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Creating a Lifetime of Memories: Sleep Away Camp

by Paula Chaiken

For many people, sleep away camp is not only great fun – it also provides a lifetime of memories, friends, and meaningful experiences.  Dina Stewart of Hazelton attended Camp Harlam for several summers when she was a child and loved it. She says, “Camp played such a huge part in who I am today. The friends I made there are still my friends today.”

Today’s camps offer everything from traditional activities – hiking, sports, swimming, boating, and campfires – to more modern activities, including adventure ropes, go karts, and out-of-camp trips.  

Jim Payne, Executive Director of Camp Orchard Hill, a Christian day and resident camp in Dallas states, “Camp isn’t just for kids who are into sports, anymore. We have over 40 recreational and educational activities for campers. “ He also points out that camps now cater to parents more concerned with their children’s day to day experience. “Many camps allow the parents access to their children while they’re away. Through email and daily online photos, parents can see that their children are having fun.”

Eleven-year-old John Macey of Dallas has attended weeklong Boy Scout Camps for the past few summers. He says that camp is “a lot of fun. You’re constantly doing all kinds of fun stuff and you’re never bored.”

While many parents want to give their children the experience of overnight camp, multiple questions complicate the decision. What are the benefits of overnight camp? How do today’s parents know when – or if – their children are ready for overnight camp? How long should they send their children? How does one decide which camp is right for their children? This article hopes to answer some of those questions.

BENEFITS

Cole Kelly is director of Camp WeeQuahic, a non-denominational, three or six week camp that’s almost 60 years old located in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Kelly says that the most important benefit of camp is that “kids are there to have a lot of fun, but, there is a deeper and more important reason to attend camp, too. Children build independence that you can’t in any other situation. They learn to adapt, build friendships and learn to do things on their own, without their parents (though they’re always supported by staff mentors).”

Kelly recalls a campfire with his senior boys, aged 13 -15. He taught them to cook a steak, red peppers and onions. After the summer, a mother phoned Kelly, “What did you do to my son?” she asked. “He’s eating his vegetables.”

Toby Ayash serves as the Executive Director of Pinemere Camp, located in Stroudsburg, PA, which has been providing exceptional Jewish overnight camping for 70 summers. Pinemere offers campers the option of a one, three, four or seven- week session.

To Ayash. the most important experience of camp is the opportunity for children to learn to live within a community and “navigate the issues of the community. They learn independence. Campers are also able to go away and take ‘safe risks’ – from acting in a show to climbing on the high ropes course, they can do things they normally wouldn’t do.”

Parents also appreciate that their children are ‘unplugged’ at camp. Ayash says that kids are able to “get outside, get in nature, and get dirty” at camp. Away from social pressures and social networking, they find a much-needed break.

Mike “Mack” McElhinney, the Outdoor Center Director of YMCA Camp Kresge in White Haven, adds that “campers make memories that will last a lifetime.” Camp Kresge offers weeklong sessions and campers may attend for one, two or three weeks.

IS YOUR CHILD READY FOR OVERNIGHT CAMP? ARE YOU?

Parents convinced of the benefits of overnight camp need to take a good look at their children – and at themselves – before deciding to send them away. If your child enjoys sleeping over at a friend’s house, she is asking about camp, and she likes to try new experiences, she is probably ready for an overnight camp experience.

Many camps offer try-it-out days for first time campers such as Weequaic’s ‘Camper for a Day’ on July 8 and 29, Pinemere’s SPARK weekend on July 13 -15, and Kresge’s Open House on May 20 from 1 – 4 PM. Camp Orchard Hill also offers family programming throughout the year.

Ayash has known children who have begged their parents to send them to overnight camp, but the parent isn’t ready. She suggests that sending a child to overnight camp is a family decision, but sometimes, “the parent has be to ready to push his or her own issues aside.” She continues, “If, however, there has been a family event during the year, a divorce, a death, or a move, for instance, this might not be the best time to send your child to camp.”

McElhinney believes that “every child should have a summer camp.” He suggests there is a camp for everyone and parents should simply speak to a camp director in person or on the phone to find out if the camp can accommodate their child, even if she has special needs. Specialty overnight camps cater to every type of child, from gymnastics camps for Olympic hopefuls to those struggling to lose weight to those with autism and other special needs.

And camper Macey advises his peers that they shouldn’t be scared to attend overnight camp. “Camp is a lot of fun. The time goes by so fast cause you’re always busy and having fun. You’ll be home before you know it.”

FINDING THE PERFECT CAMP

Once parents have decided that they want to send their child to camp, they need to find the right one. But how do parents even narrow down the hundreds of choices?

A good place to start is the website of the American Camping Association --- acacamps.org.  It has a ‘Find A Camp’ option that allows parents to research camps based on various criteria: activities, cultural/religious focus, affiliation, cost, length of session and more.

Speaking of cost, many camps offer scholarships, both need-based and incentive scholarships. Additionally, churches, synagogues and other non-profit organizations may offer assistance camp tuition assistance.

Camp directors suggest calling camps that parents are interested in and arranging a meeting or a tour of the camp before deciding on a camp. Children should be included in the camp tour experience and the decision making process.

When speaking with a camp representative, Payne of Camp Orchard Hill suggests asking specific questions. What is the camper to counselor ratio? Is the camp accredited by the American Camping Association, which includes more than 300 safety and program standards? Does the camp offer program outcomes? What kinds of health and safety measures exist? What is the staff training? Is there a bullying policy? He also advises asking about the food, for example, are there options for picky eaters and/or food allergies?

Through research and tours, parents shouldn’t have a difficult time finding the right camp for their child. Whether it’s for one week or the whole summer, religious or secular, specialty or general, an overnight camp experience will create a lifetime of memories.

HELPFUL WEBSITES

For information about overnight camps in general and for help in choosing an overnight camp: acacamps.org

For information about camps listed in this article

pinemere.com

campkresge.com

weequahic.com

camporchardhill.com

Paula Chaiken spent thirteen fabulous summers at overnight camp and wishes she could go back.

June