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Summer camp experiences have an impact that lasts long after parent pick-up festivities.

In fact, camp can be life-changing, according to the American Camp Association. Through such experiences, children come to demonstrate improved leadership and social skills, according to ongoing ACA research.

Camp isn’t strictly for children with outdoorsy inclinations. There are camping opportunities that provide focus on specific interests and varying amounts of time outdoors. In addition, day camps introduce similar elements, such as social development and positive skills.

For faith-based camps, incorporating spiritual beliefs into the experience can deepen connections to religious concepts. Some studies show such camps lead to an increased sense of belonging in a child’s respective religious community as well as deeper understanding of doctrinal concepts and curiosity about religious education.

Across the country, there are more than 12,000 camps — 7,000 overnight facilities and 5,000 day programs. Each summer, more than 6 million children participate in some type of camp, and at least half do so through faith-based programs.

Every child should have access to some sort of formal camp program. From day camps to sleep-away programs, the general experience is an important milestone. Camps also provide key experiences for young people considering careers working with children, because U.S. camp programs employ more than 1.5 million adults.

One of my most profound camping experiences took me to Camp EWALU in Strawberry Point, where I was an observer, not a participant.

It was early in my journalism career, and I was provided the chance to spend several days with Simba Circle. This urban-to-outdoor ministry places at-risk boys and young men of African-American descent in a camp setting. Goals include developing community and providing positive male mentors and role models through the volunteer camp staff.

Campers came from cities across our nation, and most had no previous wilderness-style experiences. The male-only, rural camp setting provided the opportunity to disconnect from other influences and focus on personal development.

As an unobtrusive observer, I watched campers share deeply personal stories, grow in their confidence and make commitments to abandon negative behaviors.

Simba Circle was worlds away from my own camping experiences, yet it also showed me how blessed I’d been to have my own camp experiences.

I attended faith-based sleep-away camps in elementary and middle school years. As I got older, I had other camping experiences, including “recharge” weekends at faith-based facilities in western Iowa, metro area day camps and college-run programs for orchestra, art and more.

I was blessed to have parents and a faith community willing to make the investment in me. Those camp experiences had a direct impact on everything from my religious beliefs to my career choices. As a parent, I now fully realize sending a child to any camp requires a conscious financial commitment that extends beyond me.

Everything from faith-based camps to school-run programs keep out-of-pocket costs as low as possible through donations and grants. That is, most charge what amounts to a reduced price; the full price of camp would be astronomical, if not for volunteers, donor support and other assistance. In addition, scholarships ensure as many children as possible can have a camp experience.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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