Blog written with the assistance of Youth Development and Wellness intern, Danitra Dorsey-Daniels
From July 29 to August 2, LSSNCA’s Youth Haven (YH) program held it’s 20th annual Kids Camp at Mar-Lu-Ridge outdoor education center in Jefferson, Maryland. During this annual retreat, 24 campers (including 4 first-timers) between the ages of 7 to 14 were taken out of their comfort zones and into nature. YH Camp is a place for them to explore, learn, push themselves, create healthy relationships and life-long bonds, and focus on self-care.
The YH Kids Camp 2019 was an amazing experience for young people to build new connections and explore nature away from the bustle of the two major cities where the participants live (Washington D.C. and Baltimore, MD). Staff and volunteer counselors were very diligent, thoughtful, and hardworking in preparing a welcoming atmosphere by creating learning opportunities through the scheduled activities over the five-day adventure with the campers. The activities were a great mix of physical, creative, and social interactions. There was a great mix of younger and older boys and girls, so many of the plans allowed for campers to get to know everyone with specialized activities that suited their developmental stage. Some of the campers’ favorite activities this year included: nature studies, video production, dance party, campfire with s’mores, talent show, swimming, olympics day, high ropes course and zip line, rock climbing, and hiking.
The campers were challenged to venture out of their comfort zones by sharing spaces with potential friends and learning how to properly regulate their emotions and behaviors with others. The campers’ best interests and well-being were always at the forefront of planning. One structural component of the retreat was having overarching values that taught participants what to do instead of rules that teach young people what not to do. For instance, ‘Treat everyone with love and respect’ was prioritized in comparison to ‘do not curse’, ‘do not hit’, ‘do not push’ because the list can go on forever and become unmanageable. With this type of messaging, it promotes prosocial behavior and easy redirection of campers that may get off task.
The senior counselors worked tirelessly throughout the day and into the evenings to ensure the campers had a structured and enjoyable schedule. Additionally, Leaders in Training (LITs) were able to connect with campers based on their experiences as former camp participants/ alumni members of the YH Camp. Our 4 LITs all started with the YH program between the ages of 8 and 10 and are now 15, 17, 18, and 19. They did an excellent job of supporting the young campers by modeling the camp’s “precious gems” principles: Ruby – we treat each other with love and respect; Emerald – we leave our space better than we found it; Diamond – we try new things; and Platinum– we treat others how they want to be treated.
According to LIT Donovan: “The experience I had was like a roller coaster, you have your ups and downs but at the end of the day the counselors are there to make sure the kids have a good time… The importance of this camp in particular is that you take children who are less fortunate to a place where they can find themselves or just get away. I’m glad to participate in the camp and glad to help the camp.”
Everyone provided a sense of connection and belonging to the group as a whole. Furthermore, it was awesome to see the generous donations that allowed the campers to fully participate in the camp experience. Thank you, because it really made a difference in eliminating barriers with those that fall into marginalized groups. This was a very safe and warm place and I look forward to being able to volunteer in the future.
The 2019 YH Kids Camp would not have been possible without the support of our volunteer counselors, LSSNCA staff members, LITs, volunteer nurses, and multiple donors.
Huge thanks to the following amazing humans and organizations:
- Senior Counselors: Diondre, Pamula, DaJane, DeSean, Delante, and Bobby;
- Special shout out to Bobby for donating wacky-game supplies (like green slime!); and to Pamula for donating nature supplies (like flavored, edible mealworms YUM!);
- Leaders in Training: Ebony, Amaya, Angel, and Donovan;
- Nurses: Shonte and Maria;
- Departing LIT Tadiwa for volunteering her time to help pack and set up camp;
- LSSNCA Staff Members: Dara, Alicia. Danitra, and Jennifer;
- Donors: Johns Hopkins University, Clinical Care Options LLC, the George Preston Marshall Foundation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, the Dunn Loring Dolphins, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and Lynn Tedesco;
- And to Mar-Lu-Ridge for hosting us once again!
If you are interested in supporting a Youth Haven retreat or camper in the future, reach out to Alicia Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.