Bridging the Generation Gap With Partnerships

by Mark H. Case, Sr., C.C.D.


Blast it!

There’s another dead tree along the nature trail. How am I ever going to get the time to take down that tree and get rid of the poison ivy along the cabins, put up wood duck boxes, sink new brush in the lake for the fish habitat, paint the edges of the miniature golf course, and redo the orienteering course. PLUS, now we need a new foot bridge across the creek, a platform on the water by the campfire ring, and dozens of bat boxes. Since we lost so many trees from last year’s ice storms, our bats have lost their natural homes.

Does this sound like your camp? Two challenges face most camps today — funding and time. Where do you get the needed money to maintain and improve your aging facility? Many nonprofit camps depend upon donations to help keep the camp afloat. If your camp is like many that I have visited this year, then your camp donations are down. A great way to overcome declining cash contributions is to develop project partnerships.

Bridges are used to cross obstacles — streams, canyons, bogs, oceans — and, perhaps, much more. Often gaps in communications, ethics, and standards need to be crossed. Partnerships among youth and adults can help bridge those gaps.

Forming partnerships is nothing new. The concept goes back to ancient Biblical times when many pacts were formed between nations. Joining together with other groups of people can accomplish common goals. A partnership is an agreement with an organization or group of people where the common goals are put in front of everything else. Each group or person has individual goals — but in a partnership, they have to be secondary to the primary joint goal.

How It Works

Getting Started

Don’t Wait to be Called
You may ask, “How do we get groups to volunteer?” First of all, don’t wait until someone calls you. Start by letting people in your community know you are there — and that you are there for them. Offer your services as a speaker to clubs, organizations, churches, youth groups, and school groups. Hone your speaking skills — because organizations are constantly looking for good speakers. A good speaker will be invited to group after group after group. Knowing your message and delivering it enthusiastically (instead of reading it from notes) will show your passion and your enthusiasm — and it will spread to the audience.

Don’t Beg for Help
Tell the group what your camp has to offer them. What activities are available at your camp? Hiking, bird watching, meditating? Sitting areas for artists to paint, draw, write, and photograph? Develop a talk around a community interest, and use your camp as an example. If your strength is edible plants, develop a program on “eating your backyard.” If your forte is rocks and minerals, bring samples of the geology from your camp and dazzle them with your brilliance. If your camp helps participants develop a stronger spiritual walk through nature, then bring nature to the community through pictures and a slide show.

These are the intangible assets of your camp. It is hard to place a dollar figure on them, but these assets exist and can be available for the community. You have something to tell and share. It takes time and effort on your part, but it is worth the work.

How It Works

Drop Subtle Hints
Next, emphasize how your camp would be an enhancement for the community if you had people willing to partner for projects. You could say: “A flower bed of native wildflowers would attract butterflies and hummingbirds.” “Several owl boxes will attract elf owls and would give you a better chance to see those elusive creatures.” “Our plain painted walls would sure look great with a mural, if we could find a group willing to bring ‘art to nature.’” Drop these subtle hints for projects you are trying to undertake.

Research Local Award Programs
Expect a slow start. A common philosophy is “What’s in it for me?” Society seems to no longer believe in helping others first, then self. Youth, children, and their parents are in a “me first” mentality. Be prepared to let the group know what they can expect to gain. What are the rewards? What types of recognition are available? People and groups love to see their names “up in lights.”

Research local award programs in your community. Three examples include the Conservation Award presented by each local lodge from Woodmen of the World, the William T. Hornaday Award for Scouts and Troops through the Boys Scouts of America, and the Olave Award through the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. If the project completed qualifies for an award, submit the nomination. A surprise award generates great publicity for both the camp and the nominee.

Involving Youth

How It Works

The biggest mistake that adults make with youth is to devise plans and tell them to do the work. When youth are given a voice — when they take stock in the planning — the programs and projects are much more successful.

In 1999, America’s Fraternal Benefit Societies, in partnership with the Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer Center Network, initiated a new international volunteer day called Join Hands Day. In determining the focus of the day, society leaders decided they would like to do something for young people. When the youth were surveyed to learn what they thought the day should be like, they didn’t want something done for them. They made it clear that youth would only participate in a big way if they had an equal voice in all aspects of the projects.

That’s how Join Hands Day came to be — a day when youth and adults volunteer together to build relationships while they accomplish something good for the community. They work together, as equal partners throughout the process, from the initial planning stages through project completion.

After the 2003 Join Hands Day, professional evaluators revealed that the experience improved the attitudes of one generation to another in more than half of the youth as well as more than half of the adults. In addition, nine out of ten participants liked the experience so much they wanted to participate in similar projects again. (See the Model Youth/Adult Partnership and resources)

As a prudent camp director, survey your campers and ask them what improvements and changes they would like to see at camp. When addressing potential partner groups, keep this list in the forefront of your mind. This is what youth want; this is what you should work towards. Whatever partner group you address about volunteer activities, ask them to get their youth involved with the planning and implementing. Children and youth see the world from a different perspective than adults do. They enjoy being involved when they know their opinions are heard and taken seriously.

Finding Partners

The community is full of organizations looking for ways to help — and get recognition. Some of the groups include: Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, local church youth and children’s groups like Royal Ambassador and Awanna programs, Lions Clubs, Key Clubs, Jaycees, American Legion, VFW, and school PTAs and PTOs. The list is endless!

Making Partnerships Work

Big or small, partnerships work. The size does not matter. A partnership of one will grow into many. You know the riddle: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Partnerships are the same way. One at a time. However, the effort has to start with you. When you help others by providing speaking or other services, they will help you. The camp industry cannot wait for someone to come to the rescue. Be proactive in finding the help you need. It is out there. You just need to look, ask, and expect results.


Web Resources
· Join Hands Day
· Olave Award
· William T. Hornaday Award
· Woodmen of the World


America’s Fraternal Benefit Societies — Not-for-profit organizations with more than 10 million members in 42,000 local chapters, providing their members with leadership, social, educational, spiritual, scholarship, financial, and volunteer service opportunities. In 2002, these societies and their members volunteered 83.6 million hours and contributed $377 million to charitable and fraternal programs. Seventy-eight societies are members of the National Fraternal Congress of America, headquartered in Naperville, Illinois.


Mark H. Case, Sr., C.C.D., is the camp director at the R. C. “Cliff” Payne Woodmen Youth Camp in Randleman, North Carolina. Case has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern Illinois University in forestry management and has been a camp director for Woodmen of the World since 1988. He has received numerous volunteer awards including the 40 Leaders Under 40 from the Greensboro Jaycees in 2002 and the North Carolina’s Governor’s Order Of Long Leaf Pine for volunteer service in 2000.

Originally published in the 2004 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.