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One of the unique aspects of Camp Champions is our Senior Camper (high school leadership) program. Many camps have “counselor in training” programs, but we chose to design a program with a specific goal – helping every camper foster the skills and intentionality that will prepare them for life, college and career.

We spread the program over three years, following 9th, 10th and 11th grade. Each year has its own set of privileges, responsibilities and challenges. Each group has an off-camp retreat that features fun, reflection and service to others.

One of our favorite aspects of the program is the that we meet with each group twice a week in our home. During these sessions, we talk about interpersonal skills, social pressure, how to resist the distractions of life and much more.

For example, we talked with the 10th graders about the challenges of social media. Susie Ma’am and I shared information on how Tik Tok, Snapchat, Google and Instagram get their revenues. The teens learned that they are not the customers of the social media companies – they are the products. The advertisers are the customers. We stressed that social media is not bad per se, but that their companies are fighting for our attention and are not particularly concerned if they make us feel more depressed or lonelier. We then talked about whether they wanted control over their phones and apps (they did) and discussed techniques (turning off notifications, ignoring Snapchat on weekdays, setting a timer for Tik Tok).

With the 9th graders, we had an exercise where they thought of a man or woman that they would like to emulate. [The photo (low resolution - sorry for my poor photography skills) shows Susie Ma’am meeting with the 9th grade women.] They thought of 3 words or phrases that describe that person. They then shared these words with the group. The list would make any parent proud: understanding, dedicated, kind, determined, loving, wise, supportive, etc. We then made a list of the things that society seems to value, including beauty, wealth, and fame. One of the most intriguing aspects of this exercise is that both the young women and young men had very similar lists of desired attributes. I loved seeing the realization that if they want to be people of character, that they would need to make an intentional decision to do so. Society will not lead them there without conscious effort.

At the end of the third year, each Senior Camper graduate will write a mission statement. We have learned that roughly 75% of these graduates will use their mission statement as a starting point for the Personal Statement in their college applications. They also report that they simply feel more ready for college when they get there.

The teens years can be challenging in many ways, but they are also times of great growth and potential insight. I am frankly moved at how virtually all of our Senior Campers embrace the chance to learn and give back to camp. They love being tech free and connected to others. They want to make their communities better.

I hope this makes you more hopeful for our future. I know it does for me.

Steve Sir