For children who are new to the United States, camp can be an unfamiliar concept. But with thoughtful planning, it can quickly become a welcoming environment that helps acclimate to life in their new home country.
As our neighborhoods become more diverse, day and overnight camps have a great opportunity to create safe, welcoming spaces for all children, including immigrant youth. (See how immigrant demographics are shifting in your county.)
Many youth may experience anxiety when attending camp for the first time, but it’s important to understand that immigrant youth may also be affected by isolation, language challenges, separation anxiety and culture shock. Many immigrant youth shoulder adult responsibilities for their households. Camp can be a great outlet for experiencing the joy of simply being a kid.
Keep these five ideas in mind to help all youth reach their full potential this summer:
- Lead with empathy in all interactions and activities. YMCA Camp Reed has developed a collaboration with a world relief organization to welcome refugee children from Afghanistan to camp. In order to welcome these youth and ease the concerns of their families, the Y rebranded the overnight camp experience as “Adventure Week” to reduce fears associated with attending a “camp,” which may have a very different meaning to refugee families that have spent significant time in transition to their new life in the United States.
- Embrace and nurture the unique youth development experience of each child. At YMCA Camp Ernst, counselors organized a Diversity Committee that shares announcements at each staff meeting related to embracing diversity. The committee reviews books made available in cabin libraries to make sure the stories and images are reflective of the many dimensions of diversity that the campers represent and works to support campers and counselors and encourage everyone to be more welcoming at camp.
- Recognize and value all dimensions of diversity. YMCA Camp Thunderbird's Game Changer scholarship program empowers children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who struggle in traditional classroom learning environments to develop their collaborative, creative and critical-thinking skills in a structured, multi-year camp experience.
- Work towards the greatest possible inclusion. The Camp Combe YMCA believes that the full inclusion of children with developmental, social, emotional, behavioral and/or medical special needs enhances and enriches the camp experience for all children. Camp Combe provides experienced specialists to ensure that youth of all abilities have the chance to experience the joy and magic of summer camp.
- Foster global awareness. The Sioux YMCA serves dozens of Native American communities across nine reservation lands in western North Dakota and South Dakota. This summer the Y is fostering cultural awareness through a new partnership with the Standing Rock Reservation Boy’s and Girl’s Club in North Dakota, which will include a camper exchange to share culture and traditions while fostering new friendships between youth from different native communities.
To advance the Y’s mission to serve all, it is so important to reach out, build understanding and trust, and tailor programs and policies to meet the needs of all kids in the communities Ys serve. Get more quick tips for welcoming campers.