Face The Facts

By Linda Stalvey

Linda Ebner Erceg is passionate about camp and the “kiddos” who attend. “Nobody else does what we do,” says Erceg. “The magic of camp is that we provide a youth-centered environment that allows the children to move forward on the wellness continuum.”

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Get this founder and executive director of the Association of Camp Nurses talking shop, and you will hear much more about the wellness continuum than how to develop a medical history form or how to ease the pain of a child’s first trip away from home.

While Erceg will be the first to admit that these skills are important and necessary, assessing the health of the camp community will allow you to improve overall performance, and most importantly, help the kids develop critical life skills.

By focusing on the individual, camps provide a variety of experiences that promote growth. Children learn whether they are ready for risk and at what level, they learn lessons in group living, and they learn to express opinions.

“We have a rich realm of experience to market,” says Erceg. “We are one of the few, and perhaps only, environment that is truly youth-centered.”

Defining And Assessing A Healthy Camp Community
Erceg defines a healthy camp community as “one where indicators of wellness are monitored to promote human development in a setting that values the natural environment.”

When the camp rules, schedules and policies cause or contribute to injury or illness, you have an indicator about which you can do something. Incident reports and parent calls also are indicators. Monitoring indicators will provide the number data, but adding context and content to those incidents provides additional information for action. When placed in context, it is possible to determine what you have control over and where you can make a difference.

Erceg offers several examples of the process:

Example 1:

Identifying indicators: Illness and injury reports are examined, and an increase is seen in injuries due to falls.

Examining the context: It is 8:30 p.m. and the path is dark. The camper has weak batteries in his flashlight. The child, an 11-year-old, is running down the path with shoes untied.

What I can change: Not the pre-pubescent coordination or lack thereof! I can remind the child to tie his laces. Perhaps path lighting is a possibility.

I take action and re-evaluate. I monitor. Did I make a difference?

Example 2:

1. Identifying indicators: The incidence of foot injuries is rising.

2. Examining the context: Most campers with foot injuries are wearing flip flops.

3. What I can change: Institute a new policy that all campers must have shoes covering the toes.

4. Monitor: Foot injuries decrease by 50 percent with the new policy.

Example 3:

1. Identifying indicators: Staff visits to the doctor for sinusitis and bronchitis are on the rise.

2. Examining the context: Staff is young--late hours and high activity level may contribute to compromised immune system.

3. What I can change: My expectation--you are expected to recover. This holistic approach requires staff to act to promote wellness rather than staying ill or injured.

4. Monitor: Loss of staff time and time out of program for campers decrease.

Different Rules
Psychosocial aspects might present more of a challenge. Camp offers many opportunities for children to learn various coping skills that will be applicable in later-life situations. Camp also changes all the rules. Discussing with campers how and why things are different in camp can smooth adjustment.

At home, children are taught not to undress in front of others. At camp, undressing in front of others is the norm, especially in the cabins.

We teach our kids not to talk to strangers, and yet at camp, we expect them to develop quick relationships with counselors and staff, and to trust these “strangers” with issues.

For children who have never been in a nature setting, the level of darkness and evening noises can be quite disconcerting. Mix these things together, and homesickness occurs.

Enriching Experience
How do we balance variations in lifestyles with the culture of our camp? How might we market our camps to different cultures? To do this effectively, you have to understand cultural diversity.

As an example of cultural diversity, Erceg talks about the Hispanic culture. This culture does not believe in sending children away, for that may disrupt the strong family ties. Perhaps a family camp is in order here. “We have to be comfortable with diversity and not just tolerant of it,” explains Erceg.

“The good camp will push the kids a bit,” she says. “Yet the need for zest must be tempered with readiness.” For instance, when a child is looking at high-risk ropes, the feeling in the pit of the stomach is saying “no,” and the spirit is saying “yes.” “Yes” is appropriate if there is relevant experience and expertise to accept the risk.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv writes about the “gifts of nature.”

“Nature offers healing … nature inspires creativity … and in nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place different from the adult world, a separate peace.”

Camp can offer a rich experience to children!

Healthy Camp Study
The Healthy Camp Study is a five-year study (2006-2010) to monitor illness and injury among campers and staff at U.S. summer camps so preventive interventions can be identified and integrated into camp risk-management programs. “The best intervention strategies will keep your staff on the job and your campers in program and not in the health lodge,” touts the Web site.

The study is supported by Markel Insurance Company and conducted by The Ohio State University College of Medicine, the Columbus Children’s Research Institute, the American Camp Association, the Association of Camp Nurses, the Christian Camp and Conference Association and the National Recreation and Park Association.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for camp professionals,” says Erceg. “For a small investment of reporting time--about 20 minutes a week--camps will receive an annual summary of their own camp data as well as a copy of the national data report for their type of camp (day or resident).”

To learn more about the Healthy Camp Study and/or to sign up, go to www.ACAcamps.org/research/healthycamp.php, or go directly to the OSU Children’s research center site at www.healthycampenrollment.ccri.ws.

Linda Stalvey is a freelance writer and a contributor to Parks & Rec Business and Camp Business magazines from Medina, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at lstalvey1@verizon.net.

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Nursing Camps Gaining Ground

Camp nurses are essential to any camp environment. Is it any surprise that nursing camps are gaining in popularity? One of the oldest--established in 1989--is the Nurse Camp sponsored by the School of Health Sciences at Seattle Pacific University. Erla Champ-Gibson, a current Instructor of Nursing at the university and the Nursing Camp Director, is excited about a program that can stimulate an interest in nursing for so many of its campers that an estimated 50 percent of campers enter nursing programs.

“Yes, we still have a shortage of nurses nationwide,” says Champ-Gibson.

The program is open to high school juniors and seniors, and will take place this year August 3-9. The students observe nurses in a hospital setting, learn basic nursing skills (such as taking blood pressures), attend seminars, and investigate specialties such as pediatrics, intensive care and operating and emergency rooms among others. The nursing campers also have an opportunity to participate in a mock operating room, shadow nurses in a children’s hospital, and observe an acute-care setting. Students visit six local hospitals to explore each hospital’s area of focus.

“Our nursing students take an active part in planning the camp program and work as counselors. It is a wonderful opportunity for campers and student nurses to share experiences.”

Despite its intense schedule, there is plenty of time for fun and taking in the sights and sounds of Seattle. Each class walks to the Fremont Troll to pose for a picture. Pikes Place Market and Green Lake are sightseeing stops too.

“Last year we increased our attendance to 30 students,” says Champ-Gibson. “The camp is a very full and positive experience for students--at the end of the week they are exhausted,” she adds.

For more information about SPUs Nursing Camp, visit www.spu.edu/depts/hcs/nursingcamp/index.asp.