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Why youth leadership camps are important to improving our communities

Camp GUTS (Gearing Up Toward Success) is STAR Council's own annual summer leadership camp for kids. Every year, for three days in a row, students around the ages of 12-14 are invited to join us for team building exercises, guest speakers, and leadership skills development.

This year our prevention team added a volunteer aspect by having students make no-sew blankets for animal shelters and cleaning up around the Stephenville Historical House Museum, a volunteer-led non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the area's history and culture.

After cleaning the grounds, participants helped de-seed plants to be replanted.

There are leadership camps for youth everywhere, and I think most people will agree that it is a great idea to teach our kids how to be effective leaders. Some parents may enroll their kids simply because they need a baby-sitter. We're not knockin' those folks. All youth are welcome at our camps, no matter the reason for attendance. But I wanted to share some research behind our strategies for preventing substance use in and around our communities.

According to an article, "youth who maintain active involvement in community institutions such as school and church [and others] are less likely to engage in substance use. Schools and communities can play a protective role by taking active steps to engage young people in order to avoid drug use and other problem behaviors."

Here are 4 ways that leadership camps can benefit our youth and communities:

1) They can promote positive relationships with other youth.

Shaving cream pictionary...just for fun

Social skills are developed as we grow, but if we don't spend enough time with our peers, these skills can become more and more challenging with age (believe me...). Youth leadership camps are great strategies for purposeful social interaction. Kids may think they are there to learn about a specific topic, but simply spending time with others close to their age can help them to learn about social norms and manners. A major benefit of an organized gathering is that staff in charge can help facilitate these interactions and offer support when students hit road blocks with their friends and new acquaintances.

2) They can promote positive relationships with adults.

Research shows that positive relationships with adults is a protective factor against alcohol and other drugs of abuse. According to this article, "researchers consistently find links between a parent’s substance abuse and a child’s likelihood of developing alcohol and drug problems later in life." Unfortunately, children of parents who abuse alcohol/other drugs are more likely to use in the future than peers with parents who do not use. If they do not have positive adult influences in the home, it is vital that they develop these kinds of relationships with other adults outside the home. Leadership camps, and any other kind of camp for that matter, are perfect for providing trustworthy adults that can help counter the effects of possible negative influences in the home. Our camps are led only by trained prevention specialists and volunteers who must pass background checks and drug screens. Even if a child comes from a clean and caring home, he/she can never have too many positive role models to help shape them into responsible citizens.

3) They provide character education.

While it's true that any camp can and should provide training in life and social skills, leadership camps specialize in this arena. A writer for 21 Progress emphasizes these benefits of leadership development, particularly for high school students:

  • Improved communication

  • Conflict resolution

  • Decision-making

  • Greater capacity for goal achievement

  • Increased initiative and responsibility

  • Greater sense of belonging

Blind leading the blind in this game about non-verbal communication skills

Leadership camps help youth further develop character by honing in on specific challenges. For example, I once had a 9th grade student express to me how beneficial "I statements" have been to her communication and relationships since she learned about them in my class the year before. Leadership training is definitely worth the time and effort.

4) They prepare our future 'us.'

Think about it: we (assuming most of our readers are adults) were kids once. Kids today will become the next adults. The next adults will run our governments and nursing homes. Who do you want creating new laws, running businesses, or bathing and feeding you when you're 90? I rest my case.

Some people are natural leaders: they have an air about them; their presence fills the room; they carry themselves a certain way that draws attention; their words are heard with most appreciation. Others lack the confidence, poise, knowledge, and drive that the "typical leader" is expected to possess. Neither leader is without room for improvement. Many of the protective factors associated with substance abuse prevention are closely related to those skills and qualities we associate with effective leaders.

I've just listed a few reasons for conducting purposeful leadership camps for youth. How many more can you think of? Please share in the comments below, and enjoy some more photos from our recent Camp GUTS.

Photo cred: our guide, Ms. Dana, taken after cleaning around the museum and picking seeds to be replanted on the grounds

Thanks to the Tarleton Challenge Course for having us out!

They loved touring the police department and learning about bullying.

Ms. Dana was kind enough to let us ring the chapel bells at the Stephenville Historical House Museum.

It's not ALL about the kids.

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