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Redefining community.

One year ago, this column focused on the need for camps to provide children a sense of stability. I chose to use the concept of the gyroscope and its inherent ability to return to equilibrium as a type of stability we should be instilling in our children. I'm drawn back to this subject because of a recent conference in which ACA was an invited participant.

Chuck Ackenbom and I had the opportunity to represent ACA at a national conference entitled "A Matter of Time -- Risk and Opportunity In The Nonschool Hours." This conference was sponsored by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development and was held to report the findings of a two-year research project that focused on children and the time they spent outside of the classroom.

Our children's need for the type of stability represented by the gyroscope was clearly articulated by numerous researchers at the conference. One of the most compelling findings of this project was that almost 40 percent of an adolescent's waking hours are truly discretionary. The other 60 percent is committed to such activities as school, homework, eating, working around the home, or employment.

Unfortunately, many of today's adolescents spend much of that discretionary time in unstructured, unsupervised activities or in doing nothing. Many of our youth, particularly in the lowest socioeconomic categories, spend many hours each week during the school year "home alone." The problem is even worse when school is not in session.

The challenge being presented by the Carnegie Council to our society is to develop a more comprehensive network of activities that involve youth in their communities. After two years of study the council concluded, "Community-based youth development organizations represent a valuable national resource with considerable untapped potential." While I agree that such youth development organizations do represent an untapped national resource, I think the challenge to our nation goes far beyond making those organizations more effective.

I have stated for a number of years that America has become a society that fundamentally does not value children. We value things. Even with the emphasis placed on "family values" in the recent national election and some indicators that the materialism of the past several decades is decreasing, America still does not value children as we should.

The following quote is taken from the Carnegie report:

"An African proverb holds: |It takes

an entire village to raise a child.' This

timeless, universal proverb captures

the essence of healthy development

of the young person: a caring supportive

family surrounded by a caring,

supportive community. In such a setting,

the infant is lovingly nurtured

into childhood; the child is guided

carefully into early adolescence; the

young adolescent eagerly ventures

out from home into a friendly community

to begin to learn the ways of

adulthood; and the older adolescent

becomes increasingly confident in assuming

responsibility as a

contributing adult."

As we can all understand, the challenge is not just to make better use of community organizations, but to redefine the term community and develop strong, mutually supporting structures between families, schools, churches, business and industry, and community-based youth development organizations.

The African village does not exist in America, but what is our modern equivalent? How do we structure and mobilize that "village" to help in raising our children? These are not easy questions to answer because they require commitment from many segments of our society. Starting with parents and including everyone in the private sector working in concert with our government.

Where do camps fit into the puzzle? Camps are a recognized, effective youth development opportunity that are probably even more "untapped" as a resource that other community-based organizations. Even organizations that are actively involved in sponsoring camps and camping opportunities often question their continued support of camping when faced with difficult fiscal decisions.

ACA fostered a saying one time: "Camps create community." I think that we need to think about that concept again. Just because the African village does not exist in America does not mean the type of community described in the Carnegie report cannot exist. Camps can become a driving force in creating the types of community that we want for our nation.

How? First, obviously by being that kind of community as much as is possible. Be the type of organization that focuses on the developmental needs of the children you serve. Provide them with opportunities to interact in a positive manner with peers and adults, to develop skills that are relevant to their lives, to contribute to a community they help create, to belong to a valued group and to feel competent.

You say you already do that! Great! What do you do for the parents of your children? Do you have a family camp? Do you provide an opportunity for them to see how this community we call camp makes a difference in all of the lives it touches?

What about others with whom you come in contact? So much of what camp does remains hidden or we believe "everyone knows that." Unfortunately, everyone does not know that. One thing that struck me the most at the Carnegie conference was that so much of what youth need is already available in camp. If we could only capture a child for one full week of camp each year, we could reduce time they spend in unstructured, unsupervised activities by a significant figure and provide the developmental experiences that we know are life enhancing!

As you create your community for this summer, keep in mind that you are now part of the "village" raising those children placed in your care.
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Title Annotation:Miller's Meanderings; involving youth in their communities
Author:Miller, John A.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:928
Previous Article:American Camping Foundation: 1992 annual report.
Next Article:Year of outdoor ministries: Lutherans expanding their markets.
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