Middle school age kids are very hard to keep busy during the summer. They are too young to work, sometimes too young to stay at home alone, and too old for many activities. That’s the problem the Farmington Family YMCA faced this summer when planning their day camp for older youth. Because they had grouped campers by grade and not by age, the age range has been very wide in previous summers, which didn’t always work well for the oldest kids.
Katrina Stewart, who is Youth and Family Director at the Farmington Y, has two children of her own in that age group, and used what she wanted for her own children as a basis for reinventing the middle school age camp. She teamed up the littlest campers, who are ages 3 to 5, with the older kids, so the older ones could serve as role models. The campers also did service projects as well, beautifying the outside of the Y, putting bat boxes at Heritage Park, and packing food boxes at Gleaners Community Food Bank. They also organized a car wash to generate donations to the Strong Kids Campaign.
“We wanted to get kids more confident by setting an example,” says Mike Green, director of the older kids camp. “With them going into middle school and high school, and dealing with those social groups, if they are able to have those leadership values their friend base will change.”
The service projects the kids did were chosen to be long-lasting, something they can point to after the summer and know they had that impact. “A lot of them were resistant at first, but they had a sense of satisfaction afterwards that they just helped somebody,” Mike says.
They also did a lot of self-knowledge activities to help them understand their own abilities in a positive way. They had one overnight trip to one of the YMCA’s residential camp, which they loved because “it was like a vacation,” said camper Kennon Stewart. Around the campfire that night, counselors led them in an activity meant to discourage bullying. Each child — and the staff — wrote a word on a piece of paper that someone else had called them that had hurt. Each of them shared their word, and counselors asked them to reflect on how it had made them feel and how another person might feel if they said those words to them. Then they balled up the paper, and each camper threw their word into the fire.
“None of us have ever said any of those things to each other,” says Kennon. “We have a bond now.”
The next day they had a field day with the young kids, which everyone loved. Camper Brianna Ramsey developed a bond with a girl named Josie over the course of the summer.
Brianna says camp has made her feel more confident. “It has made me realize I can have an impact on anybody’s life, young or old,” she says.
Jamel Cherry, another camper, liked the diversity at camp– kids came from all different schools. They did an activity of a making a root beer float to show how different people can come together and make something better than they would be apart from each other, which was really meaningful to him.
Katrina says she’s thrilled with how well camp has gone and the effect it’s had on the kids — so much so that they are continuing with some new teen leadership programs in the fall. “They’ve become a little family,” she says. “They’re showing very responsible and positive behaviors toward one another, because the focus was shifted from them to others.”