Community Service:
A Hot Camp Trend

by Ellen Warren

What’s a hot trend in summer camps this year? Hint: It isn’t trapeze or go-karts. At camps across the country, community service projects are becoming as popular as sports, adventure, and the arts. Parents are increasingly seeking a service component as part of a camp’s program.

Liberty Lake Day Camp in Columbus, NJ is one of about 20 camps in the Northeast that annually sponsor a “swim-a-thon” to raise money for Morry’s Camp — which gives disadvantaged children the gift of summer camp.

Brandie Lynn, assistant director of Liberty Lake Day Camp, says that almost 100 percent of their campers swim for Morry’s Camp because children like helping other children. Before the swim-a-thon, staff discuss Morry’s Camp with the campers and send information to parents, who then pledge to donate a dollar amount for each lap their child swims.

In addition to the swim-a-thon, some Liberty Lake campers raise money for Morry’s Camp throughout the summer by making, advertising and selling food items to campers during lunch. They helped donate $3,000 to Morry’s Camp last summer.

Helping: A Strong Value
Campers attending B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp, a Jewish overnight camp in Lake Como, PA, also participate in an annual swim-a-thon to raise funds for seriously ill children.
The event is one of many community service projects that campers share on Mitzvah (good deed) Day and throughout the summer.

Camp Director Joe Finkelstein says that community service is a crucial element of B’nai B’rith Perlman’s camp program. “Parents know that ‘helping’ is a very strong value in Jewish camping,” says Finkelstein.

In 2006, after catastrophic flooding devastated a small town near the camp, Saul Ostroff, the camp’s environmental education director, offered assistance to the victims.

Upon learning that an elderly couple couldn’t enter their home due to the flood debris, campers went to work shoveling and removing 25 tons of gravel and rock, and then built a retaining wall to prevent further damage from the nearby creek. “We found the number of volunteers was limited only by the space in the van,” says Ostroff.

At Camp Country Center, a day and overnight camp operated by the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Council in Hockessin, DE, girls ages 8-14 help in a streamside restoration project. They also use the carpentry skills they learn in a weeklong Handyman Day Camp program to fix benches and make repairs to the non-profit camp facility.

Other Projects
While some camps swim to raise funds, others walk. For each of the past three summers, about 500 campers and staff at Briarwood Day Camp in Furlong, PA have raised thousands of dollars through pledges walking for the Make-a-Wish foundation.

At Camp Susquehannock for Boys and Girls, older campers from both camps join together to participate in the Relay for Life 24-hour walk held at a high school near the camp in Brackney, PA.

Susquehannock counselor and former camper Rachel Zuckerman says, “The satisfaction of raising money for the American Cancer Society is a big part of the event, but the bonding that comes from joining with each other and the community is also a source of gratification. Now younger campers eagerly await their turn to participate in this camp tradition.”

Gary Karp, assistant camp director of the Brandywine YMCA’s Camp Quoowant in Wilmington, DE, says that service is a part of the program for age 13-15 LITs, or Leaders-in-Training, who annually help clean up local parks or assist at area food banks. Food service is also popular with the campers of Camp Galil, an overnight camp in Ottsville, PA, where campers participate in the Jewish Relief Agency’s food packing drive.

Brian Cohen, a Galil counselor from Philadelphia, says, “Parents value the fact that we impress the importance of community service, but they value even more that we instill in our youth the desire to organize their own programs, and we make sure that our youth understand how to do it themselves.”

At Galil and its year-round counterpart, Eizor Galil, service projects are always preceded by an activity that fosters the importance of being involved in the community and the world.

All-Service Camps
At some newer camps, service isn’t just a part of the program, it’s the entire program.
YMCA Camp Shand in Cornwall, PA offers a one-week resident Service Camp for children ages 14-17. Director Chris Smith says that the camp, in which children perform a wide variety of projects, has been so popular with campers and parents that the program will expand with more weeks this summer.

Now in its third year, Spark the Wave, which grew out of the American Red Cross Leadership Development Center, is offering Wave Week, a weeklong service and leadership camp for students in grades 7-11, to be held this year at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA.

Tom Coyne, director of Wave Week, says that students come from throughout the Delaware Valley to learn leadership skills and apply them to service projects for partners such as Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest Food Bank, and the Veterans Hospital.
Staffed almost entirely by volunteers, “Spark the Wave is proof that a small group of driven people, regardless of age, can do anything they put their minds to,” says staff member Laura Payne.

Camp directors say that teaching service helps children learn to take responsibility for themselves and their planet. Community service is another way for children to practice cooperation, leadership and compassion.

Ellen Warren is a consultant to the American Camp Association Keystone Section.