Every summer we provide an opportunity for middle school students to experience summer camp with Young Life. Along with the typical summer experiences including exciting activities, outdoor time to explore Creation, and crazy fun sing-alongs, summer camp for our students can be a life-changing event.
Most of our students have limited resources, so summer camp, or any kind of travel really, would be an impossible dream. Last year when we took our students to California, none of them had ever seen the ocean before. It was an incredible experience to see it again through their eyes!
While there are certain things that we could accomplish just as well through our programs at home, there are other things we have seen our students only really experience through their summer camp trip:
Broadening their horizons
Just like the students who had never seen the ocean before, we have seen our students grow and develop through new experiences. They learn to interact with new and different people as we travel with other Young Life groups and have the opportunity to experience activities they have never done before and see places they have never been.
Summer camp gives kids an opportunity to get away from the everyday pressures of life. Many of our students have a tough time in their daily life and are often responsible for helping take care of their family and siblings.
Summer camp gives them the opportunity to shed the burdens and responsibilities and maybe even process things they wouldn’t normally have time to think about. We have observed how being away from pressures actually helps them see things more clearly, and, as a natural result, they are often more likely to talk about them.
Most importantly, we see them grow in their faith. They are able to view their lives — the good stuff and the tough parts — through the lens of faith. They learn how much God loves them, and that He cares about all the stuff going on.
We work with our students all year long in our Kids Create program, but during the year we have a lot going on in our programs, including helping our students with homework and other activities. They know us. They are used (familiar? comfortable? to us.
But something about going on the summer camp experience with the students takes our bond to a deeper level. Having more time to interact and experiencing new things together helps the students realize how much they are loved. They often open up to questions about faith or personal struggles that we don’t always get to talk about when we are at home.
When we get home, we truly feel like we have moved from a leader to a mentor position. It really does deepen our year-round program in a way no other activity really can.
Who gets to go?
Students who are regular attendees at our Launch Pad programs and show an effort toward good behavior are invited to go to camp. They don’t have to be perfect. Even kids with troubles can go, but we need to know they’ll make the effort to follow the rules and be safe.
The full cost of the program is about $700 with staff fees and transportation costs. This would be way out of reach for virtually all of the families in our programs. We ask each participant’s family to contribute $50 and each participant to give 10 hours of volunteer time in the community or within their family. This volunteer time must be logged and signed off on by a parent or leader.
If that is out of reach, we ask at least a $10 contribution and an 18-hour volunteer commitment from the student. We find this requirement builds responsibility and buy-in from families and students. They truly value something more if they have had to work for it.
We see the fruit of this program all year long. Students are motivated and grow deeper in their relationships.
One of the best, but most unexpected, results we have seen from summer camp is that the kids realize we are human just like them. We see them three days a week during the school year, but at summer camp, they learn how much we really care about them. They see us enjoying the experience as much as they do. There is nothing else like the bond we can create through shared experience!
That bond also impacts us! We are inspired by being at camp and seeing how much the kids can grow and learn by watching God work in their lives. It is truly a humbling and exciting experience.
It also serves as a springboard for the rest of the year — allowing us an opportunity for deeper communication and processing all year long.
Most kids say this is the best time in their lives! They work hard all year long at Launch Pad so that they will be able to go to camp again next year. We are already looking forward to summer camp 2017!!
Check out our post with stories from Evelyn and Bryan, who participated in our summer camp this year!