says Taudvin, "is to help them find a permanent, life-long family as soon as possible."

Teresa Prefontaine is the managing editor at the American Camp Association.

Originally published in the 2008 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.