Camp isn’t just a place for roasting s’mores, singing campfire songs, and playing games with friends. While those are some of the exciting reasons we love camp, it’s so much more than that. Camp is a vital experience for youth and their development as young leaders. It provides a unique setting that is unparalleled in “the real world” and offers valuable opportunities for personal growth, learning, and connection. The American Camping Association (ACA) recognizes the many benefits of camp, including the opportunity to try new activities, form supportive communities, and build independence. While campers may leave camp with new friends and, perhaps, a newfound love for arts & crafts or archery, they also often leave with greater confidence, self-awareness, and a better understanding of their strengths as a leader.
At camp, youth also put their leadership skills into practice as they regularly dive into new roles and responsibilities, such as leading a team in a scavenger hunt or showing around a first-time camper on their first day. Through these experiences, they quickly learn how to communicate effectively, make decisions, manage conflict, and problem solve–key skills necessary for being an effective leader. And, they do this all while having fun and experiencing all of the joy camp brings.
As the summer camp industry continues to evolve, there is a growing movement towards providing an inclusive environment for all youth. The movement aims to ensure that all youth have the opportunity to develop their full leadership potential. This is particularly important for LGBTQ+ youth, as research demonstrates that LGBTQ+ youth face additional challenges in their journey to adulthood, including discrimination, harassment, a lack of acceptance from peers, family members, and other key relationships, and more.
To address these challenges, a growing number of camps are being established specifically for LGBTQ+ youth or include specific programs to support them. They aim to be a place LGBTQ+ youth can feel at home, safe, and loved in a world where most other areas of life provide challenges. In these unique camp programs, LGBTQ youth participate in activities and workshops that celebrate and affirm their identities and encourage them to reach their full potential. These safe and welcoming spaces allow LGBTQ+ youth to explore their identities in a supportive environment, connect with community peers and mentors, hone their skills as young leaders, and thrive. And isn't that what camp is all about? Helping young people to reach their full potential and be the best version of themselves.
So while the s’mores, songs, and games are awesome, camp can also be a powerful and transformative tool for helping youth develop strong leadership skills and socioemotional skills–especially for those who lack supportive environments elsewhere in life. In other words, camp can have a lasting impact on the lives of young people and we are here for it. If you are too, we encourage you to get involved with our Foundation and learn more about the ways in which camp is helping to develop the next generation of young LGBTQ+ leaders.