INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - As the summer comes to a close, one camp in Indianapolis enters its final week of programming. Jameson Camp sits on 100 acres on the far west side of Indianapolis and does much more than get kids outside this summer, it's teaching them to be leaders.
Aside from operating like a traditional summer camp -- offering week-long stays each summer to kids as young as 7 years old – Jameson Camp also has a year-round Youth Leadership program that serves teens ages 13 to 18. About 60 teens are in the program each year and are selected based on commitment to the program, maturity, and potential for learning leadership skills.
"We focus a lot on character and leadership development," says Jameson Camp Program Director, Tim Nowack. "There's about 20 or so skills that we focus on throughout the course of the program, so over 5 or 6 years' time, we can really focus on a lot of ‘non-cognitive' skills that kids need to succeed as adults."
Kennya Davis, 20, is a Camp Counselor who began coming to Jameson Camp at age 8. She entered the Camp's Youth Leadership program at 13, and became a paid camp counselor at 17.
"As a child, [coming to Jameson Camp] definitely helped me grow. When I went through hard times, people here were the ones I went to – not my friends, not my family. It was the bonds and the friendships I made here that saved me," Davis says.
The Youth Leadership program has 3 stages that focus on character development and leadership skills -- such as effective communication, planning, teamwork, leading a group activity, leading younger children and the value of community service.
Throughout their time in the program, each teen has the opportunity to complete over 200 service hours. Each year, Youth Leaders participate in nine ‘Follow Up' events including weekend retreats, an Alternative Spring Break Trip, and college visits.
Visits to Indiana colleges and universities exposed Jameson Camp Counselor Braydon Jefferson, 18, to higher education. He will start his freshman year at Indiana State University this fall with the intended major of Exercise Science, all because of the exposure through Jameson Camp.
"I was not planning on doing anything after high school – going straight to working," says Jefferson. "But after being with the counselors and seeing the different things they got to do after going to college, it really inspired me to go."
Jameson Camp relies on community support and facility rentals to help children who would not normally have the ability to attend camp. The cost for a week-long summer camp session is about $550 per camper, but Jameson Camp uses a sliding fee scale based on income, which usually results in the cost to families being $80 to $100 per camper.
"We have to raise the additional $400 or more from other sources," says Dan Shepley, Jameson Camp Executive Director. "What we collect in camper fees might total $60,000, but our costs to put on summer camp are closer to $275,000 or more."
The organization is funded through grants, individual and corporate donations, and special event fundraisers. Jameson Camp is also a United Way member agency.
"We are pretty unusual from most camps in that we primarily serve children from families who are low income," says Shepley. "Almost 75% of our summer campers are living in households at or below the poverty level. Almost 95% of the families we serve are receiving some level of subsidy from us through the sliding fee scale."
The program allowed soft-spoken college students like Chris Buchanan, 20, the chance to get outside and grow inside.
"I built my confidence here, you know, I was able to go out and have more faith in myself, more than anything," says Buchanan. "There's a lot of values I feel like I've learned and I've seen other people learn here and it has taken other people further in life."
Families interested in sending their children to Jameson Camp will need to wait until summer 2014. Contact Jameson Camp by clicking here .
To volunteer or donate to Jameson Camp, click here .
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