We have been a little busy at Camptown lately, and we’re eager to update you! By May, we had already served over 1000 youth in 2022 including 8 Wilderness Adventure Clubs, 3 backpacking expeditions to Tennessee with over 60 teens, our Youth Leaders program and much more. We have also been working diligently to transform some opportunities into reality, and we want to update you on a new program we launched at the beginning of the year. So get ready, because we’ve got a story for you! 

At Indianapolis Metropolitan High School (Indy Met), located in the near-Westside Haughville neighborhood, Camptown’s new REACH for Nature Club has grown quite the dedicated following of students. Not only are they developing key outdoor skills, but also charting new and exciting paths for their futures. The curriculum for high school students focuses on character development, relationship building, and career readiness through nature and outdoor activities. In fact, several of our high school students volunteered weekly to facilitate games with younger students at Camptown’s elementary program sites. The high schoolers also have their own field trips. One Saturday in the spring, they visited Earlham College, including their outdoor education department. One Camptown participant fell in love with the campus. She subsequently submitted her application to Earlham, and is considering a minor in outdoor education. With new doors open, students’ worlds can become much bigger. This summer, two students from Indy Met have been hired as Camptown facilitators for our REACH Summer Camp, getting the opportunity to mentor youth and flex their leadership skills. 

Since REACH for Nature’s January launch at 4 schools, Camptown has been able to interact with 145 new youth and has offered 121 days of programming to high need schools in Indianapolis. Our staff team expanded from a powerhouse group of 6 to a well-rounded, dedicated group of over 15 including several new part time positions. We have laughed, learned, and grown together and continue to adapt to best serve the needs of our students. However, above all else, we have seen the need for this program first hand from our students and teachers.

Post COVID lockdown, students were and still are, struggling academically, socially, and mentally with the weight of the world. Camptown, through REACH for Nature, has alleviated some of that stress and provided students access to nature’s classroom for solace and exploration. The curriculum includes environmental education blended with activities to build social skills and emotional awareness. Students are getting to try new things, build new friendships, and get outside of their neighborhoods or city, and sometimes for the first time. We have trekked trails through rain and snow, held geckos and inspected crickets, and learned from guest speakers who donated their time and talent to sharing their knowledge with our students’ young minds. 

If you’re interested in more background, let’s flashback to October. Camptown and 29 other youth serving organizations were selected to receive ESSER lll grant funding from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) to support equitable access to after school programs for Indiana youth. The R.E.A.C.H Grant (Reimagining Enrichment, Academics, and Community Health) seeks to provide economically disadvantaged youth with opportunities for academic achievement, character enrichment, and other activities designed to complement regular academic programs and emotional development. 

When we first considered the grant criteria, we realized Camptown programs are deeply aligned with the goals, but in a rather unique way. After discussing our vision with our contacts at the IDOE, we saw this as an opportunity to expand our REACH and open new doors for Camptown to serve even more students. When we finally submitted our application, we were optimistic about our chances, but knew there would be many applicants in the wake of the pandemic. When Brent shared the news in a staff meeting that we were selected, everyone was overjoyed to embark on this new adventure offering for Camptown. 

After much preparation, Camptown was able to launch the REACH for Nature After School Program in January at four school sites: Indianapolis Metropolitan (Indy Met) High School, Christian Park Elementary, Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School, and Francis Parker Montessori. Since launch, Camptown staff have been working diligently to design curriculum, build relationships with students and school staff, and onboard new teammates to support this exciting adventure. 

In the spring semester, students met at their schools for a couple hours once or twice a week after school with an adventure trip once a month. We are offering 6 weeks of day camp at 3 different sites this summer with 2 adventure trips per week. In the fall, sites will be expanded to 3-4 days a week at each of the schools where they may learn about animals and habitats or practice communication skills through fun games.

We are excited to see the ongoing growth of the students who participate, as we continue REACH Summer Camp that started June 6th, alongside all of Camptown’s other summer adventure programs. We are grateful for the support of our Camptown community as we take on this exciting new opportunity, and we are energized by its ability to grow our programmatic reach in Central Indiana. We look forward to sharing many more stories with you soon!