Summer camps filled with outdoor adventures, singing around campfires, and expanding horizons is a nostalgic piece of childhood for youth across the world. Unfortunately, the cost of stay-away summer camp is often inaccessible for those in low-income families, including children within the foster care system. In fact, recent studies show that parents in the United States spend upwards of $2,500 for a two-week overnight camp program. At SOS Illinois, we do not have to face that financial barrier because of your help.
SOS Children’s Villages Illinois was delighted to send ten youth in foster care to summer camp this year as a result of the generous support from our partners and donors. Seven youth were able to enjoy two weeks at Camp Manito-Wish YMCA in the Northern Wisconsin forest (Courtesy of the Jefferson Sportsman Society), and three additional youth spent a wonderful week at YMCA Camp Pinewood of Metro Chicago near Huron-Manistee National Forest in Michigan (Courtesy of Bill Mathis). Summer Camp allows our teens to become a part of experiences that help them grow, shape their future, and last a lifetime. After attending camp this year, our youth came back with four very exciting takeaways:
1. Outdoor Education and Skills
Our youth in foster care at SOS Illinois love getting to participate in outdoor activities at summer camp, especially since many of them spend the majority of their time in urban environments. Through building upon their education and skills of the great outdoors, they are able to develop a new or renewed appreciation for life away from cell phones, video games, and other electronics. In addition, they are able to gain a wider knowledge of the natural world around them, sparking a curiosity for earth science, environmental studies, animal science, physical education, and more. Here are just some of the activities that our teens were able to enjoy while away at camp:
- Horseback riding
- Mountain biking
2. Team-Building Skills
Summer Camp is the perfect place to grow and encourage team-building skills. By working together with diverse, new peers to accomplish goals, youth learn the importance of leaning on one other to complete challenging tasks. For youth in foster care often navigating issues of trust, this lesson is of even deeper importance. Additionally, team-building activities also teach youth how to bolster and appreciate each others’ best skills and attributes and drive home the important message that we all have something to contribute in our own unique way. Group activities for our teens at summer camp include time on Trail (multi-day hiking adventures involving outdoor camping), and communal workshops and programs for art, crafts and other activities.
Our teens returned from camp with strengthened confidence and pride from all they were able to learn and accomplish by working together as a unit, and by taking the time to praise the accomplishments of others with whom they shared their camp experience.
3. Leadership Skills
Learning independence and what type of leadership roles they can offer to others was an important takeaway from summer camp for our teens. By cooking on the trails, camping outdoors, and navigating their travels, they learned the value of working together as well as utilizing their strengths to lead the team. For those who had never had the chance to engage in the types of activities offered at camp, it was especially beneficial to see how naturally some skills came to them, boosting their confidence in their abilities to learn and grow.
The types of leadership skills learned at summer camp will stay with our youth for years to come. In the past, we have seen this see it reflected in how returning teens offer the education they learned while away at summer camp to the other youth in foster care at SOS Illinois, including their own siblings.
4. Lasting Friendships
Our four exciting takeaways from Summer Camp wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the lasting friendships our teens have formed with other campers. Camp life creates lifelong, exciting, and nourishing bonds with youth all over the world. By sharing meals, participating in activities together, bunking in cabins where they worked together to keep things clean and tidy, and relishing in the fun and excitement they all experienced during their stay, the friendships created at camp are unlike any other.
Additionally, other youth at camp are able to witness that those in foster care are just like them in many ways: susceptible to homesickness, enthusiastic for learning how to horseback ride and fish, and saddened when a summer camp session comes to an end. For SOS Illinois, this is an important moment for disrupting the misconceptions about youth in care and developing a greater understanding of those from different types of families.
A Special Thanks to Jefferson Sportsman Society and Bill Mathis
This wonderful experience of Summer Camp for youth in foster care at SOS Illinois would not have been possible without the generous sponsorships of both the Jefferson Sportsman Society and Bill Mathis, former SOS Illinois Lockport Village Director and Child and Family Services Coordinator. From all of us at SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, we thank you greatly and appreciate your heartfelt giving for the children in our care.