As a city person growing up in an urban environment with little to no exposure to the outdoors and nature, I was very puzzled when the term youth camp was first introduced to me. In fact I did not hear such term until I became an Environment for the Americas intern six months ago. The idea of bringing 100+ middle school students into the forests for a week of camping sounded strenuous if not chaotic. Nevertheless, thanks to the participation of numerous volunteers, camp counselors, partners that ranged anywhere from education institutions to government agencies, this week of camping in collaboration with 4-H youth camp program exceeded every one of my expectations.
What is 4-H? It is the nation’s largest mentoring organization that focuses in positive youth development. They employ multiple strategies such as introducing young people from elementary school to high school to nature and the outdoors, career orientation, exposing them to public speaking, and giving them the opportunity to interact with diverse groups through a system of peer networking.
I participated as a staff member for what they call “diverse group” camp in Salem Oregon. For an entire week I cohabited with young people from multiple racial backgrounds. I was able to tutor, mentor, supervise, and encourage these children through a series of activities that involved sports, science presentations, career panels, and counseling.
In my opinion the strongest tool that organizations such as 4-H provide to our youth is the opportunity to build up their confidence, social skills, and leadership skills. I was amazed to see how in a manner of three days, these kids went from being quiet and reserved to being able to speak in front of an audience of over 100 people. The ability to know how to network is every time more important and that is a skill we are, unfortunately, do not practice enough in school. The fact that these middle school students become acquainted with these topics at such a young age is a great jump start into the molding of their professional aptitudes.