In her book The History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years, Eleanor Eells wrote, “[Camp] has become an important part of the American scene, rich in its diversity and in its adaptation to changing needs and challenges. Its common bond is the concern for people in their relationship to one another, to the environment, and for their sense of community.” Through her review of camp’s history, Eells provided a blueprint for modern camps — adaptability is essential, innovation is critical, and personal relationships are fundamental.

For 150 years, camps have been making a difference in the world. The camp experi¬ence has changed lives and taught genera¬tions of youth to leave the earth a better place than they found it. The camp commu¬nity has been a leader in innovations in youth development — being one of the first youth development bodies to recognize the importance of nature, experiential educa¬tion, and authentic human relationships. Eleanor Eells, a leader and an inspira¬tion in the camp community, devoted her life to enriching the lives of children and youth and to quality camp experiences. She served as a living example of the camp spirit — helping new camps and new pro¬grams. She was a champion for new and inventive programs while still honoring the fundamental values of camp. It is in her honor that the ACA Eleanor Eells Award was founded in 1976.

The following highlights the award winners from 2009 and 2010. These programs have been recognized for their innovation and service — and for honoring the spirit of camp’s pioneers, like Eells, who dedicated their lives to making a difference in each and every child and the communi¬ties around them.

2009 Eleanor Eells Award Winners

College Adventure Weekend — Boone, North Carolina

The power of camp and a desire for educa¬tion proves to be a winning combination for students participating in the College Adventure Weekend at Appalachian State University (ASU). A partnership between ASU, Appalachian GEAR UP Partnership, and GEAR UP North Carolina has devel¬oped into a unique outreach program for eighth-graders across North Carolina. The College Adventure Weekend program was started in the early 1990s as a way to encourage potential first-generation, low-income students to get a first-hand glimpse of the college experience, examine the chal¬lenges they will face, and develop a realistic plan to achieve academic goals.

Students are identified and invited to attend a weekend-long program on the ASU campus. The first part of the program focuses on academic preparation, career options, financial assistance, and campus life. The second part takes participants to Camp Broadstone, ASU’s outdoor educa¬tion facility, and uses activities to develop skills like leadership, perseverance, self-reliance, and problem solving.

Like camp, the College Adventure Weekend provides a sense of community and a feeling of belonging. “One of the greatest rewards is hearing the students sound confident,” said Jude Bevan, director for Camp Broadstone. “They are confident that they have a good strategy for achieving their academic goals, and they have friends across the state who are in the same situa¬tion. They know they are not alone.”

Camp HOPE* — San Diego, California

Domestic violence has devastating effects, often spanning generations. In California, domestic violence is one of the most prevalent crimes, affecting one out of every four children. Camp HOPE uses the camp experience to teach and to heal the wounds of domestic violence.

By participating in Camp HOPE, chil¬dren have the opportunity to laugh, cry, and make connections with each other. Children experience healthy relationships and learn life skills such as communication and decision-making through cooperative learning games, traditional camp program¬ming, and modeling. Programs are designed using experiential programming and community building exercises conducted in small groups. Sharing and participation are highly encouraged, and teachable moments are present at every turn — whether during small group discussions or walking between activities.

Ultimately, Camp HOPE helps children realize that they are not responsible for the violence they have witnessed and they are not responsible for what has happened to them. They are, however, responsible for the decisions they make and for breaking the cycle in their own lives.

*Editor’s note: In 2010, Camp HOPE merged with the National Center for Deaf Advocacy, a partner of the San Diego Family Justice Center.

Camp IF — Boston, Massachusetts

“The Camp IF Program provides a unique environment in which teenagers from diverse backgrounds come together to break down barriers, learn about each other’s backgrounds, and develop leader¬ship skills to become allies for one another,” said Derrek Shulman, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of New England regional director. “With new friends and new skills, participants work together with ADL throughout the year to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding in their own communities. Given this opportunity to realize their own leadership potential, these teens are able to have a significant impact as agents for positive social change in the world around them.”

For the past seven years, ADL of New England has been teaching campers about respect and tolerance. Each year, seventy-five students — twenty-five Muslim, twenty-five Jewish, and twenty-five Christian — participate in the seven-month program, sharing their faith and learning about others The program begins with Camp IF — a critical component that allows campers to share their own identity, faith, and beliefs in a safe environment while participating in fun camp activities. Camp IF builds a strong sense of community, and in turn, the campers become advocates and allies for each other.

After returning home from camp, par¬ticipants are engaged in Regional Action Teams to develop social action projects and create a greater awareness of tolerance and understanding in their own communities.

Camp Summit — Dallas, Texas

For over sixty years, Camp Summit has been innovating the camp experience for those with special needs. The program has been true to its original purpose — to provide a quality camp experience for campers with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disability, their age, or their ability to pay.

Each year, hundreds of campers and their families find something at Camp Summit that they may not find anywhere else — acceptance. Campers are not identi¬fied or limited by their disability, as camp programs are tailored to each camper’s specific need, and families are able to take a rare break from the constant care they provide their loved one, while knowing that their camper is safe and happy.

“One mother referred to her son as her ‘forever child,’” said Carla Weiland, direc¬tor. “Some of our campers require round-the-clock care, and families are able to take a break knowing that their ‘forever child’ is in a safe environment that is totally accommodating of their needs.”

Since campers are often dependent on parents and family members for their entire lives, there are no upper age limits at Camp Summit. Adults with special needs often have no outlet for social or recreational activities. In addition, adult campers have typically “aged-out” of resources available through schools and other youth-serving organizations. Camp Summit provides these campers with an opportunity to socialize and participate in much-needed outdoor recreation.

“One camper, Christy, told us that Camp Summit is the one place where she can leave her disability at the gate and be treated like a person and seen for who she really is,” said Weiland. “That is a very powerful message.”
And since there is no age limit, Camp Summit serves more and more campers each year. In 2010, the camp served an estimated 1,400 campers. That number is projected to grow to 2,000 for 2011.

Tataya Mato — Indianapolis, Indiana

A Native American proverb provided the name Tataya Mato (Ta-Tie-Ya, Ma-Toe), or “breath of the bear,” for this unique outreach program for children affected by HIV/AIDS and their families. Tataya Mato’s goal is to stretch a beckoning, protective rainbow over children affected by HIV/ AIDS and their families and/or caregivers, and create a bright spectrum of experiences for these special children.

“What our campers really get out of camp is a sense of community and belonging,” said Tim Nowak, program director for Jameson Camp, which runs the Tataya Mato program. “Many of our kids return year after year, so they really get to know one another. They have strong connections to each others’ families, and they stay connected after camp ends through e-mail and Facebook. This year, one of our long-time campers will be serving as a member of our staff. People are really connected to camp.”

The vision that prompted this unique camp program came about in 1996, when the Indianapolis community came together to understand how to work with HIV/AIDS. While there were many programs for HIV/AIDS patients, there were not many programs designed specifically for children. Community organizers and Jameson’s executive director combined forces to fill that void and develop a fun-filled experience of interpersonal growth and individual liberation. Tataya Mato builds itself upon acceptance and the provision of an outdoor setting.

Tataya Mato is a week-long, standalone session of camp in the month of July. Campers are typically referred to Tataya Mato through HIV/AIDS care coordinators throughout Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. All campers must either be infected with HIV/AIDS or have a close family member who is infected.

Each year, fifty to seventy campers come together for fun and the chance to be a part of a community that accepts them for who they are. Campers participate in activities like field trips, camp dances, and a three-day wilderness trip for older campers.

This community of caring extends beyond just emotional needs. Campers have developed such strong ties that they find ways to meet each other’s material needs as well.

“We have one camper who, year after year, was not able to bring a bathing suit because her family just couldn’t afford it,” said Nowak. “So another camper took it upon herself to buy a bathing suit and bring it to camp for her friend. They see each other in a very real way.”

Camp Howe’s Teen Adventure Program — Goshen, Massachusetts

What do you get when you combine the knowledge, experience, and passion of two long-standing organizations dedicated to the well-being of children? A unique program that provides hope, acceptance, and lasting benefits to foster children. A joint venture between Camp Howe and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Children, the Teen Adventure Program (TAP) is specifically designed to give teens living in the foster care system a chance to meet a group of peers and develop a personal support system with other kids who understand their unique situation. Often, children in foster care experience disruptions that can have long-term effects — feelings of isolation, embarrassment, and fear. Through the camp experience, teens have the opportunity to be themselves, without worry or fear of acceptance.

TAP is specifically designed to develop coping strategies and arm campers with a renewed sense of self-confidence through activities and support. In this unique set¬ting, campers are free to discuss being in foster care and learn from one another. The program focuses on building life skills such as courage, trust, responsibility, respect, happiness, and cooperation. Campers are able to challenge themselves, physically and emotionally, because of the support they receive from their peers and the mentoring relationships they develop with staff.

2010 Eleanor Eells Award Winners

Camp Homeward Bound — New York, New York

Homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life. Missed meals, excessive absenteeism from school, separation from friends and family, adopting the anger and frustration of parents, and constantly moving from shelter to shelter wreak havoc on a young child’s mind and body. As a result, homeless girls and boys fall behind academically and journal exercise to write about someone inspirational, he wrote about his counselor. It’s powerful to see these kids return home with a renewed sense of hope.”

With approximately 300 chi ldren participating in three sessions, Camp Homeward Bound has positively affected the lives of nearly 10,000 children and youth — changing lives through love, support, understanding, and permission to hope.

“We can’t change their world, but we can arm them with tools and give them the confidence to handle what the world throws at them.”

Camp Merry Times — Hendersonville, North Carolina

For children diagnosed with cancer, child¬hood is altered. And for the families of those children — especially siblings — the world is forever changed. Camp Merry Times uses the beauty of its surround¬ings and a team of committed volunteer counselors and medical staff to serve not only those with cancer, but those who love them as well.

Children with cancer and their siblings, ages five to eighteen, experience the magic of childhood in a way that only camp can provide. In addition to traditional camp activities and fun events like an annual visit from Santa, campers participate in activities designed to build self-esteem and create a positive spirit, which helps patients survive their disease and builds strong family ties, reinforcing the support system at home.

Families are referred to the program by nurses and physicians working in oncol¬ogy departments in hospitals throughout western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. As many as 150 campers attend a single session of camp — which is held on at a facility donated by Camp Ton-a-Wandah.

Kama’aina Kids, Inc. — Kailua, Hawaii

The mission of Kama‘aina Kids, Inc. is to “serve children, families, and our communities by providing ongoing quality education and enrichment programs to help build a sense of self, community, and environment.” The organization inten¬tionally strives to combine these three values and weave them into the fabric of every program.

“Hawaii is surrounded by water, and it’s one of the only states that doesn’t require a mandatory swim program for schools, so we incorporate that heavily into our programs,” said co-founder Ray Sanborn. “We get kids in the water — swimming, kayaking — it’s amazing to see how they grow and develop a sense of accomplish¬ment. We use our environmental programs to build self-esteem and community.”

Kama‘aina Kids, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing educational and enrichment programs to children, youth, and families. In addition to camp programs, the organization also runs preschool programs, before and after school programs, environmental education programs, and sports clinics.

Established in 1987 by Sanborn and Mark Nishiyama, Kama‘aina Kids started with forty-five children in a single program. On April 1, 1993, Kama‘aina Kids and Hawaii Child Centers merged to form one of the largest childcare organizations in Hawaii. Kama‘aina Kids presently serves nearly 9,700 children daily.

Junior Maine Guide Program Maine Youth Camping Foundation

Created by an act of legislature in 1937, the Junior Maine Guide (JMG) program is a joint effort of the Maine Youth Camping Foundation and the state department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The program teaches outdoor living skills to children ages fourteen to eighteen, and provides an opportunity for youth to begin to develop an appreciation for the wilder¬ness and master outdoor skills.

Maine has long been recognized for its “licensed Maine Guides” program — a coveted certification for adults trained to lead others in wilderness living and adven¬tures. The JMG program prepares and tests youth for Junior Maine Guide certification. The certification acknowledges mastery of outdoor living skills, including canoeing; fire building in dry and wet conditions; emergency shelter; first aid; cooking, map, and compass skills; and identification of flora and fauna.

There are three levels to the program. The first two levels can be taught in any camp. If campers want to go to level three, which includes the JMG examination, they are sent to a separate encampment for five days with staff. Of the sixty to seventy students that take the exam each year, any¬where from fifty to seventy-five percent pass and receive certification.

And although there is no direct con¬nection between the JMG program and the licensed Maine Guides, “many Maine Guides were once Junior Maine Guides,” said Mary Ellen Deschenes, a consultant for the Maine Youth Camping Foundation. “It’s great to see how program participants somehow find a way to take their love of the outdoors and make it part of their career path.”

Save Walton Pond Wildlife Relocation Project — Farmington, Connecticut

“Save Walton Pond” was the rally cry at Winding Trails Summer Day Camp during the summer of 2010. Walton pond, an eight-acre body of water, was dying from sedimentation build-up and dam failure, and it was scheduled to be dredged. The idea for the wildlife reloca¬tion project started when a six-year-old asked a simple question: “What is going to happen to the animals?”

Over the course of the summer, fifty to seventy-five children each day, along with three to five families each evening, carefully caught, identified, measured, weighed, and moved the animals to another body of water. A total of 17,519 animals were safely moved during the 6,000-hour effort. In addition to lessons in pond ecology, dam construction, and collecting scientific data, campers and families alike learned a valuable lesson in real-life stewardship.

Currently, data is being entered electronically and will be used as an enrich¬ment education tool for the camp nature program, which will also record how the pond comes back to life. Also, the concept is being developed into an all-camp service learning project and applied to a state ap¬proved forest stewardship project for 2012.

Some of the amazing animals collected include a snapping turtle that had a carapace length of 39 centimeters (15 5/16 inches) and weighed 21 pounds; a largemouth bass that was 46 centimeters (18 1/8 inches) long and weighed 3 pounds; and a bullfrog that was 28 centimeters (11 inches) long and weighed 214 grams (approximately 0.5 pounds)!

The Chewonki Foundation — Wiscasset, Maine

Since 1915, Chewonki has provided camp and trip experiences that emphasize personal growth and an understanding of the natural world. As leaders in land conservation, renewable energy, waste reduction, and watershed restoration, the camp experience at Chewonki is a tapestry of environmental stewardship.

Projects include a dam restoration project in which campers are able to reclaim the vegetation around the dam; a wilder¬ness overnight for every camper, in which campers learn to cook over an open fire and overcome weather obstacles; bird of the day studies at lunch; an ever-growing nature museum on campus; early morning bird walks; and a natural history mystery each day. These programs establish a unique sense of community and active involvement in the natural world.

“The environment is integrated into what we do for sure,” said Garth Altenburg, Chewonki’s director. “It’s our mission to learn about ourselves and each other and be stewards of the natural world. When all three interact, really special things can happen.”

Dawn Swindle is the communications manager for the American Camp Association.

Originally published in the July/August 2011 Camping Magazine.