Each year, I write a letter dedicated to the incoming class of summer camp counselors. I find I cannot begin this year’s message without noting the recent prevalence of violence against children in public venues — schools, churches, and even our streets. Unfortunately, such violence has always been a part of our culture but, today, as a result of the relentless availability of media and what seems to be an increase in such events, it is hard to ignore the reality so many of our campers face.
We also have realized that the radius of play for young people has shrunk to a mere 500 feet, they are spending five and a half hours a day in front of a computer, phone, or television screen, and their time spent out of doors has reduced by 25 percent over the last twenty years. I believe this is not how we wish to define positive, healthy child and youth development.
Given these facts, it has occurred to me that the camp experience is one of the few remaining oases for young people. And what is an oasis but a refuge or relief from those things that are difficult or troubling? In today’s world, that is no small gift.
This summer, you will be the champions for our campers who deserve to experience such an oasis. As a camp counselor, you are participating in the art of giving. As champions, you will fight for and defend the campers’ rights to benefit, learn, and enjoy this rite of passage — the camp experience.
You are shaping and influencing lives. What you do and say will impact the values of your campers; handle that responsibility with care, and be intentional. Don’t overlook the power you possess — don’t abuse it, but embrace it with firm gentleness. You have the privilege to mold emerging humanity — to share purpose and place in one’s world.
It is important that you understand that learning is a social activity. We must remember that the mere acquisition of content is not a stand-alone goal, but it must complement the capacity to learn. As a social, learning experience enhanced by an environment that encourages one’s capacity to grow, camp can give young people an essential element to well-being — a sense of belonging. Well-being is a precursor to one’s capacity to learn.
More importantly, a sense of belonging is a strong antidote to violence. Don’t underestimate your opportunity to be a champion.
Originally published in the 2013 May/June Camping Magazine.