A Virtual Summer Experience

By Youth Haven counselor, Pamula Twyman

My experience with Youth Haven is always different each year as we welcome new counselors, new activities, and new kids. But this one has been especially different considering COVID-19 restrictions. I have never been a virtual counselor before.

Originally, I figured it wouldn’t be any different from my previous years volunteering. We would work on our values, self-esteem, problem solving, and identifying positive and negative influences. We practiced interpersonal communication, focusing on active listening skills and body language. We continued lessons and goals set from previous onsite camps focusing on healthy lifestyles with a little bit of science, art, and nature sprinkled in. But as the weeks continued, the way we would perform would evolve and adjust to how we all handled life while quarantined.

The kids lead their counselors in an affirmation cheer.

Previously, the campers would be separated based on age and gender. This time around we were only going to focused on age. The kids had so much fun, that the scheduled one-hour camp session extended to two hours, running one group’s time into the others. The two groups would eventually join together to become one.

It’s here that the campers were able to connect with each other using prepackaged activity kits that our team distributed to them. When the campers would share their assignments, I really got a chance to explore the kids interests. Finding out we had future CEOs of a cosmetic line, business owners, artists, and chefs made exchanging ideas with one another through little squares on my computer screen truly inspiring. We had learned about each kid individually by the time we prepped the second set of activity kits. We used what we had learned to plan physical activities that not only corresponded with the lesson plans developed, but also aided with their future goals and kept their interest as well.

Pam reminds the kids what an affirmation is.

What I have taken away from this virtual experience is that regardless of each camper’s situation, they all desired social interaction and craved something different from what currently has become our normal everyday life. I was surprised by the amount of work and effort it would take to really get the ball rolling and the fearlessness needed to launch something unfamiliar as an online camp.

But what was unsurprising was how much of a positive impact we made with the kids and honestly, the impact they made on me. What COVID-19 has shown us, is the need for communication, positive reinforcement, and for us to really see one another. It also reminds us that patience, compassion, teamwork and creativity can really get you far.

How to have a scavenger hunt from home.

*This year’s Youth Haven Kids’ Camp provided online activities for youth ages 6-13 focused on the development of Character, Social Emotional Learning as well as Career Readiness, and Health and Nutrition. Using the Zoom platform the Youth Haven Camp staff facilitated video chat learning experiences through mini-lessons, games, arts and crafts, and fitness activities.

This year, 20 youth participated in 25 days of camp. The outcomes of the Youth Haven Virtual Camp included: an improved ability to self-manage health/nutrition (including adherence to COVID-19 guidelines); an improved ability to manage stressors; an improved ability to exercise leadership skills; and an attempt to achieve personal goals.

This camp was made possible by The United Planning Organization (UPO), Broadway Cares, and The George Preston Marshall Foundation. This was our first virtual camp but we hope to be back at Mar-Lu-Ridge in years to come. Please help us make summer camp possible for Maryland and D.C. youth in the future by sponsoring a youth to attend! Donate now!

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