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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Campfires, s’mores and travel abound with Camp Adventure

Imagine being a camp counselor abroad with free airfare, housing and a daily stipend – this is not a dream – it’s entirely possible with Camp Adventure Child and Youth Services.

Camp Adventure is a service and learning program offered through the University of Northern Iowa that provides college-aged students with summer camp counselor and internship positions. Ninety-five percent of these positions are held on military bases, with the rest at foreign schools and U.S. embassies.

This past summer, Camp Adventure sent 900 students from 13 college campuses abroad. Approximately 50 were from UC Davis.

Heidi van Beek, UC Davis/Sacramento State Camp Adventure senior staff development coordinator and Camp Adventure alumna, organized the partnership and training between both universities. According to van Beek, those participating in the program have the opportunity to work with a new culture, with not only people living in a different country, but also with the military and their families.

Ariane Metz, recent UC Davis English and anthropology major graduate, attended five Camp Adventure programs and was the UC Davis recruitment coordinator for the organization. Metz said working with the children in military families who are under stress was both challenging and rewarding.

“[The military children] have become very emotional. Sometimes they can express their feelings in a negative way and you have to work with these emotions to help them express them in a positive way,” Metz said.

Camp Adventure has sites in 23 different countries in Europe and Asia, along with a few in the United States. For placement, van Beek said counselors rank the countries from one to 23 in order of preference. While veterans are generally given priority, most participants end up working in one of their top 10 preferred countries.

“There were some people who didn’t get their ideal location and they still had a great summer. Even stateside, there are lots of great programs,” Metz said.

Before applying, students interested in the summer program must have 40 hours of youth work or volunteer experience in a structured group program. Although not mandatory, the camp prefers students with a major related to child development.

“We’re looking for students who have experience working or volunteering with children and students with strong leadership skills,” van Beek said.

Before participating in Camp Adventure students must also attend training, alternating between the UC Davis and Sacramento State campuses, during Winter and Spring quarters every Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m.

During the 50-hour training process, participants learn how to be a professional camp counselor or swim instructor. Instructors teach technical skills such as camp songs, attention-getters, lifeguard and Red Cross of America training, along with theoretical skills such as safety risk management, signs of child abuse, conflict resolutions, self-esteem modules and diversity components.

Camp Adventure also offers a Child Development Internship program during the academic year. Because participants receive training on-site, they are required to have more experience working with children.

Amber Bonds, recent UC Davis alumna, participated in the child development internship in Winter ’11 at Caserma Ederle United States military base in Italy.

Bonds said that Camp Adventure is a permanent part of many children’s lives.

“These kids have a lot of things that change, but Camp Adventure has the same songs, games and uniforms every year. It’s a really stable part of their life,” Bonds said.

According to van Beek, new program participants pay around $1000, while returners pay about $600. They also receive 12 units of credit through the University of Northern Iowa.

Students work nine hours a day and are paid a living stipend of $25 per day during the camp, along with free airfare and housing. Participants also get two consecutive days a week off, where they enjoy the local community or region.

During days off, counselors generally travel by train for day or night trips to different parts of the country.

“The program makes things really affordable when you compare to summer abroad. If you budget the stipend they give you, it can go a long way,” Metz said.

Program rules also restrict counselors from flying during the camp, due to possible flight delays.

“One of the negative things is that you can’t fly anywhere, even though flights are so close and cheap,” Bonds said.

Both Metz and Bonds agreed that Camp Adventure was worth the challenges and it made a lasting impact.

“This is the time of our life to do it. When you’re older, you have more responsibilities. If you can now, you should definitely take advantage of it,” Bonds said.

GRACE BENEFIELD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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