Summer camp gives kids the opportunity to gain independence and confidence as well as learn new life skills. Often kids at Camp Jewell discover that making new friends is easier than they may have thought and the friendships that come out of the experience, both peers and staff, are some of the strongest allies they will have as they take on adolescence. Campers realize that the perceptions of the kids at school are actually not what defines them as a person. If you ask a camper what they like about camp, 95% of them will say something about being allowed to “be themselves”. This is not by happy accident, this is a result of a carefully crafted culture that is accepting of all, diverse in nature, and built on the values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility.
Our nationally-known resident camp program provides youth ages 7-16 with an opportunity to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. To many youth, the world of today can seem overwhelmingly complicated to navigate. Camp Jewell reminds them all that success boils down to surrounding yourself with good people who actively show caring toward one another. Campers learn that every challenge is easier when you are confident in who you are as a person, and that this confidence comes from knowing you are truly cared about by more than just your immediate family.
Camp is not a vacation, there are parts of the experience that are really hard. You can’t live in a 625-square foot room with 11 other people and not experience some conflict. What counselors teach kids is that conflict is a natural part of life, learning how to deal with the conflict is the real challenge, and doing so is just part of growing up. In the beginning of a session, working through issues constructively as a group models conflict resolution techniques for all the campers. As the session continues, counselors balance stepping in to intervene in a situation with allowing some level of autonomy for campers to work out their differences themselves. This skill is one of the subjects counselors get the most training on prior to the summer’s start. The results are kids who go home feeling confident that they are capable of working out issues with others on their own. Parents tell us all the time “my child came home a different person”. We hear countless stories about how their kids have a renewed sense of self, that they are more willing to take on responsibilities and challenges both at school and at home. This is by design. In addition to crafting a “real” social network for every camper, and giving them opportunities to practice constructive conflict resolution, we have built the camp day around activities that allow kids to discover new things and succeed at them.
Nothing will do more for a young person’s self esteem than allowing them to discover a “natural talent”. A wide variety of activities and a culture that encourages trying new things makes for many opportunities to discover one’s own gifts. We don’t aim to cultivate superstars, instead we work to help every kid find an activity that makes sense to them, gives them enjoyment, and that gives them a sense of accomplishment. Instructors are chosen more for their passion surrounding the activity and their desire to share that passion with others rather than their own proficiency. We tell prospective staff all the time… “We don’t need Michael Jordan to teach our basketball clinic, if you love basketball and want kids to love it as much as you do then that is enough. We will teach you the lesson planning and the skill progressions you need to be successful. We can’t teach passion for the game or for working with kids.”
“Building Strong Kids” was the YMCA’s tag line for many years, and while the marketing efforts have gone in a different direction, the mission has not changed. Kids leave Camp Jewell with more self confidence, more resiliency, and with more of an understanding of themselves. We have been doing it for well over a hundred years, and we will be doing it for the next hundred years too.