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Change Agents: Social Entrepreneurship and the Summer Camp Experience
Lessons on leadership abound in the summer camp environment. And as we know, leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Some are loud; some are quiet. One is bold; another cautious. Many seek to lead while others naturally attract a following. Regardless, we are well positioned to embrace and enhance our youth leadership development opportunities, including our leadership vision.
Leadership through Social Entrepreneurship
Perhaps nowhere is a vision more applicable to leadership than in social entrepreneurship, marked by individuals who recognize a social problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a social venture to achieve a desired social change (Wikipedia, 2013).
Among Forbes Magazine’s top thirty social entrepreneurs are Rafael Alvarez, whose Genesys teaches low-income high school juniors basic IT skills and places them in paid internships, hoping they’ll land steady jobs after graduation; Joyce Chen, who helped to develop a device that keeps low-birth-weight babies warm even when the electricity in hospitals fails; and John Wood, whose Room to Read has opened more than 12,000 libraries in nine countries, including Nepal, Vietnam, and India (Coster, 2011). Better-known examples of social entrepreneurship can be found in the work of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Richard Branson.
But young people have a critical role to play as well. And that’s where you come in.
The Three E’s
Camp counselors have an incredible opportunity to be encouraging, empowering, and energizing forces in the lives of their campers — some of whom might well become social entrepreneurs themselves. In a sense, your intentional intervention utilizing the three E’s to promote such behavior could make your contribution result in their contribution.
Encouraging = Encourage campers to take risks that positively affect their lives and the lives of those around them.
Empowering = Empower campers to think about their role in creating social change by highlighting the skills and traits required for entrepreneurial success.
Energizing = Energize your campers’ instincts to give something back (or “pay something forward”) by exploring with them the possibilities that social entrepreneurship holds.
Despite what we hear in the media about generational changes that have left kids more narcissistic and less empathetic than their parents or grandparents, is it possible that American youth get a bad rap?
My own experience is that civic-mindedness prevails. Indeed, a 2005 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service called the state of youth volunteering “robust,” stating that more than half of youth (55 percent) participate in volunteer activities each year. Their data also revealed a link between the level of youth volunteerism and the social institutions with which they interact.
In response to growing interest in service and leadership, programs that promote social entrepreneurship have sprung up nationwide. One such organization is the LeaderShape Institute, founded in 1986 by Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity. It was designed as a means of improving campus leadership and now partners with institutions across the country and around the world to promote the development of young people as leaders on and off campus.
My recent visit with LeaderShape students at Susquehanna University revealed a life-changing experience that effectively communicates “a commitment to a healthy disregard for the impossible” (2013). It focuses youth on a process of committing to a vision and developing the relationships necessary to make that vision a reality, all the while maintaining a high degree of personal integrity. Sounds good. Sounds like my friends Julie, Justin, and Pierce.
Julie, Justin, and Pierce
Julie Barbera is a senior at Scarsdale High School (New York) and a 2012 graduate of the teen leadership program at the Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC). Julie worked to found a local chapter of the national SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) organization at her school.
Justin Deckert is a sophomore at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. A former camper and teen leader, Justin returned to CCSC as a staff member last summer. He is working to provide institutional support for peers with learning differences at Colby.
Pierce Keegan is a senior at Wayland High School (Massachusetts) and, like Julie, is a 2012 graduate of the teen leadership program at CCSC. Pierce founded a nonprofit, gluten-free food bank to assist celiac disease families needing affordable gluten-free food.
Here are their stories.
I first became associated with SADD when I entered the leadership program at CCSC. We were taught how the tenets of the organization apply to the way the program functions at camp. We take on a role of leadership for our peers and campers, and also at times we serve as role models for first-year counselors. We make responsible choices while keeping in mind how our actions will affect those around us. Choices like these help us to form the family-like community we have. We all depend on one another for assistance and good judgment. Last year, I decided that I wanted to bring this kind of dependable and compassionate community to Scarsdale High School.
I spoke to CCSC friends who attend school with me to see if they were interested in helping me form a SADD chapter. They immediately agreed, so we set out to make ourselves official. We recruited our friends and friends of friends to spread the word about the new club around the whole school.
Now, we hold club meetings once a month to organize fundraisers and participate in awareness and prevention walks. We help to sponsor school assemblies for drinking and driving awareness as well as awareness about dating violence. I have found that giving a voice to this cause has made the issues more real and prevalent within the student community. Awareness is the first step toward prevention, and awareness for me began with SADD.
Everybody has his or her own definition of leadership. Some say that a leader is merely a person who holds a position of authority. I think that a leader is not defined by a title, but by action. I believe that the mark of a true leader is someone who is able to recognize a problem and addresses it with a solution. At camp, I learned from leaders who promoted ways to create positive change. Now I am president of my class at Colby College.
Last fall, one of my fellow students, Christina, came to me with a problem. She is a student with a learning difference. Many times, students with learning differences are as smart or even smarter than their peers, yet their problem lies in their ability. Students with learning differences may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling, and/or organizing (Learning Disabilities Online, 2010). Christina felt that the college was unable to accommodate or provide assistance for her educational needs. She and many other students with diagnosed learning differences say they struggle academically due to their disabilities and the college’s lack of assistance. In my eyes, this was an injustice, so I began to research the college’s policy on learning differences to see what kind of resources the school provided. It soon became apparent that something needed to be done.
I set up a Learning Differences Task Force, which is comprised of several passionate students — some who have diagnosed learning differences and some who do not. Our goals are to increase awareness of learning differences, educate our peers about the struggles that come with having one, and gain a commitment to assisting students who need help. We want to raise consciousness about learning differences in the entire Colby community, including students, professors, administrators, and trustees. We are creating social change from the bottom up. As a leader, I have a duty to try to make life better for others.
As a participant in the Walk for Hunger (a yearly fundraiser that helps those in need in Massachusetts receive sustainable, reliable access to nutritious food) for many years, it was odd that I had never questioned what it would be like if I needed food assistance. You see, I have celiac disease, which prevents me from eating food that contains gluten. When I asked my mom that exact question only two years ago, she didn’t know what to tell me. This eventually led me to do some research, and after visiting a few local food pantries, I realized that no assistance was being offered to celiacs in need. This was when I knew I had to do something. I knew that some kids just like me were having to make the decision between becoming sick and going hungry. The knowledge that people were suffering and nothing was being done for them was what caused me to start Pierce’s Pantry, a gluten-free food bank that provides safe food to celiacs who require it.
While many people can easily identify problems in their communities, most don’t take the leap into action. This difficult yet vital step of progressing from identifying a problem to solving a problem is something I believe camp allowed me to take. For example, the best counselors are the ones who initiate games and activities during times when nothing is going on. Taking this type of initiative helped me gain rapport with my campers and increased my self-confidence.
When I first began Pierce’s Pantry, the task ahead seemed daunting. How was I, a kid, going to do so much? I had felt this feeling before, though. As a junior counselor, I had a lot of requirements, some of which seemed impossible to complete at the beginning of the summer. However, as the summer went on, I continued to check off requirements until I realized that I was going to complete them with time to spare! It was the same with Pierce’s Pantry. I started little by little, accomplishing small goals one at a time. Now I have partnered with a large national organization that hopes to help me put a pantry in every state!
Leadership Lessons Learned at Camp
What ties these three young people together is not just their mutual affiliation with a summer camp but, moreover, an experience afforded by their camp that helped them to develop the personal traits, characteristics, and skills to engage in entrepreneurial leadership.
Those are, according to Julie, Justin, and Pierce:
Determination • Independence • Accountability • Sense of Self • Organization • Respectfulness • Initiative • Dependability • Patience • Trustworthiness • Cooperation • Industriousness • Loyalty • Responsibility • Creativity • Inventiveness
They also talk about less tangible qualities forged at camp, such as being community oriented, other-centered, problem solvers, and good listeners.
Beyond the Three E’s . . . What Else Can You Do?
Julie, Justin, and Pierce have some advice to offer so you can best help your campers develop into empathic, civically engaged leaders.
The most efficient way I can advise counselors to inspire entrepreneurial skills is to take initiative and lead by example. Most campers admire spontaneity and a willingness to try something new. Whether you make up a new game for the group or start a nightly tradition in the cabin, the kids will appreciate it. If you expect your campers to gain the skills of a leader, you must show them how to be a leader. All you need to do after that is allow them space and time to learn how to use the skills you have modeled for them.
At camp, one of my counselors would always remind us to leave a place in better condition than when we arrived. Although he was usually talking about keeping a cabin or dining hall clean, the same can be applied to many aspects of life. I am trying to leave my college a better place than when I arrived. I want to see it become more accommodating to people of all abilities. I would recommend that everyone take that philosophy and apply it to all aspects of their lives. It will not only help you grow as a person, but it will also set a great example for your campers.
As a counselor, you do not realize how much of an effect you have on your campers. I remember seeing my counselors as people I wanted to be when I grew up, yet even so, it was hard to realize my campers thought the same about me. However, at the end of the summer, I had kids saying how much they looked up to me. Something as simple as encouraging a camper to start a soccer game can help them learn to be an entrepreneur and a leader. While teaching or telling campers what to do can be helpful, I think my counselors best equipped me with the skills I needed to be an entrepreneurial leader by being good role models.
Some wise words from some accomplished social entrepreneurs.
Corporation for National and Community Service. (2005). Research and policy. Retrieved from www.nationalservice.gov/about/role_impact/performance_research.asp#YHA
Coster, H. (2011). Forbes’ list of the top 30 social entrepreneurs. Retrieved from www.forbes.com/impact-30/list.html
LeaderShape Institute. (2013). About LeaderShape. Retrieved from www.leadershape.org/About.aspx
Learning Disabilities Online. (2010). What is a learning disability? Retrieved from www.ldonline.org/ldbasics/whatisld
Wikipedia.com. (2013). Social entrepreneurship. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_entrepreneurship
Stephen Gray Wallace, MSEd, has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent counselor. He serves as an associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University and director of counseling and counselor training at the Cape Cod Sea Camps. For more information about Stephen’s work, visit www.stephengraywallace.com. © Summit Communications Management Corporation. 2013 All Rights Reserved
Originally published in the 2013 May/June Camping Magazine.