Camp Care-A-Lot began one March morning in 1994 when five people who had worked together at another camp wanted to create a new program. We decided that we could best facilitate our program with volunteers and charge no fee for any child attending camp.
There were plenty of children who needed a special opportunity to learn leadership, citizenship, and appropriate behavior and have a week's respite from their lives. That summer, we served 31 children in Springfield. In the summer of 1997, we expanded to a second site in Jacksonville. (That site recently moved to Pittsfield.) To date, we have served more than 1350 children from Central Illinois, ages 6-10.
What can you accomplish when you have these kids for only seven days?
Great question. Our mission is to "make a positive impact on the life of a child" and we plan all year for each camp in order to carry that out. In one week, we can and do make a big difference for many of our campers. We have sessions for children on:
Making Appropriate Choices for the Present and the Future
Team Building, and more.
Because we do believe in the success of all children, we create programs that assure this. One special program involves local community seniors, who volunteer to be a 'grandparent' for the day. During this time, "grandparent' mentors and children work together to set goals for the future, whether the future is the end of camp and the campers want to put their head in the water by then, or the future is a long way off and children want to be a teacher, camp counselor, carpenter, auto repair person or parent. This activity is the highlight of the week, and by the end of the week, our campers are talking about what they need to do to reach their goals.
We have seen that, with a lot of special nurturing, communication and understanding, we can accomplish a great deal in a short time. If we can at least make an in-road to help our campers on the way to a bright future, we have met our mission. And we strive to go beyond it.
Some of the emotional, behavioral and physical changes are permanent and some are not. We can't make everything in these children's lives different but we can be there for assistance and, hopefully, give our campers tools and skills they may need now and in the future. In all cases, we know we have made a positive impact that just might be the difference between a life of poor choices or indecision and a life of good, appropriate choices and decisions.
This is so different from the summer camps of my youth where kids went for the entire summer and went water skiing, horseback riding and boating. Camp Care-A-Lot seems like more of a no-frills triage center, where you give the kids a bit of respite from home, and a shot of self-esteem and positive reinforcement to keep them going. Please tell us a few of the camp stories you've collected over the years.
Thanks for asking. I just love sharing the success stories; they go straight to the heart and soul of Camp Care-A-Lot. We have so many, from parents, grandparents who have custody of campers and the kids themselves. Here are a few.
- "Thank you for letting me brush my teeth each day."
- "You mean I can keep this?" after receiving a camp shirt and stuffed animal the first night.
- "Thanks for letting me sleep in a bed for the first time."
- "My sister and me fight a lot. Here at camp it's her birthday. I learned that I can be glad that my sister feels great now and at home, I will not fight anymore with her because I know how to talk better to talk about problems and not fight anyone with my hands and fists."
- "I liked everything we did at camp, but my favorite was "going shopping' in our camp store and getting so many nice new things to wear." (The "camp store" is donated clothing in
- "At camp, I learned to like myself. I also learned respect and how more important it is to be nice."
- ""T,' you taught me love and "D' taught me courage," from a 10-year old male camper to his counselors on the last day of camp.
-The thank-you note from this 7-year old boy simply said: "Thank you for the hugs and kisses you give me at camp."
-From year 2, there was a disturbing story that carries with it the recurring issue of hunger. When we found half a sandwich from Sunday's lunch under a child's pillow 15 hours later, on a 100 degree day, we heard this from the 10-year old: "At home, we get to eat one time a day. My mom says if we want to eat before the next dinner, we have to save our food. I didn't know we would eat again yesterday and this morning so I saved food."
All of the positive feedback must be so gratifying for you and the staff. What have you learned over the years?
First, dealing with children ages 6-10, it should not surprise anyone that I learn something each day. Kids have a way of teaching adults that is pretty remarkable. I have found that if you expect the best in people, you usually get it. Whether it's the full-time volunteer counselors, part-time staff, board members, or the children, it's great to see people leave their baggage behind and come ready to participate fully.
Some of the adults are working more than one job, some are parents leaving their children to be counselors, and some are students trying to study after they put the campers to bed. Many have issues. But, these wonderful volunteers just keep giving and giving to the campers and to each other.
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