How Summer Camp Promotes Character, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship

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Even casual observation reveals the powerful role the summer camp experience plays in accelerating character development in children anD teens. The question then becomes “What’s next?” The answer, it appears, is emerging leadership — often expressed through entrepreneurship.

Character Development

• Developing supportive adult-child relationships • Discussing expectations in different camp situations • Exposing campers to community values • Considering the perspectives of others

Leadership Learned

Intentional leadership development, such as the type practiced at Camp Rising Sun (CRS) in Rhinebeck, New York, has shed important
new light on the outcomes of early teen summer camp experiences. In assessing the impact — across multiple domains of development
— of a seven-week selective international leadership program for gifted adolescent boys and girls, CRS found that experiential learning
about leadership, diversity, and sensitivity to the needs of others resulted in important personal advances in tolerance, global awareness, self-confidence, sensitivity, relationships, and development of lifelong interests (Louis August Jonas Foundation, 2014).

Similarly, campers enrolled in the teen leadership program at Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, Massachusetts, routinely cite gains in maturity, leadership, personal development, social skills, adaptability, confidence, independence, and responsibility (Wallace, 2013).

Social Entrepreneurs

Common characteristics of those creating positive change also include sociability, adaptability, motivation, and optimism. Study participants who attended a summer camp were significantly more likely to state an interest in social entrepreneurship than those who had not attended. Why? They cited the influence of counselors, especially in mentoring them to develop social and leadership skills; assisting them in obtaining social and material resources to start new projects; and guiding them in understanding such projects and identifying other mentors. Young people who had started their own businesses or were highly interested in doing so were especially influenced by camp counselors who taught them how to gather resources needed to achieve goals.

Peg Smith, retiring CEO of the American Camp Association and a CARE Advisory Board member, explains, “Camps are rich in mentors, providing children and teens with nurturing adults who help them to learn more about themselves and cultivate individual interests and talents. When those relationships motivate service, it’s truly a win-win situation.”

Regardless of who’s doing the teaching, young people benefit from these experiences at camp.

• Hearing about successful social entrepreneurs

• Having assigned responsibilities
• Engaging in dialogue about values and faith

• Developing close relationships with the adults in their lives

• Receiving encouragement about their ability to succeed