Can Summer Camp Really Change a Person’s Life?
By Chaplain Frank Fried
What do we mean when we say “at-risk youth”? We are usually talking about teens who have experienced significant loss or mistreatment for a good part of their lives. Because of this, they are at risk for some pretty negative consequences: homelessness, drug use, incarceration, unwanted pregnancy…poor life choices in general. We try to change lives in such a way that this cycle of abuse/dysfunction is dramatically changed. A simplified way to look at this is to say that we are helping our youth to learn to plan the game of life by a different set of rules than they learned in their family of origin.
In some families, there are some pretty unhealthy rules, like:
- The person in the family who is the loudest usually gets their way.
- Being good at lying is a helpful survival skill.
- The meanest person gets to be in charge.
- The person who can “disappear” the best is the least unhappy.
- Manipulation is the best way to motivate others.
- Being kind or forgiving is a sign of weakness.
- Surviving is the best someone can hope for.
One of our goals is to change the direction of a person’s life by helping them see that there are better ways to get what you want and need. This is a common thread that runs through almost all of our programs. For many kids and young adults, a significant experience is a week at summer camp.
When we think of a kid at camp, we usually think of swimming, hiking, crafts, maybe archery, and just plain having fun! True enough! But if you step back and see the big picture of camp, it’s really more about relationships:
- Good times with friends
- Making new friends
- Having a little week-long family with your cabin-mates and counselor
- And the relationship experiences are different at camp…no TV, cell phones, homework, or chores!
The first part of heading in a new and positive direction in life usually comes from seeing and believing that positive change is possible. Many have said that a week at camp is worth a year of therapy. A week at camp can truly be a life-changing experience. And as the Olive Crest Chaplain, I must mention that a week at a Christian camp has given many youth the opportunity to choose to change their paths by seeing and seeking to play the game of life by a new, rewarding set of rules. And not just by a new set of rules but by having a real relationship with God!