The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Chicago have been a positive beacon in the lives of their young members for well over a century, often serving disadvantaged Black and other children of color. For much of that time, Camp Winona Lake, located in North Central Indiana, hosted a cultural mix of campers from the 14 Chicago-area Boys’ and Girls’ Club locations. The kids’ time at camp was spent partially on environmental education.

Environmental education and The Boys’ and Girls’ Club of America have always shared similar core values, "Fun with a Purpose." A significant part of this purpose was and remains the "carry-over value" to campers’ families and communities. Staff at Camp Winona Lake, including the naturalist leading the environmental education efforts, were encouraged to help campers appreciate the "sames" as well as the differences among them.

The environmental education budget for the1971–72 program was just $75 per season. Solicitations and donations carried the program forward to the delight of campers.

Campers were introduced to "acclimatization," or a sensory approach to the environment, through the five senses: hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling.

The Environmental Center gave campers ample opportunity to experience the natural world with all five senses, incorporating a nature house, small barn, and a turtle pen. In the small barn, campers sat in a circle and held baby chicks and small rabbits. The turtle pen was a home for box turtles campers found with their counselors. Scraps from the main dining hall provided food for the shelled creatures, and a bird feeder near the nature house showed campers an early-morning feeding of the winged variety prior to their own breakfast time.

The naturalist directed campers in planting a 40x20-foot vegetable garden, and campers learned about composting when they took their banana peels, orange rinds, apple cores, potato skins, and other food remnants to the compost bins. Recycling and glass collections provided additional environmental lessons for the campers, and a local glove company even donated gloves for safety.

Another part of the environmental program was hiking in the woods and the creeks, which the campers thoroughly enjoyed and most had never experienced.

The third, often favorite, component of Camp Winona Lake’s environmental education program was field trips. Among the popular destinations, a:

  • Local general farm where campers hunted for fossils
  • Dairy farm where city kids experienced drinking a cup of milk from the milk tank
  • Hog farm where the campers visited a grainery, corn fields, and got up close to sows and their suckling pigs
  • Chicken hatchery where cabin groups examined a large round structure covered by plexiglass — a heated incubator with many white eggs inside

Looking back on the environmental education program at Camp Lake Winona, it certainly offered campers from every borough in Chicago conservation tools and knowledge they could take back to their families and communities — and a better understanding of their world and each other. 

Gil Fornaciari, PhD, has taught graduate students at National Lewis University (including thesis advisor) and Northern Arizona University. Gil spent nine summers as a camper from six to 14 years old in Illinois and Wisconsin and then 10 summers as a staff member in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Arizona as a counselor, program director, environmental specialist, camp director, and consultant. As an applied sociologist, Gil focused on small groups, mid-range units, and organizational structures. He also acted as an external "change agent" to a cross-section of organizations, including camps. Interventions have been utilized as examples in his published work appearing in book chapters, journal articles, and Camping Magazine articles.

Gordie Kaplan has 70 years involvement with the organized camp field; 21 as a camper and staff member in day, resident, trip and travel camping, and hosting rental groups, plus 49 as a staff member primarily for the American Camp Association, Illinois. His greatest joy and satisfactions have always been to help camp personnel continue to develop their awareness, knowledge, and camp leadership skills. His primary focus has been with the ACA, Inc. Camp Accreditation Program, camp director professional development, and bringing campers and staff from differing backgrounds together.