- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Before 17-year-old Katie Koch attended camp last summer, her dream of learning to fly was just that.
At Flight Training Adventure Camp in Colorado, the Buffalo, N.Y., teen earned a private pilot's license.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to fly," Katie says. "My first real role model was Amelia Earhart."
In addition, Katie says, she experienced personal growth.
"The first summer, I did my first solo the solo was more of a growing-up change. The second summer was more of a change of my point of view of the world," she says.
As Katie learned, summer camp can have a profound impact on a youngster. More and more camps are moving beyond overnights in the woods, swimming and making crafts. There are camps for a variety of interests academics, opera, travel and a myriad of others and it's important to match the camp with the child's interests.
The American Camping Association, a professional nonprofit organization that accredits camps, estimates there are 10,000 camps in the United States, half of which are overnight camps.
The ACA conducted a nationwide survey in 1999 of its 2,500 member camps. The survey found that 75 percent of them had added new programs during the previous few years, including adventure, fine arts and travel. More than half of the camps also included a community-service component in their agendas.
"It's amazing how much of an impact you can have on a kid's life," says Bonnie Dunn, president of the Chesapeake Section of the ACA. "I have seen kids that found whole new areas they are interested in."
For example, Ms. Dunn says she knows of at least seven or eight teens who decided to become teachers as a result of their camping experiences.
Katie's experience has given her new dreams. She wants to become a professional pilot after she earns an engineering degree. Not only did she realize a lifelong dream of learning to fly, but she says, "The camp taught me if you have a dream, go after it. There is always a way to fulfill what you want to do."
Katie went to the flight camp on a partial scholarship from Victorinox, manufacturer of Swiss Army Knives. The camping association survey estimates that 65 percent of camps offer some financial assistance.
Dominik Strobel, founder of the flight camp, says his business grew out of an assignment he got 10 years ago when he was in business school and working part time as a flight instructor.
"We had to come up with a business plan to revolutionize a stagnant industry," he says. His plan began as a flight-training camp for adults and later developed into a summer youth camp.
It's not just a camp for developing pilots, however.
"There are a number of things that you have to know to be a pilot that are useful in life," he says. These include planning, discipline, perseverance and problem-solving skills.
"That is what this camp is all about," he adds. "To teach [campers] that anything is possible as long as you don't give up and you have some skills and know how to find a solution by thinking."
Also, Mr. Strobel says, "Every kid should learn to fly in order to break those mental barriers that schools and parents don't know how to do." The challenge, he says, is not flying the airplane, but making sound judgment calls.

Adventure camp

Sixteen-year-old Cody Jeunette of Boyce, Va., has been attending Adventure Links camps since he was 7. This past summer, Cody attended one of its camps on the big island of Hawaii.
"It was a five-day overnight with kids from around the world," he says.
This camp was designed for the children of adults who were attending a program by Anthony Robbins, a motivational speaker and author.
Cody says he faced a real challenge with something called the "power pole."
"It's a telephone pole with spikes. You climb to the top, and then you have to get on top of the pole and stand up there. I climbed the pole and was on the last step. I was shaking like crazy. I got my foot on top of the pole, and I had to balance the wind was blowing."
What did he do? How did he get down?
"They have this pole set seven feet out that is right across from you," Cody explains. "I had to jump off the [first] pole, and I grabbed on to [the other pole]. It was pushing the limit of what I thought I could do. I did it, and now I know I could do it again," he says triumphantly.
Austin Birch, founder of the for-profit Adventure Links camp in Paris, Va., uses adventure activities to get children excited about what they are doing and to help them learn the importance of facing challenges in life.
A former teacher at the Hill School in Middleburg, Va., and an outdoor guide in Northern Maine, Mr. Birch has been running Adventure Links camp for the past 12 years. It is a year-round, mobile camp that offers outdoor and educational experiences. Part of his program also involves working with local schools.
Joy Grieg of Bethesda says her 13-year-old son, Ilya, has had some difficulties in other camps because he is overly active.
"He came back more reflective and more willing to try new things," she says.
For example, before going to Adventure Links camp, Ilya said he didn't want to try kayaking because he didn't like getting wet and cold. At camp, kayaking and caving became his favorite activities.
Before camp, Ilya did not participate in group activities. Now, Mrs. Grieg says, he is much more willing to be part of a group.

Community service

Seventeen-year-old David Fries and 16-year-old Laura Lo didn't have kayaking as part of their camping experiences. For the past several years, these Crofton, Md., teens have joined the Rev. Jon Fregger of Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church in Crofton to work for the needy in West Virginia.
"The guy I was working for had diabetes and had lost his legs from his knees down. He let me ride his electric scooter once," David recalls. "He had a lot of faith and was always optimistic. If you think about it, it's great to be alive, and it's great to be here. That was something that he helped me think about."
David also learned that character and who you are are far more important than material things. Last but not least, he learned some practical skills in repairing houses.
"By this past year, I felt I actually knew what I was doing," he says, referring to making repairs and using tools.
Mr. Fregger says the camp is "an opportunity for high-school-age youth to have an experience of offering assistance to needy people in a different cultural setting."
The Cabell/Lincoln Counties Work Camp was founded by Chaplain Bob Bondaurantof Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., and his wife, Beth.
Mr. Fregger says it's sometimes difficult to convince a young person that he or she needs to pay $225 to go to work for a week.
"Once they go, they discover the joy and the amazing gift that is given to them by working with these folks," he says.
"It changed my point of view," Laura says. "It's like young people can change these people's lives, and we can help them. People we didn't even know, and they were so grateful, and that touched us."
Both Laura and David plan to participate again this summer to help the needy in the Huntington area.

Positive impact

The camping association estimates that 9 million youngsters attended summer camps last year and the number is increasing 8 to 10 percent a year. Why is it important to send a child to camp?
The positive impacts of camp are underscored by Jeffrey Leiken, a national trainer, educator and professional counselor in San Francisco.
"It's set up to give an education that isn't getting taught in school," he explains. This involves learning to work as part of a team, learning to take care of themselves, learning how to resolve conflicts and learning to make the most of challenging situations.
In addition to those life skills, camp also can provide opportunities for children to explore their talent.

Opera Camp

In the case of Taleen Kalbian, camp provided a vehicle to parlay her talent.
The 13-year-old Oakton teen started singing and voice training at age 6. In 1998, she auditioned for the Washington Opera Camp and sang in "Brundibar" that summer. In 1999, she snagged the lead in the camp's performance of "Thunder of Horses."
"It was such a wonderful experience," she says. "I learned how an opera is made. I got to see how costumes are made. We went to the Kennedy Center. We went to New York and toured the Metropolitan Opera. We also went to Wolf Trap and saw an opera there."
After attending Opera Camp, Taleen sang four times with the Washington Opera. She also did a solo performance at the White House in December 1999.
The highlight for her, however, came last March, when her family went to Jerusalem.
"I had this wonderful opportunity to be able to sing twice for the pope. It was so much fun. The second time, I was in a church, and I got to meet him," she says.
How could Taleen top that?
"I just got a five-album record deal. It's in pop," she says excitedly. The teen-ager loves pop; her favorite group is the Backstreet Boys.
Don't get discouraged not everyone who auditions for Opera Camp is as accomplished as Taleen.
"We have kids that range the whole spectrum, kids who have never sung to kids who have an agenda. The primary focus is for kids to learn about opera through hands-on experience," says Debra Evans, director of education for the Washington Opera.
The Washington Opera initiated its public-education program six years ago. Since that time, 180 children from ages 10 to 14 have participated in Opera Camp.

Space Camp

Camp also can inspire youngsters and create a lifelong passion.
Midshipman Carmella House, a 19-year-old sophomore at the U.S. Naval Academy, was inspired to become a pilot after attending U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., a project of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the state of Alabama. She earned her private pilot's license at 17.
"I was in fifth grade when I first went," Midshipman House says. From that point, she attended Space Camp and the Aviation Challenge program a total of 19 times. "It shaped my whole childhood, really," she says.
"Most of the people who go there want to be astronauts. It convinced me it's definitely what I want to do. Every program you attend, they let you know what you need to do educationwise to get to work for NASA," she says.
"Honestly, I don't ever remember a time when [being an astronaut] wasn't what I wanted to do," Midshipman House adds.

Matching interests

All of these youngsters benefited in different ways from their summer camp experiences and all of them were matched with their particular interests.
"Matching camps with kids is very important," Ms. Dunn advises. "I ask teens what is the best thing about camp, and they respond [that it's] learning new and different things and meeting new friends. I have had a lot of kids say it has really changed their lives."
Adds Mr. Leiken, "Most children I know who talk about camp say, 'I wish the whole world could be like camp.' "

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