Creating magic at Camp Adventure – summer day camp for children of military personnel

Christopher R. Edginton

Creating magic for youth and family members of the U.S. Air Force is the goal of a unique and valued partnership between a university and the military. This past summer, the Charleston Air Force Base Youth Services program teamed with the University of Northern Iowa’s Camp Adventure[TM] program to produce a summer of fun and developmentally sound day camp experiences. During the summer, children at Charleston Air Force Base (CAFB) have had the opportunity to learn and grow through the exciting and creative Camp Adventure program. The camp’s flexible curriculum enables the staff to program specifically for the needs and interests of the children enrolled. Weekly field trips, games, songs and special events are all planned to best use the Charleston area. The activities have focused on creating opportunities for social and personal growth of children, while allowing exploration and discovery.

Camp Adventure: A Program of Excellence

The Camp Adventure program was established in 1985. Operating as a unit of the

School of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services at the University of Northern Iowa, Camp Adventure is dedicated to building mutually beneficially relationships with youth service programs operated by the U.S. military worldwide. Initially serving three military communities in the Republic of Korea, today the program serves all four branches of the U.S. military and is located on more than 70 military installations in 11 countries.

Camp Adventure programs have provided innovative and dynamic services for the family members of U.S. military personnel and civilians in Germany, Italy, Spain, England, Panama, Guam, Belgium, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Korea, Japan and the United States. A full range of age-appropriate leisure activities are provided by highly qualified, professionally trained student counselors and instructors. Camp Adventure is also involved in staff development of U.S. military personnel working with youth; in 1993 it will release a new training program called Total Quality Program Planning (TQP) to be used U.S. Army-wide.

In 1992, Camp Adventure served more than 300,000 children. Its programs and services are based upon a sound set of youth development principles, emphasizing and promoting the individual self-worth and dignity of each child. Camp Adventure strives to produce customized innovative, creative and unique services that are high impact, high quality and youth-focused. The programs emphasize enjoyment and fun while at the same time creating educational and recreational environments that emphasize learning a variety of skills.

The values of Camp Adventure are reflected in its motto; student counselors create an environment of “… magic and delight, joy and laughter, wonder and discovery, fellowship and friendship, learning and sharing, and pride and achievement.” Camp staff “… strive to produce the impossible; they have few preconceived notions. If they believe it can be done, it happens. Our bottom line is our front line leaders. We care about kids… and promote positive, youth/leader interactions. Our goal is to create magic moments for youth that last a lifetime.”

Front-line leaders both intentionally or unintentionally transmit values to youth and others of the public with whom they interact. There is no such thing as a value-free program, activity or event. Camp Adventure believes that it is important for youth leaders to be aware of the way in which they influence values. The leader’s language, dress, attitudes, ideas and behavior toward others, as well as other factors, affect the youth they serve. In every program, activity or event, counselors strive to create “magic experiences” for youth. Magic is operationally defined as “when the reality of the programs created exceed the expectations of youth.”

Magic does not happen “magically.” It can’t be thrown together. The student counselors that are part of Camp Adventure are encouraged to believe in and enjoy programming for youths enough to commit the time and the physical and creative energy to create magic. A high level of effort is required to do anything that is worthwhile and of quality. Program director Marie Grothus indicates that she believes the success of her staff is based on their 24-hour commitment to the program.

According to Lt. Col. Dave MacNeil, whose sons, Andrew (8) and Paul (10), attend Camp Adventure at CAFB, Camp Adventure magic has surfaced through his boys’ enthusiasm toward attending camp. “They’re proud of what they do there,” said MacNeil. When MacNeil informed his sons that because of finances they would only be able to attend camp a few weeks during the summer, both boys said that they wanted to attend and were willing to help raise the money themselves. MacNeil decided to enroll them every other week.

The staff at Charleston consists of six counselors under the direction of Grothus. Counselor Maria Schmit, a junior leisure studies major at the University of Northern Iowa, says that it is her commitment to the program as well as the children which compels her to work hard. Dorothy Robson, director of youth services at CAFB, said that she views one of the greatest strengths of the program to be the unity of the staff. In addition, she said she appreciates the way the staff deals with children, giving a child individual attention, trying to understand what the child is going through. Robson notes that “Staff try to find out why a child is misbehaving before taking disciplinary action.”

As she visits installations on the east coast, Project Coordinator Dr. Jane Mertesdorf reports that she has found at each site an unusual commitment by the staff to the Camp Adventure program. In addition, she sees each staff working together as a unit, with a chemistry and energy that creates a positive and dynamic atmosphere. It is this atmosphere, explains Mertesdorf, that results in positive experiences for the children. “Time is taken to listen to the children, to talk with them,” she says, “each child is given time!”

Staff Sergeant John Joyner, an Air Force safety specialist, has enrolled his daughter Sarah in Camp Adventure for the summer. Joyner says, “You can offer kids things that are entertaining, but the counselors are the key to getting the kids to interact and enjoy the camp.” Joyner said that he has made an effort to meet and get to know all of the counselors at CAFB. As a result, he feels comfortable leaving his daughter at Camp Adventure. He has found the staff to be dependable and caring, and he appreciates the high quality of Camp Adventure programs. “The program builds that extra bond,” he says, “It’s a program with care.”

A Win-Win Partnership

Other benefits to the military are numerous. For the U.S. Air Force, the partnership provides high quality, highly visible leisure services which contribute to the positive development of military youth, the enhancement of the family unit and, in turn, the morale of U.S. Air Force personnel. Some of the benefits the U.S. Air Force receives from this partnership are:

* A high impact leisure services program for youth of U.S. military personnel that results in an increased sense of self-esteem and self-worth for participants.

* Help in achieving its mission of improving the morale of U.S. Air Force personnel and families.

* Professional leadership of the highest caliber to operate seasonal recreation programs.

* Consistency in program offerings from year to year and from base to base.

* Positive publicity for the U.S. Air Force as a result of high-visibility youth programs.

* New and innovative ideas from prepared materials, workshops, seminars and other development programs.

Dorothy Robson, director of Youth Services at CAFB, has noted, “Camp Adventure is a program which we’d hoped would be received well by the parents because it’s different and unique.” Robson continues, “the program also reduces the workload for the (Youth Services) staff and director; it’s a better curriculum with an active staff.”

Staff Development: A Key to Success

Camp Adventure student counselors are extensively trained in a spirited and highly organized development program known as Camp Adventure College. The development program consists of a 40 to 50 hour course, usually conducted over ten weeks, in which the values, traditions, skills and knowledge needed to run summer camp programs are taught. Students are trained in such topics as risk management, youth development, conflict resolution, working with the military and behavior management, as well as crafts, games, songs, skits and other activities. Students are also trained in the “Camp Adventure Way,” which is the program’s formula for success. The Camp Adventure way stresses the following:

* Quality and excellence

* Attention to detail

* Support and protect the family

* Positive child/leader interaction

* Anticipation of needs

* Resourcefulness

* Cooperation

* Planned, well-organized activities

* Positive Attitude

* Pride

The 280-page Camp Adventure College handbook states that the program “attempts to create a caring and sharing environment which provides for the personal growth of both campers and staff. It emphasizes that Camp Adventure is the students’ opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life and to “Catch the Magic.” Within Camp Adventure College[TM], students develop their expertise in working with youth, leadership and a variety of activities. As part of the development program, they also must be certified in first aid and CPR, and have participated in a lifeguard training program. The program is designed in such a way as to ensure consistency in terms of procedures, leadership methods, and program design.

These developmental activities provide students with a superior base from which to operate an effective, dynamic program. Upon exiting the development program, they know about military procedures and methods and youth program operations. They are in a position to implement what they have planned, as well as train others in the philosophy, program aims and objectives and specific activities and services of Camp Adventure.

Total Quality Programming Planning

Camp Adventure uses a management strategy know as Total Quality Program Planning (TQP). The TQP approach includes commitment to quality, effective planning, creating “magic” for youth, helping youth feel valued and encouraging youth development, involvement and leadership. The Total Quality Program Planning process is based on the assumption that the leader can work within the organization to produce quality leisure programs that consistently and effectively meet the needs of youth, and even exceed their expectations. TQP uses guidelines to create services that exceed the expectations of youth. Organizations and leaders committed to the concept of quality will outperform those that are not.

There are many well-funded, wonderful facilities, staffed with capable professionals that don’t attract youth, or that produce an uninspiring program of activities for those who do attend. The goal of the youth leader is not only to produce a technically and developmentally sound program, but to create a special intangible quality within the program or event that touches the emotional or spiritual side of youth. Quality is often thought of as a perception of “excellence.” It is an attitude that leaders have that transforms their effort into purposeful, meaningful and creative leisure programs. Quality performance requires a focus on the needs of the customer (youth, parents and community) as the cornerstone for creating services that are relevant and that help youth feel valued.

In this sense, Total Quality Program Planning is dedicated to producing magic moments for children that last a lifetime. A quality program will produce positive experiences for youth that they will carry with them throughout their childhood and adult life. Such experiences will be locked into their minds and emotions, and serve as a beacon for future positive adult behaviors. However, these types of experiences can only be produced when the focus of the leadership within the organization is on quality programs that incorporate youth development and that use a youth-centered program design.

Camp Adventure’s daily activities are designed to create enthusiasm and excitement for youth–from the welcome activities which begin each day with songs, energy and an announcement of the day’s activities, to closing activities which promote feelings of unity and friendship to motivate youth to want to return the following day. To guide activities for the day camp program at Charleston Air Force Base, we chose an imaginative overall theme: Catch the Magic! Use of an overall theme is valuable in developing program activities that are focused. It is a way of generating ideas for events, skits, songs, talent shows and other activities that are a part of the day camp environment, in keeping with the purpose of providing fun and wholesome activities which allow children to explore the outdoors, help acquire lifelong leisure skills, promote democratic values and enhance military life.

Counselors implement a comprehensive day camp program that encompasses relevant program areas and forms of recreation, with careful consideration of the developmental stages of the various age groups represented. We consider such factors as environmental conditions and availability of operational support (i.e., phones, transportation, shelters, recreation equipment, supplies and materials and so on). The basic program aims and objectives of Catch the Magic! are achieved by using a set of integrated, creative and imaginative theme programs. We plan a special theme for each of the camp sessions. Themes for this year include Toon Town Capers, Hip Hop Rap & Rock, Enchanted Spells and Wishing Wells, Space Raiders and Cosmic Invaders, and others.

We organize the themes in such a way as to highlight special, unique features for each of the weeks of the day camp program. These themes will be the basis for program promotion for the entire program as well as stimulate interest in each week’s activities. The day camp program provides a wide range of summer adventures for children and youth.

Clubs Work Together

One of the unique programming ideas within the day camp format is that of the “club” concept. Interest groups form clubs and work together to complete activities they have decided upon. Robson says that the clubs program is a strong asset of the Camp Adventure program. Clubs offer new challenges and experiences for campers. Children are able to learn about diverse aspects of theme-related subjects. “I see the kids being happy, being active, and being able to express themselves without fear,” says Robson. “… even ‘problem’ children have learned to express themselves in a better way.” Clubs are also an opportunity for counselors to use their own personal talents.

According to Grothus, the CAFB Camp Adventure program has a very talented staff which has been able to use that talent in guiding the clubs and other activities. “My staff complements each other, we work as a team,” said Grothus.

Camp Adventure has been identified by Navy Times and Army Times as the most viable alternative to providing youth services, especially day camp programs, available to the U.S. military. The partnership with the U.S.Air Force has provided a dynamic alternative to operating in-house youth programs. Dorothy Robson, director of youth services at CAFB, suggests that in considering Camp Adventure, a youth services director should first look at their current summer program, examine what they have and decide if it is what the community needs. Then, according to Robson, look at Camp Adventure and see what it has to offer.

COPYRIGHT 1993 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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