Several years ago, TIME magazine ran an article titled, “Why Kids Who Believe in Something Are Happier and Healthier,” in which they found that many kids today feel that their worth is directly tied to ability and accomplishment. But actually, the article countered, the “single most powerful protection against depression and suffering” is spirituality. And when that spirituality is directly tied to nature – as in a camp setting – kids experience a greater sense of connectedness.
I myself am a testament to the transformation power of a summer camp rooted in faith. In 1985, when I was a sophomore in high school living in a desert town in Texas, my big brother talked me into working with him at a Christian camp, doing maintenance. At first, I did it for the money; sure, I respected Jesus, but He had always felt like somewhat of a “fun stopper” to me.
However, what I found at that camp changed everything. All around me were culturally relevant role models, men and women who inspired me. These were people I wanted to emulate. They understood my world, they saw me, listened to me, and believed in me.
These Christ-centered leaders broke through a barrier. And they were fun. Even in the middle of hauling hay for 17 hours straight, there was a joyful purpose about them. As we experienced life shoulder to shoulder, they discipled me. During this season, I learned the power of what Jesus can do in this unique environment called summer camp (many years later, Jesus would even introduce my oldest son to his future wife during their time as camp counselors).
When we entered 2021, The Washington Post called COVID-19 a “simmering crisis” for our nation’s kids. It’s no secret that the isolation and the stresses of the pandemic have impacted kids’ mental health; what is surprising is how long these effects can last if not addressed. The more quickly we can return kids to normal stabilizing activities, the better.
The social interaction from a camp setting builds confidence, encourages cooperation and communication, and improves cognitive abilities like executive control. And outdoor activity has long been proven to positively impact kids’ health. Spending time outside raises levels of vitamin D and helps protect kids from bone problems, heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues. It also has been shown to reduce ADHD symptoms; lead to higher scores on standardized tests; and reduce anxiety and stress.
Faith is a third strong influencing element on wellbeing. A 2018 Harvard study found that children who had a religious upbringing are likely to be healthier and have a higher degree of wellbeing in early adulthood than those who did not. Kids who prayed reported having a higher life satisfaction and positivity in their 20s.
But attending camp shouldn’t come at the price of safety. This summer, camps across the country are taking measures to ensure the safety of their campers. From the use of COVID-killing cleaning products and daily temperature checks to drive-thru drop-offs, scrub-in and scrub-out stations, and extensive staff safety trainings, we’re put a lot of energy into identifying every opportunity we can to create a safe, fun environment for campers. We’re learning from our summer camps who held camp last year to make our best safety practices even better across the board.
Summer camp can be a place where friendships take root and personal growth happens. Kids leave camp with a greater sense of their inner worth, a greater sense of purpose, and a stronger connection with a God who is far greater than they realized.
Chris Witt is senior director of WinShape Camps, which offers one- and two-week overnight camps in North Georgia for K-12 students and day camps across the country.