Calling All Campers: Summer’s Here

By Neil Earle

TEEN DELIGHT: Summer in the Great Outdoors and indoor fun as well.

The summer of 1971 – 50 years ago – I was a camp counselor along with about 300 campers, teachers and staff in a wonderfully-successful church-run operation outside tiny Orr, MN known as SEP: Summer Educational Program.

It was truly one of the best summers of my life. My co-counselor and I had 24 young teens to look after aged 12-17 and did they ever keep us hopping. Somehow, we survived two three-week sessions of swimming, canoeing, archery, water-skiing, sailing, riflery, volleyball, basketball and cook-outs, singalongs and wilderness trips.

What a time. It almost wears me out to think about it even now!

Still there was nothing like those weeks spent in the great outdoors of Minnesota. Just the fresh air did us all a world of good. There teens got to interact with each other and with adults who were primed ahead of time to care for them, encourage them and show love to them. Our brilliant and shrewd Camp Director, Dr. Kermit Nelson, a World War Two veteran with a keen eye for motivating youth, would tell us counselors: make sure no child goes to bed each night without a word of encouragement.

SEP 1971: Neil with Dorm 2 Campers.

“Focused Attention”

Throughout the myriad of activities a guiding philosophy ran through each summer that could be expressed in such themes as:

  1. Have a positive expectation: teens can respond when challenged to “be the best you can be.”
  2. Respect their questions and concerns. Don’t just fall into lecture mode when they ask but engage them to explore their own answers.
  3. Listen! Listen! Listen! Dr. Nelson would engage them in a game of Chinese checkers, or horseshoes or showing them his M1 rifle from the war. Those were just venues where this master psychologist could get teens to open up and then pour back in tons of loving encouragement.
  4. Point teens to positive role models they can follow when camp is over. Yes, they’re harder to find but think local and you’ll come up with some good ones.
  5. PIONEERS: Dr. Nelson with Deaf/Hard of Hearing Campers 1991 (Photo: Abraham Lorenzo)
  6. Encourage them to be compassionate towards the non-outdoors types. Don’t be surprised if you find they’re already ahead of us on this. Most camps now have more holistic programs such as Radio-TV production, drama, culinary, computer gaming, public speaking, etc. etc. Everyone counts!

Summer Camps all over North American and the world succeed when they use fun and action-packed activities to drive home real lessons in teamwork, sticking up for each other and forgiving them quickly when they foul up – and who hasn’t at times?

Summer of 1971 was the hardest summer I’ve ever worked in some ways but…how sweet it is to be exhausted in a good cause. The lessons I learned there stood me in good stead all through 44 years of ministry and especially helped when I served again back as SEP Chaplain most summers from 1989-1995. In some ways, these were the best times of my life!

SUMMER CAMP: What’s not to like?

Our teens always appreciate adult attention thought they don’t care to show it sometimes. Don’t be fooled by that tough exterior. Everyone likes to be liked and be shown they are liked in concrete ways such as–sending them to a camp, even if it’s the Day Camp down the block.

If you can’t get them to an away-camp, challenge kids to take part in many of the summer activities that are available in this blessed corner of the world such as 5K walks and other outings. Spending plenty of time in the Great Outdoors is something God approves of. Someone told me recently, God loves his creation and so should we.

Ask your local church or youth group or YMCA if there’s still openings this summer for your child – even Day Camp can work wonders.

Get active. Get out of your rut. Start walking. Make new friends. You and your teens will always be glad you did!