WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTO | LEELANAU OUTDOOR CENTER
Preparing Kids for Social and Educational Success
Many of us can remember our first sleepover or overnight camp and how we became more homesick as the day progressed. Often, the only thing that prevented tears was the feeling that we weren’t alone and that an adult was nearby who would make us feel at home.
At the time of my first overnight camp experience, you couldn’t tell me these things and make me objectively understand. It had to happen organically, almost without my knowing the appeasement process was under way. I also didn’t realize that immersing myself in social settings that took me out of my comfort zone would forever impact my ability to overcome uncomfortable experiences throughout life, both personally and professionally.
The staff and leadership at Leelanau Outdoor Center (LOC) must have a keen sense of awareness of this pivotal development point, because their programming takes this potential anxiety — for both parents and camp-attendees — to heart.
Steve Hufstader has been the camp director at LOC since 2013, and he continues to create thoughtful programming that is immersive but still accommodates all participants.
Nearly 3,000 students participate in LOC programs each year. Its goal is to enhance the curriculum at public, private, and parochial schools through a number of mediums and opportunities. Since 1994, it has sought to facilitate “a collaboration with local school teachers who saw a need for quality outdoor and character education.”
The benefits of leading a comprehensive program like LOC manifests itself perhaps most prominently in the way kids come out of their protective shells. They learn to take risks, make friends, and be less concerned about perceived failures; it’s a real confidence builder. The challenge of the team-building exercises teaches them trust and communication; the high-ropes course teaches confidence. Each activity at LOC has a larger goal than just the fun of it.
LOC does not discriminate in its attendees; if school counselors think a student has room for growth, they’re welcome at LOC. “Kids have so much fun, and their teachers see the benefits of their personal growth. Watching students connect much better with other students who, in a different setting, they might’ve considered weird,” says Hufstader.
LOC programming also assuages the fears of parents who are apprehensive about leaving their children alone. “We deal with nervous parents on a regular basis. A lot of times they are sending their child to a place they haven’t been before, and it puts parents on the edge of their seats. It’s important to showcase our track record so that each family feels secure.”
Programming like this, that understands the marriage between outdoor appreciation and internal stability, is well worth our time and funds, most critically when youth development is involved.
The Leelanau Outdoor Center
1653 Port Oneida Road
Maple City, MI 49664