‘Kasserian Ingera’ or “And how are the children?” is the traditional greeting of Maasai tribe warriors of Kenya. The traditional response is, “All the children are well”, meaning that the priorities of protecting the young and powerless are intact. The expression connotes that the true strength of a community is determined by the well-being of its children. There are many signs locally that the children are not well, and we see this firsthand at Camptown.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General declared loneliness a public health crisis. A staggering 63% of young people reported feeling substantial symptoms of anxiety and depression. I’ve heard this personally from several Camptown teens, including one who is functionally homeless, dealing with the unknowns of not having a consistent address or bed to call their own. Or, from another Camptown teen who shared around the campfire and in long discussions in Camptown vans, about how he was running with the crowd, burglarizing a trailer to steal some pills when gunshots rang out and his life changed, forever. Time and again data are shared that underscore the challenges some young people in our community are facing. Like the statistic shared by the Indiana Department of Health in their 2021 Youth Survey that found 47% of students felt sad or hopeless almost every day for greater than two weeks in a row. Thus, many of our children are not well.
Let me tell you about some of the students Camptown serves that are new to the U.S. Some are from Mexico, Kenya, Nigeria, and one courageous young lady from Honduras who spoke almost no English when she arrived. But as we conversed in my broken Spanish on our hikes, she told me how grateful she was for being here: how hard life was in Honduras, how good it is here in the U.S., by comparison. And she developed deep and meaningful friendships with Camptown’s help. It’s been a real joy to have three fluent Spanish speakers on staff, as they have helped to draw out Latina young women who could be perceived as shy – until being brought into dialogue in their native tongue.
And we have plenty of examples of Camptown’s mission bringing tremendous benefits to kids’ wellness. For instance:
- Anthony, who said before Camptown he never thought he could be a leader. But we’ve given him chances to lean into his growth edge, receive live coaching and feedback from Camptown staff, and he now is proud to tell his father that he can be a leader – he knows he can because he’s done it.
- A young lady who spent 444 hours with Camptown last year learning, serving, earning her Teen Master Naturalist Credential, and in her words, getting off her front porch.
- Another emerging leader, who after four years with Camptown said, and I quote, “I have learned and improved my values. I have learned how to lead, deal with stress, and how to be more social. They have helped me with my fears.”
- And one more young man, whose father is incarcerated, and who himself has flirted with the streets said, “Camptown changed me because I learned how to be more patient and became a leader. it taught me to not be so isolated and helped my social skills.”
I could go on and on with examples. In order to be well, our kids need your partnership. With your investment, we help kids uncover their purpose and potential. We enable meaningful connections with the outdoors, the created world, themselves, peers, and adults. Take Julaya’s story, for instance: she had muscled through a couple days backpacking in the wilderness, in the heat, sleeping in a tent, even using a little shovel to dig a hole for her “bathroom”. Her group had rounded the bend to encounter a 60’ waterfall. With Laura’s help, they carefully ambled down into the mist – and then, what the heck – fully under the falls, letting water soak them, cool them and refresh them. You see, it was her birthday, and she contentedly proclaimed, water pouring off all over “this is the best birthday ever!”
In a survey of Camptown kids, 85% said that because of their Camptown experience, they finish things that they start, even when they are hard. Outdoor education and wilderness experiences have been shown to produce profound psychological and physical growth experiences, especially when involving kids and teens at key developmental stages, so that they can reap those benefits for upcoming chapters of their lives. People are seeing this, and what we do at Camptown is in high demand.
And, our organization is growing. Two years ago we projected 50% growth in 2022. Since that projection, our organization budget has grown 2.5 times and we have served over 4 times as many kids. In fact, last year we saw 4,358 kids, over 20% more than ever before and spent 20% more time with each. This year, with just over three quarters complete, we have already surpassed last year. Remarkably, our staff is on pace to serve over 5,000 kids in 2024. With nearly 30 staff, including our part-time team, we’re starting to burst at the seams. We’re thrilled to relaunch our program for justice-involved youth, called Hope Trail, to provide prevention skills and alternatives to incarceration.
We envision a day where young people, including the “least of these” in our community have a truer sense of who they were created to be, connected to a caring community of peers and adults, and we see, repeatedly, that this is possible through our transformative adventures. Thank you for making this happen for kids in our community. We hope that together we can leverage this mission and platform we have with Camptown, to improve the lives of the kids we serve, so that one day, we can answer with “All the children are well”.