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Summer camps enrich young lives

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This summer more than 9 million children nationwide will attend camp.

Some youngsters will attend camps operated by nonprofit organizations such as churches and synagogues, YMCA, YWCA, Girl and Boy Scouts. Some will attend camps especially designed for children with special physical, emotional or mental challenges. Some will visit privately owned and operated camps, often located in other states from where they live.

But all of those camping children will share certain things in common, says Peg L. Smith, executive director of the American Camping Association, a national organization of camp professionals that provides education and accreditation services.

"Summer camp is a child's very best opportunity to feel part of a world that is created, maintained and improved expressly for him or her. It gives children the opportunity to feel part of an interdependent group and to feel a responsibility toward the other members. The whole idea of community is missing from the lives of too many children in today's culture."

So, it is not surprising, she says, that camp enrollment and camp programs are increasing "by leaps and bounds." (Since 1992, summer camp enrollment has increased by 8-10 percent each year.)

ACA's motto is "Camp Gives Kids a World of Good." "That 'world' is one where contribution, cooperation, compassion and commitment are highly valued," says Smith. "When a camper accepts responsibility toward others, then is rewarded with a sense of belonging, she or he feels community."

The camp experience is a positive one for a handful of important reasons, says the ACA:

1. Camp is a safe and nurturing environment for children. A supervised, positive environment with controlled boundaries helps children grow.

2. Camp is a caring community. Appreciation and respect for others and all living things are the underpinning of quality camp experiences.

3. Camp is a vital element in a child's education. Discovery, exploration and active participation are the methods of learning at camp.

4. Camp is for everyone. Camp can serve almost any interest, ability, budget, age and personal schedule.

5. Camp is fun. Campers learn to invent themselves through enjoyable activities — fun is the foundation upon which courage, self-respect, cooperation and responsibility are constructed.

Camp is a long-standing American tradition; the first organized camp was established in 1861 in Connecticut by Frederick and Abigail Gunn.

The first YWCA camp — or "vacation project" as it was called — came along in 1874. This summer vacation house was established for "tired young women wearing out their lives in an almost endless drudgery for wages that admit no thought of rest or recreation."

The early 1900s saw a number of camping programs established, including Boys Club (1900), Girl Scouts (1912) and Camp Fire Girls (1914). The American Camping Association was established in 1910 to promote guidelines and standards for camp programs.

Each year, ACA publishes a guide to accredited camps around the country. Camps must meet criteria outlined in 300 standards for health, safety and program quality.

The 2001 guide lists five Utah camps: Camp Cloud Rim and Camp Trefoil Ranch, operated by the Girl Scouts; Camp Hobe, designed for children with cancer and their siblings; Camp Kostopulos, designed for disabled campers of all ages; Navajo Trails Adventure Camp, an adventure-oriented enterprise offering backpacking, horseback riding, kayaking and more out of Bicknell.

For more information about the ACA or camping, visit the Web site at www.ACAcamps.org or call 1-800-428-CAMP.