By: Rob Hawn
On August 17, the Southwest Council wrapped up their second and final week of Camp YEY’s 11th year. Camp YEY (Youth Empowering Youth) began as an initiative of the Southwest Council in 2007 in hopes of developing youth leaders within the community. The activities and lessons that campers participate in during their time at Camp YEY focus around leadership. The goal has been to empower campers to make healthy decisions, so that they are able to serve as positive role models for other young people.
For the past 11 years, the week-long summer experience has taken place at Camp Edge located in Alloway, NJ during two full weeks of August. Just this past August, Southwest Council staff served just over 130 Camp YEY campers ranging from youth entering grade 4 all the way through 8TH grade. Additionally, approximately 20 high-school-aged teens served as Counselor Assistants.
The Counselor Assistant (CA) program was developed as a way to engage former campers in a leadership opportunity. In the spring, former campers who have aged out of Camp YEY were given the unique opportunity to apply for a CA position. CAs were then interviewed and those chosen attended an intensive two-day training with our staff prior to camp.
While CAs served in several roles during their time at camp, they mainly supported Southwest Council staff in the implementation of Camp YEY’s daily activities. One of the most important daily activities is an interactive and educational lesson. The topics that are covered during the week focus primarily on character education (goal setting, communication, self-esteem, decision-making) with a brief insight to ATOD (Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs) use and how it affects the body. These central topics were reinforced through a number of exciting and dynamic activities throughout the day and week.
The opportunity of activities that the campers participate in has broadened each year. This year, The Southwest Council introduced activities focused around mental health and wellness to the campers and CAs. Campers had the chance to participate in a yoga and meditation experience implemented by Erica Paciello of Santosha as well as a budgeting and life skills class provided by Alex DelCollo of Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Salem County.
All campers also participated in Color Wars which consisted of daily activities that engaged campers in inspiring teamwork, team spirit, and problem solving through mental and physical challenges. Color Wars was huge hit each week for all the teams but ultimately only one team could hoist the prize box and claim glory. Week 1, the Green Camos set the tone early on and never really let up securing them the top spot on the pedestal. Week 2 was a little bit of a tighter race that dramatically came down to the final day when the Red Bulls claimed victory after a thunderous performance of their team cheer. Congratulations to all the members of both teams for a job well done!
The Youth also explored all the amenities the camp has to offer including the high ropes course, archery range, Gaga Pit (Israeli Dodgeball), and a lake with opportunities for swimming and canoeing to give the students the full campground experience.
At the conclusion of each week, families of campers were invited to a Family Fun Day which took place onsite. During their time at the campgrounds, families were immersed in the full Camp YEY experience - sitting in on lessons, participating in activities, and enjoying an awards ceremony where campers performed team cheers and showcased the posters that they worked so hard on all week.
This year the SWC implemented a new “Olympic” themed reward system that was created to recognize students for their leadership efforts throughout each week. The Olympic Motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which is loosely translated to Faster, Higher, and Stronger. At the end of each week, Team leaders recognized and presented medals to students who were FASTER than anyone to lend a helping hand, showed their abilities to lead the team HIGHER with their friendship and enthusiasm, and showed their capability of leading by example and building a STRONGER reputation than ever before. The incredible young campers received Medals as well as some cool Camp YEY insignia.
After the conclusion of the ceremony, all families were invited to stay for a fun filled day provided by Masters of Magic and Fun which included carnival themed games, balloon animals, face painting, snow cones, popcorn, and even an opportunity to dunk their favorite team leaders in a dunk tank. Members of the Alloway Twp Fire Department came out to provide the kids with an opportunity to practice their fire safety skills. All attendees were also able to enjoy a barbeque-style lunch courtesy of Metz Culinary Management.
Perhaps the best part about Camp YEY is that is offered free-of-charge to youth in Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties. Included, campers received transportation, a team t-shirt, a healthy and balanced snack and lunch each day, and, participated in a number of fun and educational activities. Camp YEY is sponsored in part by grants and personal donations. If you are interested in receiving more information about Camp YEY, or are interested in donating, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org