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Camp's 'Disneyland' effect.

Each chance I get, I tell a story that speaks to the tremendous impact camp can have in the lives of its participants. However, the story, powerful in and of itself, is not enough to prove to the rest of the world that camps are in fact meeting the developmental needs of youth.

Chris's Story

"Chris" entered camp at the age of thirteen as a 4-H camp counselor. Obviously, the 4-H extension agent that hired Chris recognized something in him that he had yet to realize but soon would. Chris was raised by parents who loved him but who had a multitude of personal issues to deal with that did not always encompass child rearing. There were clear incidents of child abuse and neglect as a result of poverty, alcoholism, and physical and emotional abuse. The oldest of four siblings, Chris was often left to care for the household while his parents spent their time in taverns or, worse yet, jail.

Chris wanted something different than his current life experiences, but at the age of thirteen he was unsure of how to attain that difference. When Chris entered camp, he came with a great deal of enthusiasm but little self-esteem. For example, while eating meals, Chris was too afraid to even ask for milk or water to be passed his way. He spoke when spoken to but not much more than that.

Camp Magic

However, as most of us know, something "magical" happens at camp on a regular basis. This magic is the result of something I call the "Disneyland" Effect. Children arrive at camp "Disneylands" by the millions each and every summer. They are your camps. Camps where children like Chris are met with unconditional love. Camps where kids like Chris are provided a safe environment in which to grow and share and learn. Camps in which three square meals a day feed the body, while a community of campers and staff feeds the soul. Camps where children and adults alike can and do make life-lasting decisions about who they are as individuals. Camps where, away from many real-world constraints, people can be who they are without fear of rejection. Camps where people care.

Because of the nature of our business, most camps are able to share similar success stories pointed directly to the development of their participants. As we endeavor to meet the physical and emotional needs of our campers, lives will change. As we provide the opportunities for campers to meet such basic needs as food, shelter, and safety, we see glimpses or strides of success in areas of positive social skills and increases of positive self-esteem.

Humanistic psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Erich Fromm, and Abraham Maslow considered all of these issues when devising their own theories of motivation decades ago. Effective camp administrators consider the same issues each year as they evaluate, plan, and implement their individual programs. Each administrator probably goes through that process in his or her own way.

Though our methodologies may differ, we probably share the same desire to always do what is best for our campers. And, just as children are different, the process of their development is quite similar. Youth development has been defined by Michigan State University's youth development/4-H youth programs as, "A process of mental, physical, and social growth that takes place within a community and is affected by the customs and regulations. The process of growing up and positively developing one's capacities happens when young people have quality experiences in their lives." Camp certainly can be included as a positive, quality experience.

Measuring Camp's Impact

So how do we measure what we are doing for our campers? How do we know that summer camp is in fact positively developing the capacities of our campers? Stories like those of "Chris" need to be told and retold as often as possible. Those are the accounts that bring people back to camp year after year, and those are the stories that tell us in no uncertain terms that "camp does give kids a world of good."

However, knowing that there is a Chris story at your camp is just as important as evaluating how that certain Chris story came to pass. These anecdotes, though powerful and valuable, are not in and of themselves the lens through which we must view the process of evaluation. Through evaluation, our target becomes clearer and our programs become stronger. In addition, to attract and retain the support of governmental, business, and philanthropic organizations, we often must be able to demonstrate that camp programs do enhance the youth development of the clientele. Effective evaluation is a challenge, but one that comes with many rewards.

Creating camp programs in which many Chris stories exist is not done by accident. Rather it is done with careful planning, implementation, reflection, and scientific evaluation. Camps across the world are helping people to change in positive, "Disneyland" ways that translate directly to the real world. Because of our work, value is added to the youth development process of the campers we serve. It is part of our journey not only to provide the opportunities for growth but to measure that growth as well. Through the process, our own camps become stronger, and our community of camps become even more important in today's society.

Take Chris for example, when he entered camp he cried because he missed his home. When Chris left, he cried because he would miss camp. Chris returned to camp. He had been forever changed by the Disneyland Effect of his first camp counseling experience, and he wanted to repeat the event. And so, twenty years later, Chris is still attending camp and has not missed a summer since that first camp director took him under her wing so many years ago. I am the "Chris" of whom I write. Camp helped me break a cycle of poverty, to teach in public schools for eight years, and to receive a master's degree in educational administration. Every summer, I return to camps so I can help provide the same experiences for the many Chrises that we serve.

Steps of Effective Evaluation

1. Goals and Objectives

The first step for any camp administrator is to focus on the goals and objectives of the camp itself. Do you want campers to do better in sports? Do you want campers to be better leaders, self-directed individuals, or team players? In this stage, pull out all of those things that your camp is about, and identify all of the practices in your program that support your goals and objectives.

2. Goals of Evaluation

Almost every program can be assessed against agreed upon criteria that reflect what is known about programming for child and youth development. Think about the things in your program that you can devise progress charts for. For sports-related activities, you can chart the improvements that campers make, such as number of targets hit in archery or laps swam in the pool. To measure social problem-solving skills or issues or trustworthiness, you will want to develop follow-up questionnaires that can be sent to campers early in the fall while camp is still fresh in their minds. These questionnaires would include specific scenarios for campers to respond to that could be evaluated against the programming goals of your camp.

3. Implementation of Evaluation

Before your program begins, decide how you will evaluate its success. When, where, and for how long will your evaluation take place? How will you incorporate anecdotal information along with quantifiable data to support the youth development work that you are engaged in? Share your evaluation and implementation design with other camp administrators or consult with a scientist who specializes in program evaluation and the domain you wish to evaluate.

4. Data Analysis

Look at all of the data you have been collecting. Talk it over with your coworkers and colleagues in other camp programs. Combine the information so that it makes sense to you and your organization.

5. Report of Findings and Recommendations

This is the end and the beginning of the evaluative cycle. What does the information tell you about your program and your goals of youth development? How does the data compare to the previous year's data?

Gary Renville has worked in summer camps for twenty years. He is currently teaching in Washington, D.C.

Gary would like to thank consultant Randy Grayson and Dr. Terry Orr, professor at Columbia University, for their assistance with this article.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on camping
Author:Renville, Gary
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Words:1415
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