Ask anyone who spent time at a summer camp and they will speak of fond memories and friends around a campfire. But camp is more than fun. Summer camps have been a tool for Youth Development since they first began over a century ago.
Traditions in summer camp take many forms. Silly songs and campfire ceremonies may be the first images that come to mind, but the tradition runs deeper and with more purpose. Every week a group of campers from different backgrounds go into the woods away from parents, TV, and societal pressures. Camp creates its own society where the core values of Caring, Honesty, Respect, and Responsibility are not just words on a poster, but part of everyday life.
Staff are not coaches or counselors but leaders purposefully chosen for their ability to mentor and lead a cabin of kids and live the Cause of the Y. They are trained not only in safety procedures and program areas; but also in child development, character building, and enrichment. The results of this intentionality impacts campers the rest of their lives.
Camp provides experiences that promote self-confidence and future academic growth. American Camp Association (ACA) independent research shows that parents, camp staff, and the campers themselves report significant growth in several areas, including leadership, independence, social comfort, values and decisions.
Last summer more than 14 million children went to summer camps. Research shows that by prioritizing experiential learning, meaningful interactions between peers, communal living and small group processing, camps significantly increase one’s future performance in college, in their community and in the professional world.
Many of today’s top leaders both in Central Iowa and the US credit their accomplishments to their time spent at summer camp. Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, describes in his book Camp, how time spent in a canoe at camp taught him valuable skills of teamwork and communication. Stroll through downtown Des Moines and you will see the effects of camp in the success of businesses led by former campers: Keck Parking, Wells Fargo, Rasmussen Group, Morgan Stanley and others.
Summer camp is more than fishing, s’mores and archery. It’s a tradition. A tradition of looking inside a young person and seeing not just who they are, but who they can be and the good they can accomplish. A tradition that sends thousands of kids back to school each year more self-confident, ready to be a good friend, and better prepared to lead. Y Camp is a tradition, that much like the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, has a bright future ahead of it.