Building a Social Action Program at Your Summer Camp

Alina Bitel
Written by
for Camps USA
Building a Social Action Program at Your Summer Camp

Many kids today are getting involved in activist causes, from environmental initiatives to human rights advocacy to local community development. Middle schools and high schools often require a certain number of community service hours, and in addition to supporting a worthy cause, volunteer work is fun and rewarding.

As a camp director, you have the chance to help kids develop into responsible, socially conscious people. By building a strong activist component, your camp will serve the needs of others, foster generosity and selflessness in campers, and make your camp a more attractive option to families. Here are three steps to follow:

1. Develop partnerships.

Start by identifying local organizations who recruit volunteers. and the National Council of Nonprofits ( are good places to start, or ask other camp owners, your own staff, and community partners if they know of a great program. Large nonprofits almost always have work, but small start-ups need plenty of assistance as well and may have fewer resources and helping hands available.

Contact a director or PR member at the organization and ask about their mission, methods, philosophy, programs, and needs. Consider whether the agency's purpose aligns with your goals. If you run a nature camp, for instance, environmental and conservationist groups would make great sponsors. A Christian camp could team up with a missions group or faith-based humanitarian organization. A camp for inner city youth might help an urban outreach in cleaning up graffiti or planting trees in the park.

As you negotiate a partnership, emphasize how such a collaboration would benefit both parties. The agency would receive a group of eager young volunteers who would donate their time, energy, and assistance while learning about the group's mission and goals. The campers would gain valuable experience, participate in something they enjoy, and reap the rewards of helping others.

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2. Develop programs.

Once you have a few partnerships established with local groups, determine what they need and what they can offer. Work with professionals at the partner organizations and with your own staff to build a program that will serve both the sponsor and your campers.

Your program might focus on education, awareness, community service, or a combination of the three. Campers could learn about activism in a class or seminar, conduct their own research and present their findings in schools or in the community, help with the day-to-day logistics at a charity, work on a big special project like cleaning out a food pantry or hosting a fundraiser, and discuss how they can remain socially conscious after camp ends.

Take into account the demographics of your camp and what type of volunteer work would benefit your campers. If you have disabled or developmentally challenged youth, assign them therapeutic tasks like taking care of animals. If your camp brings in at-risk kids, educate them about their potential and the ways they can impact the world. A camp comprised of smart, gifted students could look for opportunities to get involved in political activism.

3. Develop publicity.

For many families, a social action program at your camp would be a huge draw, so advertise the details on your website and marketing materials. Outline what campers will be doing, what they can learn, how the program benefits the community, and what groups the camp is affiliated with. Whether the entire camp revolves around activism or it is a single track or elective, instruct interested campers how to sign up.

Likewise, describe the benefits of the program to families who are unsure if your camp is right for them. Show them the positive work that campers will be accomplishing, and promote it as an opportunity for personal growth and as solid experience that will boost a resume or college application. Pictures of kids having fun as they organize a recycling initiative or perform an educational skit are sure to pique interest.

Make the public aware of your program, as well. Write a press release or contact local TV stations and newspapers to do a story on your camp. Since positive publicity benefits your partner organizations, they may supply you with some funding or contacts.

Social activism is a growing trend among American youth that benefits themselves as well as others. Help kids make a difference by promoting an activist program at your camp.

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