The years when children attend summer camp intersect with some of the most impressionable years of a person’s life, when social interactions, experiences and lessons often form long-term identities. Choosing the right camp can seem intimidating in that respect, but it doesn’t have to be. All camps offer benefits for children that include developing confidence, social skills and a sense of independence.
But if it’s a priority that your child(ren) cultivate an appreciation for and tendency toward empathy, environmentalism and community service, there are some camps that make good deeds a part of their focus.
“The feeling of making a difference in the lives of others is an immeasurably inspiring experience,” says Emmie Hutchison, coordinator of the City of Lakewood’s H2O (Help to Others) Youth Program, which holds a Summer Service Camp where local kids have an opportunity to give back to their community in various ways through a two-week camp experience. “It instills lasting confidence and builds self-awareness, which are the foundation of growth and leadership. It changes the way children think about others and how they act toward each other.”
“During my two years at H2O, this camp has opened my eyes to so many selfless perspectives,” says Amelia Moore, a ninth-grade camper. “I’ve realized how rewarding it is to help others in need, and this camp has kept it fun! All of the counselors and campers are so funny and genuinely kind — we’re all united by our love of helping others.”
Camps that incorporate good deeds help children grow into adults who are better equipped to be civic leaders, empathetic neighbors and environmental advocates.
The Full Experience
The Summer Service Camp’s program is completely centered on community outreach and philanthropy, with activities ranging from working the assembly line at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank to visiting elderly care facilities to working the land at a community garden. While this particular camp is only for Lakewood residents, parents living in other cities can check with their local civic organizations to see if there is a program available (or if not, if one can be started).
Expanding outside of the hyperlocal community, Camp Whitewood, in Windsor, is a 4-H camp that incorporates all of the traditional outdoor camping activities like swimming, hiking, crafts and such, but the undercurrent of the entire camp is good stewardship of nature and the welfare of other human beings.
“Every day our campers discuss the strengths and opportunities they have that can be put to good use around them,” says Andrew Hudak, camp director of Whitewood. “We discuss how we can improve ourselves, our community, our country and our world by using our heads for clearer thinking, our hearts for greater loyalty, our hands for larger service. Our campers are encouraged to take these ideals and apply them to each day at Camp Whitewood to improve their own lives and the experiences of those around them.”
Got an animal lover on your hands? Some camps offer service learning through education and care of animals, including local animal shelters that offer summer youth experiences or summer day camps at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo or Akron Zoo.
Sue Ford, lesson and camp manager for Chagrin Valley Farm’s summer programs, emphasizes the importance of instilling confidence, responsibility and empathy in campers. Similar to traditional outdoor camps, problem-solving and physical activity are part of daily life. But at CVF, it’s all in horse-related activities.
“Children learn what is involved when responsible for a horse’s care and wellbeing,” Ford says. “Although very fun, the camp experience is not just about the participant. Learning the care required for maintaining healthy, content horses is incorporated into our curriculum.”
Traditional With a Twist
If your family loves the idea of a traditional camp experience, but still wants a sampling of good deeds sprinkled in, there are many camps that weave in stewardship and community service as a component of the program.
The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America camps are well-known for their multi-component camps that incorporate traditional elements like campfire building, orienteering, hiking, boating and exploring nature, while teaching children the importance of good environmental stewardship and humanitarianism.
“To be truly prepared for college and a globally competitive workplace, children need more than access to technology and millions of facts at their fingertips — they need to be able to think critically, communicate persuasively, understand and practice empathy, build healthy relationships, and learn how to learn,” says Kimberly Graves, director of marketing, communications and recruitment strategies for Girl Scouts of North East Ohio. “Girl Scouting helps girls discover themselves and their abilities through skill-building activities and opportunities to try new things, connect with others to create change, and take action by developing projects that make their communities and the world a better place.”
Summer camps like Camp Roosevelt-Firebird in Bowerston work with their local community to add service projects into the camp experience. Things like jumping in on a Habitat for Humanity project, maintaining the grounds of a nearby cemetery or helping local farmers all help to cultivate a service-based identity in campers.
“One gets a sense of purpose and connection outside of oneself through service and good deeds,” says Joe Mendes, owner and camp director of Roosevelt-Firebird. “As we age, we’re not going to receive a treat every time we do something good. Therefore, to learn to do something because it’s the right thing, the kind and generous thing, to do is an essential lesson worth learning.”
If your family is looking for ways to grow your child’s exposure to empathy and giving back, camp can be a great way to do so. As your family is comparing camp options, look into each camp’s programming and ask the director questions related to how they incorporate service, good deeds and stewardship into their experience.