Four Ways to Promote Thankful Hearts at Camp

February 14, 2019
Kris Lukkarila
group of campers

In honor of American Heart Month, guest author Kris Lukkarila discusses ways to encourage grateful hearts at camp.

What does being thankful have to do with going to camp? Everything! Thankful hearts are open hearts, and being open to adventure is the attitude we have about camp. We want campers to expand and explore their world. We want staff and volunteers to be proud of their challenging jobs. By promoting thankful hearts, we actively support change and making a difference.

As a program director or camp counselor, what “thankful” activities are you planning for camp this upcoming summer season? Here are four ideas:

1. Create a Thank-You Card Activity 

Campers are at camp because their parents made camp a priority and because staff have big hearts. For nonprofit camps, camp fees may be reduced or fully paid because of donations. Explain to campers who they should be thanking and why — give them a phrase to write like “Thank you for donating so that I could go to camp!” Make it fun with stickers and markers; make it personal by gluing a photo of the camper to the card. Plan to distribute these cards at the end of camp to parents and staff or include these cards with sponsor tax receipts. Take a photo of the extra amazing ones and share on social media!

2. Schedule “Give Back” Service Rotations for an Afternoon

Search out local organizations to see what off-site projects you can help with. Possibilities may include decorating placemats for a meal delivery organization or putting together dog toys for a local shelter. Create handmade get-well cards for a pediatric hospital or check if a foster care program needs fleece blankets. Provide three or four options for campers to choose from. Take photos and share with parents!

3. Use Extra Time to Play “Hot Potato Thank You”

Grab a ball and form a small circle with a group of campers. If you catch the ball, you say one thing you are thankful for and then toss the ball to someone else. Or, roll up a pair of socks to toss between the bunks as part of your cabin closing process where reflections of the day are shared before lights out. Focusing on positives can distract from waiting for the next activity, and campers get to know each other better. This could also be a team-building event for staff.

4. Spread Thankful Hearts When Everyone Returns Home 

Ask campers and families to share why they are thankful for camp and encourage them to post photos or short videos on social media. Parents can post online reviews on why your camp made a difference to their child. Invite families to speak at a fundraising event. Provide thankful space for staff and volunteers — host an appreciation event, ask them back next year, and use their energy to promote your camp experience to new families!

Kris Lukkarila is the office manager of Camp Odayin, whose administrative office is just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota. Camp Odayin serves young people with heart disease and their families. February is American Heart Month – use this month to raise awareness about heart disease and create a culture of grateful hearts. Did you know that congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect? Read more at

Photo courtesy of Laura Hoagland, Camp Odayin, Crosslake, Minnesota