Service Learning Camps
In 2009, Shenandoah National Park established a cooperative agreement with Northern Virginia Community College to develop an ecology-based educational camp for urban and under-served youth. The project was named Camp SEED (Students Encouraging Environmental Discovery). The pilot program brought urban youth from Washington, DC to Shenandoah National Park for hikes, educational discussions and an overnight camping experience. Shenandoah National Park staff helped the children overcome their anxieties about being in the woods, hiked with them to expose them to the many wonderful features in the park and demonstrated the health and mental health benefits of an outdoor experience. Because this was a service learning camp, the children gained valuable skills, exposure to careers within the National Park Service, and a sense of pride in a job well done.
The camp was highly successful. One camper said, “My confidence has increased and I’m not scared of a lot of things anymore. I can’t really say ‘I CAN’T’ anymore. This week made me proud of myself.” Another camper blogged that “being in the woods lightened my spirit and made me feel happy and a better person. This place is not only a place to get away from the stress of urban life but a place where you can find another family.”
Due to the nature of federal funding, Shenandoah National Park has been able to run summer camps only intermittently over the past several summers. The Trust committed funding for two session of camp in 2014 to help re-launch this program in earnest. The Trust will renew our funding for the Park’s Summer Service Learning Camps in 2015, which comprise eight sessions of week-long overnight camps for urban youth—many of whom have never spent a night outdoors. The campers will be hosted by Park Rangers and will hike, play, learn about their national park, and undertake a service project (e.g., rehabilitating illegal backcountry campsites). These projects are designed to enable the children to set goals and achieve success. We will partner with Groundwork, a nonprofit organization serving underprivileged children with various chapters across the country. Our 2014 camps were highly successful and we are proud to continue supporting them.