20/20 Toolbox: How We Serve More Kids at Camp Each Year — Our Community Partnership Program

by Carrie Patterson

As a camp owner, camp director, camp administrator, or facilitator, have you ever asked yourself?

  • How can I give back to the local community where my camp is located?
  • How can I reach out to new kids from different ethnic/diverse backgrounds?
  • How can I give kids that have never experienced camp before an opportunity to attend our camp?
  • How can I get campers to camp on available weekends or week days during the months of September – May?

As camp professionals, we need to reflect on these very important questions. It is through answering these questions that we will be able to give more youth the opportunity to attend camp year round. By joining together as one voice, we can continue to adapt to America’s shifting demographics and allow new campers from diverse backgrounds to come to our camps each year where they can experience “A World of Good.”

The Tim Horton

Children’s FoundationThe Tim Horton Children’s Foundation (THCF) is a nonprofit, charitable organization committed to providing a fun-filled camp experience for children from economically disadvantaged homes at no cost. The THCF has been operating summer camp for over thirty years and has reached out to 120,000 children and youth from communities all over Canada and parts of the USA. Each year the THCF looks for new ways to extend its mission: “Fostering within our children the quest for a brighter future.”

There are six Foundation camp locations, including five in Canada and one in the USA. For a long time the camps were primarily operated in the summer months serving kids through a ten-day residential program. The Foundation camp experience had positively impacted many children throughout the summer months, and in 2000 the Foundation decided that the sites should be used year round. Since then the Foundation has been developing and fine tuning a year-round initiative known as the Community Partnership Program (CPP).

Our American camp, Tim Horton Camp Kentahten is located in Campbellsville, Kentucky, and has been offering camp experiences to youth since our opening in 2001. In 2001, we served 768 campers during the summer months. In 2009, we will be serving 864 campers during our summer residential program and 1800 youth through our year-round Community Partnership Program.

Our Community Partnership Program

Our goal at Kentahten and at all our THCF camps is to reach out to new communities
and youth each year through our Community Partnership Program. We intentionally recruit community agencies that have like-minded goals and missions and who work with economically disadvantaged youth. Examples of the groups we will choose for our program include Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and local school family resource centers. All of these groups attend camp and participate in a variety of activities for a minimum of two nights.

Our CPP groups receive a full sponsorship to attend our camp year round. We ask the groups to bring leaders/teachers who will take care of behavior management, bedtime, and medication. Our staff facilitates the overall camp experience by leading mealtimes and activities. This program generates more opportunities for children of all ethnicities to benefit from a camp experience.
Through these community partnerships, the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation is able to extend its mission and serve more economically disadvantaged children on a year-round basis.

The Importance of the Program

The Community Partnership Program has been an extremely positive experience because it allows Tim Horton Camp Kentahten to be a part of our local communities, most of which are within a driving distance of five hours. By reaching into these local communities, we are now serving more youth every year who have potentially never been outside of their own city’s limits. This program has proved to be beneficial because it allows these youths to experience life outside of their neighborhood, while providing them their very first experience with nature.

Camps within the American Camp Association (ACA) that have the ability can also contribute back to their communities by giving something very worthwhile to families who could not otherwise afford the camp experience. Our CPP gives youth the access to what ACA CEO Peg Smith calls the three pillars of camp: intimacy with nature; authentic human connection, and human-powered activities. And as a camp community, we believe it is our duty to continue to reach out to more and more kids each year from a variety of different backgrounds and give them the camp experience. Having programs similar to the Foundation’s Community Partnership Program can give every camp the opportunity to serve more kids and attract new diverse audiences to camp in a unique way.

The Impact on Our Community

In 2009, Tim Horton Camp Kentahten will have reached out to 1800 kids through our Community Partnership Program. Each of our groups has the opportunity to attend camp once a year. We will work with a variety of groups from different communities, here are some examples:

A group called Communities in Schools from Columbus, Ohio, has been coming to our camp as part of our CPP since 2004. Communities in Schools is the nation’s leading community-based, drop-out prevention organization helping kids stay in school and graduate. Kitty King, director of community relations, states: “Our children come from urban areas, dense with buildings and concrete, and usually are experiencing a lifestyle of poverty. They have not encountered anything like the natural, beautiful environment of the camp — complete with three nutritious meals, clean living accommodations, educational activities, and counselors who are genuinely caring.”

Arcadia Community Center from Louisville, Kentucky, has been coming to our camp since 2006. Arcadia Community Center partners with refugee and immigrant groups and additional community organizations to provide holistic services that offer educational and social support for new families adjusting to life in the United States.

“We learned a lot about friendship and teamwork, and a lot about ourselves, while having an absolute blast and doing some things that we never expected to be able to do,” says a camper, who attended our camp in April 2009.

The kids that attend Olmstead Academy South, a school located in the South Side of Louisville are very diverse and have very limited extracurricular activities options. Olmstead was the first school group we began working with in Louisville in 2004, and now we continue to work with many family resource centers within the city limits. Tish Brookins, youth service center coordinator, had this to say about their last trip at camp this past spring: “Our mission at Olmstead Academy is to provide a caring community where challenging instruction is designed to meet the needs of each thinker, while we celebrate the diversity of our school. Camp Kentahten Community Partnership Program not only encourages this mission but enhances the vision for our students.”

What Is Our Mission/Outcome of the Program?

Tim Horton Children’s Foundation camp programs are designed to give children the opportunity to experience many positive personal achievements while at camp. This allows them to grow, develop independence, and return home with new found strengths to achieve the goals they set for themselves.

We develop a camp program designed around five concepts: environment, leadership, creativity, teamwork, and goal setting. We understand that having youth on site for three or four days limits the number of activities they will be able to participate in, so it is our job to be very intentional in our programming and focus on as many activities with accomplishments as possible. A typical group will experience all five of our signature concepts over their stay. For example, we offer:

  • a hike during which they experience the natural environment;
  • the climbing tower where we focus on personal achievements through goal setting;
  • creative arts or campfires where we work together on our creativity; and
  • everal outdoor education programs where we can focus on teamwork and leadership skills.

Each three- or four-day program is unique to the group that is attending, but each group leaves camp having had many positive personal achievements.

Everyone Can Do It

Here is a step-by-step process to create a similar program at your camp this year:

  1. Assess your opportunities to fund a similar program. Our funding model has allowed us to provide this program to our groups free of charge. You may decide to host one new community group each year and raise funds in a way unique to you.
     
  2. Prepare a budget that includes transportation, staff wages (program, housekeeping, maintenance, and kitchen), food costs, and program supplies.
     
  3. Review your camp calendar and set aside dates that would work for your team. Here are a couple of things to think about:
     
  4. If it is a school group, you will need to allocate week days.
     
  5. If it is a community agency, you will need to allocate a weekend.
     
  6. Target groups that are not currently being served and ones that are not aware of the camp experience. You can hand select the group by recruiting a program that meets your goals and mission of what you wish to accomplish.
     
  7. Schedule camp program staff to work with the group. A good rule of thumb is to have one program staff for every ten youth. We ask that the group brings leaders, requiring a 1:10 ratio of their leaders to youth.
     
  8. Create a program schedule with specific outcomes. We work with the group coordinator to design the program around our camp outcomes and the group’s goals.
     
  9. Facilitate the group when they are at camp.
     
  10. Do an internal and external evaluation. This will allow you to grow and make changes for the next group.

Help Be the Change

We can be the change in the future of our youth. It is very important to continue to find new ways to serve more children and youth from communities with different ethnicities. We have found that our Community Partnership Program is an excellent way for us to do just that. Moving forward in today’s society, it will be important for all of us to look for new and unique ways to reach out in our surrounding communities.

Originally published in the 2009 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

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