Toolbox: From the Field

What Lessons Have You Learned From the Kids You Work With?

As we gear up for summer programming, camp directors and staff who attended the American Camp Association conference in Atlanta last week discussed what they have learned from the kids they work with.

Sterling Nell Leija, executive camp director, Roundup River Ranch, Avon, Colorado

I think the lesson over and over and over again is just humility. These kids just have so much to teach us. … Kids are always so forgiving and accepting.

Sterling Nell Leija

Tim Reidy, camp director, Camp Kingfisher, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Roswell, Georgia

Just working with kids through camps and ministries I’ve learned that when you give them responsibility they rise to the occasion and they develop as people. You give them the opportunity to be the young men and women they can be if you expect high things.

Tim Reidy

Noah Pawliger, founder and co-director, Camp Living Wonders, Atlanta

I work at a camp for children with special needs. … When you see life through the lens of a child with special needs you get a better understanding of what’s really important. We teach kids to thrive and succeed and have jobs and become independent in a world that’s not built for them. … When you can give someone that kind of opporopportunity youin return more than you’re giving. … I’ve learned what a community is meant to look like.

Noah Pawliger

Ruby Compton, program director, Green River Preserve, Cedar Mountain, North Carolina

Children have taught me to be honest because they are so honest. They just tell it like it is. … They’ve also taught me resilience and acceptance beyond what I ever expected [because they are] loving and caring and accepting.

Ruby Compton

Lindsay Hostetler, performing arts director, Camp Merrie-Woode,  Sapphire, North Carolina

I specifically work with kids on stage. I’m really impressed with how brave they are. The courage I see them make in their choices makes me feel courage myself.

Lindsey Hostetler

Liz Snyder, assistant director, Eagle’s Nest Camp, Pisgah Forest, North Carolina

I think kids have taught me the importance of keeping it simple, of allowing things to happen, to be happy and joyful. That’s a big lesson.

Liz Snyder

Gabrielle Ostroski, girls camp director, YMCA Camp Ockanickon, Medford, New Jersey

I think with kids the lessons I see … with them being brave and really going for it, them being themselves and giving everything a go. They’re less hesitant than adults. They’re very empowering. We can learn a lot from them as adults.

Gabrielle Ostroski

Thavorn Hunt, program manager, House in the Wood, Northwestern Settlement Program, Delavan, Wisconsin

I work with a camp that works with inner-city youth and a lot of times people view them as different from other kids and in a lot of ways they are very different in the situations they have and the lack of opportunities they have. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is … they just want to be kids like everyone else and they just want to have the same opportunities that all the other kids have.

Thavorn Hunt

Janel Jackson, seasonal programs coordinator, District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation, Washington, D.C.

I usually work with younger groups … 3- to 5-year-olds. With that age group they definitely teach you patience. They’ve also taught me that children need to be respected. They’re not just children, they’re little people. Everything that you put into them, it shows. It’s not something you see instantly. … When you see them a few years later and you see some of the investments you’ve put into them that is one of the better parts of our work with young children.

Janel Jackson

Janel Jackson

John Erdman, executive director, Living River Camp, Helena, Alabama

I think one of the things every time I’m working with them is just being joyful about what I do — just having fun. It’s easy for adults to get so serious about life, but kids just bring this infectious enthusiasm.

John Erdman


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