For almost 150 years the camp community has had a secret. Not a well-kept secret, mind you, because you can see it in your neighborhoods, in your office buildings, on your favorite TV shows — you can see it at sporting events and hear it on your radios. But just in case it's still a secret to you, it's time for the camp community to shout it from the rooftops. When your kids come home energized from their summer camp experiences with that confident, exuberant, knowing smile you've never quite seen before broad across their faces, it's because camp has given them more than happy memories. Because of camp they'll have lasting friendships, understand the value of empathy and compassion, know how to be a valuable and contributing member of a team, and have developed critical-thinking skills to stand them in good stead as future leaders and responsible, community-minded adults.
"Simply put, camp changes lives," says Peg L. Smith, American Camp Association's (ACA's) chief executive officer. "Camp, and the experience of camp, define us, even as adults. Camp has changed many lives, introduced people to new passions and broadened horizons."
The proof is indeed everywhere.
Just ask Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug. Best known for landing a critical vault on one leg after injuring her ankle in the 1996 Olympics and helping to secure the gold medal for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, Strug credits camp for teaching her how to be a team player.
Ask 18-year-old actress Emma Roberts, who took on the role of literary icon Nancy Drew, starred in the movie Hotel for Dogs released earlier this year, and is set to appear in a number of other films in the coming months. For some in her position, it might be difficult to stay grounded, but, she says, "Because of camp I learned to make lasting friendships with people I still keep in touch with today."
Ask professor and Emmy award-winning journalist Frank Sesno. His work for news giant CNN has taken him around the globe and given him the opportunity to interview dignitaries including four American Presidents, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. But it was at camp as a boy, he says, that he "learned to navigate the world."
Ask singer and songwriter Lisa Loeb, who says, "Because of camp, I play guitar." And with her guitar and acoustic melodies in tow, she went on to garner a No. 1 single, gold records, and Grammy nominations. In fact, she was so inspired by camp that she released a children's CD of camps songs in 2008 titled Camp Lisa and launched the Camp Lisa Foundation to help raise money to send kids to camp.
Or, ask actor and author Hill Harper, who currently stars on TV's CSI: NY. He says, "Because of camp, I learned about self-esteem." He poured that crucial lesson into Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny, a book of advice for teens that won the American Library Association's 2007 prize for Best Book for Young Adults.
While not everyone who goes to camp will end up famous, everyone who goes to camp can learn the life skills and find the fortitude needed to follow their dreams. The secret is out: Camp changes lives. So here's to every child having the opportunity to experience the wonders of camp. And to every adult echoing the words of actress Lisa Raye, who says, "Because of camp, I turned out just fine."
Writer Marcia Ellett believes that because of camp and the encouragement she received there to spread her creative wings she found her voice and now enjoys writing about the camp triumphs of others.