"What's most important to us is that this become not just an adult-driven enterprise that is a requirement but rather that it's something that is internalized by our young people, who then want to do something more," said Stephen Wallace, a director at Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, Mass.
Every summer the camp fields a team of staff and older teens who ride in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a three-day bike-a-thon that crosses the commonwealth to raise money for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The camp raised $130,000 for the cause last summer, he said.
"Despite what you hear about adolescence being this time of dysfunction, when you really look at it many young people are immersed in paying something forward. That's how we talk about it," said Wallace.
Junior counselors can also complete camp requirements through service the rest of the year via peer counseling, coaching youth sports, tutoring younger kids or assisting the elderly, the homeless or others in need.
At Camp Towanda in Honesdale, Pa., director Mitch Reiter also extends summer service through the year.
During the seven-week summer session for 400 girls and boys, campers find sponsors for a swim-a-thon that benefits Project Morry, which hosts a camp for poor kids who would not otherwise be able to afford camp.
Towanda campers find sponsors and swim laps for money, which is matched dollar-for-dollar by Reiter and his wife. They have raised between $7,000 and $14,000 a year for Project Morry for the last 10 years or so, Reiter said.
"What I tell the kids is that every dollar makes a difference," he said.
Not all camps talk up service, but provide opportunities nevertheless.
Cheley Colorado Camps in Estes Park doesn't actively market itself as service-focused, said Jeff Cheley, the fourth generation in his family to run the camp.
"It's not an overriding theme, but we use community service as a vehicle. Our mission talks about building character and resiliency and it helps foster those skills," he said.
Cheley partners with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which teaches people of all ages how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly, to provide service days for campers to help maintain trail heads, do landscape work or participate in cleanup projects in the national park, he said.
"Are all our campers lining up to do it? Probably not," Cheley acknowledged. Still, he said, today's kids are more focused on service, "especially because a lot of high schools are making them do it."
Tyler, the Caps Count founder, was nervous about leaving home on his 2010 trip to Costa Rica, but he actively went in search of a service opportunity when he found Westcoast Connection and it's 360 Student Travel Program.
He plans to turn over his charity to his younger brother, soon to be 14, when he heads to college in the fall. He hopes to study business and continue as an entrepreneur.
"I really wanted to do community service," Tyler said. "It felt like a more productive way to spend a summer. A lot of times when you travel you really only get to see the touristy towns. I wanted to see how people really live."
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