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Locally Grown: How the T.T.T. Society Changes Lives Through Community and Connection
Even in today’s globalized world, many camps and youth-serving organizations still value local connections. While embracing technology to keep in touch with camp alumni or reach a broader audience, the leg work of many youth-serving organizations still gets done the “old fashioned” way — on a person-to-person, mentor-to-child basis.
One organization that utilizes a local model to make an impact is the National T.T.T. Society. (T.T.T. stands for “Time, Talent, and Treasures.”) The National T.T.T. Society is a nonprofit, philanthropic organization of women. Chapters across the United States focus on one national project: to provide an educational camping experience for girls who might not otherwise have the opportunity. Founded in 1911, the National T.T.T. Society has sent nearly 22,000 girls to camp. By mobilizing its members at a local level and working with local school systems and other agencies to find deserving girls within the community, T.T.T. is capable of making a difference in the lives of 500 fourth graders per year (on average). The National T.T.T. Society is composed of 165 local chapters in twelve states across the country and Washington, DC.
|T.T.T. chapters are located in California, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Washington, DC. To request more information or to partner your ACA-accredited camp with a chapter, visit the “Contact Us” page of www.nationalTTTsociety.org.|
Each year, campers are selected to attend a nearby ACA-accredited camp for a oneweek residential camp experience. T.T.T. covers the cost of tuition and gear. The volunteers (members of the T.T.T. Society) even drive the campers to camp, which makes it easier for campers to participate without affecting their families’ schedules.
Before camp starts, the girls are given the chance to spend time with caring adult role models in their communities. T.T.T. volunteers take the girls shopping to stock up on everything they’ll need for camp — tennis shoes, swimsuits, jeans, and more. It’s an experience that shows the girls that they are valued, and it eases the nerves of campers who might feel anxious or unprepared for camp. Many girls who attend camp through funding from the T.T.T. Society are unfamiliar with the camp experience. Take former camper Cheryl Thevenot, for example: “I had never been to camp before — without T.T.T., I would have never been able to experience camp.”
When it comes to finding girls for the program, T.T.T. works with local elementary schools — teachers, nurses, principals, and counselors — and other agencies to find fourth-grade girls who could benefit from a camp experience. “Sometimes those can be girls from families where there might be the means to attend a weeklong summer camp, but maybe there is a divorce going on, or maybe there is a sibling who is very ill, and the time and energy resources aren’t there to coordinate a camp experience for the girl,” says Debbie Baldwin, who was president of the National T.T.T. Society at the time of its Centennial celebration.
In other words, T.T.T.’s local connections with schools and other agencies allows them to find girls who are deserving of and would benefit from a camp experience — girls who could use a boost, but who might otherwise fall through the cracks. It’s a way to help girls who are “getting lost in the shuffle” or whose “self-esteem is being affected by attention being paid to other matters within the family,” says Baldwin.
And the weeklong camp experience is no small thing to the girls. “Camp really taught me that anything was possible and that with the right goals you can do anything,” reflects Thevenot. Having counselors as role models also makes an impact. “Even though my experience was a while ago, I still remember that the counselors never let us quit and always showed us the good that comes from helping others.” She recalls a story from the last day of her camp session: “I remember that some of my fellow campers were crying when we left, and the counselors were able to comfort those who needed it. I think I even faked crying so one of them would just sit with me a while.”
As one might expect from an organization that operates mostly through local channels, word of mouth serves as a main volunteer recruitment tool for T.T.T. For example, “someone who is part of a local chapter might let her friends, family, or coworkers know that she’s involved with T.T.T. — that she’s doing some fundraising, shopping with the girls, or is even involved at the national leadership level,” says Baldwin. Former campers are also a rich source for volunteer work, and their involvement stems from curiosity and compassion. Baldwin says, “We consistently get young women contacting us and saying ‘I went to camp fifteen years ago and it made a difference in my life. How can I be a part of T.T.T.?’”
Thevenot is an example of this type of volunteer. “I became involved by Googling T.T.T. Camp and trying to solve the mystery behind who sent me to camp all those years ago. Although to this day I don’t know what chapter sent me, I have peace knowing that I am part of this wonderful mission of sending girls to camp and changing girls’ lives forever.” Now, years later, Cheryl is one of the charter members of the National T.T.T Society’s newest Des Moines chapter, Iowa GZ.
Thevenot, along with nearly 4,000 other T.T.T. members across the nation, attends T.T.T. meetings about once a month. The community of friendship so inherent with T.T.T. offers a way for members to not only help the girls, but stay involved with each other. “Members have the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference in a girl’s life, and they also are able to participate in a community of like-minded women,” says Baldwin.
To cover the cost of camp tuitions and shopping trips, members of local chapters also plan fundraisers (see sidebar below). Through that process, they are able to establish a rapport with the girls and provide them with positive adult role models, while also bonding in the group atmosphere themselves. Keeping the women invested and connected through experiences like this is one way T.T.T. is able to maintain their mission.
Local Fundraising Ideas
Fundraisers help T.T.T. chapters raise money for the cause while also having fun with family, friends, and other members. Here are a few ways that local chapters of the T.T.T. Society have found success:
Staying Relevant 101 Years Later
Six young women started the women’s group in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. It has always been an organization dedicated to doing good works for the community — and in particular, for young girls. In 1917, a few other local chapters were formed in Iowa, and by 1931, T.T.T. was growing beyond state lines. Like many other organizations with a long history, T.T.T. has worked to stay relevant in the twenty-first century.
Exploring innovative meeting techniques is one way. “We’re looking at exploring creative ways to enable people to be a member — easy ways to facilitate meetings in order to have as many people involved and to accommodate some different situations,” says Baldwin.
The organization also wants to become better at follow-up with campers. “In our smaller communities, it’s easy to stay in touch with campers. But in some of our more metropolitan areas, there is more moving around. If we can continue to do some type of follow-up, we can also then have a better feel and gather more data and statistics on how some of those weeks of summer camp have impacted the girls.” (See the sidebar on page 23 for more information on camp outcomes measurement.)
With its efforts to reevaluate and improve procedures of the past, the 101-yearold national project still remains the same — send girls to camp! T.T.T. knows that research supports a camp experience. And skill building at camp — both social and mental — gives the fourth-grade campers the tools they need, right when they need them. Says Baldwin, “Once you’re in the camp environment and you learn a craft or skill, you can keep that forever.”
To ensure that the programming is of the highest standard and the programs are in touch with the latest trends in youth development, T.T.T. sends girls only to ACA-accredited camps. “It has proven to be a very good partnership. We can leverage [ACA camps’] programs and facilities, and we can focus on interacting with the girls.”
Baldwin adds, “School personnel and chapter members have seen firsthand how a young girl’s self-esteem can be enhanced and improved by this type of experience. Through the interaction and camp activities, they learn how to be a responsible contributor to a group — leading and listening.”
Baldwin shares a story from her own experience: “As a volunteer, I’m involved in driving the campers to camp and picking them up at the end of the week. During the ride down, they are a little apprehensive, a little quiet. But on the way back, they’re excited and singing camp songs, chatting about their experience. It’s a night-and-day difference. It’s always a really good feeling when you can experience the before and after.”
Says Baldwin, “We have this niche, and we’re a little different because we’re not an organization that owns its own camp. But we understand the importance of identifying deserving girls, working with them one on one, and encouraging excellence through camp programs.”
Measuring Youth Outcomes
Being able to provide data about the outcomes of the camp experience plays a pivotal role in attaining grants and in other fundraising efforts. ACA’s Youth Outcomes Battery helps camps document how campers are affected by their experience.
The battery includes camper questionnaires that focus on youth outcomes common to the camp experience, such as leadership, independence, and friendship skills. The questionnaires are statistically tested, camp specific, age appropriate, and easily administered. Learn more at www.ACAcamps.org/research/youth-outcomes-battery.
Julie Anderson is the communications editor at ACA.
Originally published in the 2012 July/August Camping Magazine.