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Camp Whittier’s Summer Camp Program Teaches Courage and Teamwork

United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County facility provides a world of opportunity just minutes from Santa Barbara

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is one in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

For those living in Santa Barbara, the idea of nature-deficit disorder seems absurd. The community is filled with dozens of parks and thousands of trees. Yet, despite all of the green space, many children have trouble getting out into nature as a result of the time they spend in front of television and computer screens and because of their parents’ often harried schedules.

A national survey, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, conducted between October 2008 and May 2009 by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that “today, 8-18 year olds devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And, because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7½ hours.” Overuse of media can lead to obesity, sleep disorders, attention-deficit disorder and nature-deficit disorder.

That’s where Camp Whittier steps in.

“Nature is very grounding,” said Debi Hite, Camp Whittier’s director.

              |  United Boys & Girls Clubs Special Series |  Complete Series Index  |

It also has been proven to help children concentrate better, handle stress better, increase a sense of well-being, improve confidence and provide greater self-esteem.

Camp Whittier, located on a bucolic 55 acres at 2400 Highway 154, just a stone’s throw away from Lake Cachuma and only minutes from downtown Santa Barbara, is a nonsectarian, residential camp operated year-round, seven days a week by the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.

“In meeting our mission of creating caring, productive and responsible citizens, there are vital components in our youths’ growth that can best be served outside of brick-and-mortar facilities,” said Mike Rattray, CEO of the United Boys & Girls Clubs. “Everyone should have the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the great outdoors, wilderness, the balance of nature and other living creatures, and our environment.

“We have found the best vehicle for filling nature-deficit disorder is our Camp Whittier.”

Camp Whittier teaches children about the great outdoors, including survival skills such as shelter building and fire making. The children are led on interpretative nature hikes to learn which plants are edible and what plants hold medicinal qualities. Preserving the earth’s natural resources is stressed, as are physical activity, leadership and team building.

“Our upper-grade students have enjoyed the Camp Whittier experience for over 10 years,” Lisa Maglione, principal of Isla Vista School, told Noozhawk. “We keep coming back not only for the hands-on local science curriculum, great food and knowledgeable counselors, but also for the social-emotional growth that takes place for each student in this very supportive environment.”

Julie Brown, community development manager for the nonprofit KYDS (Keep Youth Doing Something) in Los Angeles, said nearly 80 students from KYDS (a free sports and enrichment program for low-income and at-risk youth in the San Fernando Valley and East Los Angeles) attend Camp Whittier each summer, spending four nights and five days in nature.

“Camp Whittier provides a wonderful opportunity for our children to learn new skills, make new friends, and have fun,” she said. “Going to Camp Whittier is a great opportunity for the kids to learn about nature and the great outdoors, the ecosystem and also to gain self-confidence.”

In fact, a survey given to the KYDS campers after their attendance at Camp Whittier showed that 86 percent of attendees said the Camp Whittier experience increased their self-esteem. Plus, the safe, nurturing environment gave them experiences they would never have received at home. Among the campers, 48 percent said it’s not safe to play outside their homes, 75 percent of them have never been to a creek or played in one, and 80 percent have never shot a bow-and-arrow.

“Our kids come back so elated ... and exhausted,” said Brown. “I love Camp Whittier and Debi Hite. She’s all about the kids and what the camp can provide for them.”

Accredited by the American Camp Association, Camp Whittier is probably best known for its Ropes Challenge Course.

The ropes course has different activities, including initiative and low-ropes activities that happen up to five feet off the ground and can be completed only with the cooperation of the entire group. High-rope activities that take place between 12 and 40 feet off the ground may also be done with partners, but are often accomplished individually. Harnesses and safety lines are used.

Camp Whittier's popular ropes courses bring out the smiles, whether participants are hanging around five feet off the ground or 40. (Camp Whittier photo)
Camp Whittier’s popular ropes courses bring out the smiles, whether participants are hanging around five feet off the ground or 40. (Camp Whittier photo)

The “Leap of Faith” requires a person to climb to the top of the pole, balance on it, and leap off into the air toward nothing. This particular challenge is often life changing for participants.

Through support and encouragement by teammates, children learn to overcome fears, scale new heights, and revel in the rewards of having challenged and pushed beyond their own personal boundaries on the ropes course.

“The ropes course helps the students set goals, accept challenges, and trust themselves and others,” Maglione explained. “The students return with a greater maturity level and appreciation for the world around them.”

Summer Camp at Camp Whittier creates important childhood memories and creates friendships between children from all over Central and Southern California. Archery, swimming, crafts, shelter making, starlit hikes, campouts, poetry, dance, drama, storytelling and drumming sweep children away into a world that is often far different than their everyday lives.

Even nighttime holds a special allure. Children are taught about the constellations while sitting under the stars and they also experience sensory-inducing night hikes and the fun of campfire skits.

Three weekly summer camp sessions, running Monday through Friday, start July 9 and end July 27. The cost of $500 per week includes five days, four overnights, meals and supplies. (Members of the United Boys & Girls Club are offered a discounted $350-a-week rate for Session 2: July 16-20 and Session 3: July 23-27. Campers ages 6-13 are welcome. Scholarships are available on an as-needed basis. Scholarship applications must be sent in along with the camper application.

Applications are also being accepted for CITs or Counselors in Training, who are campers in the age group of 14 through 17.

Click here for camp and scholarship application forms, or call 805.962.6776.

Next month, Camp Whittier will host the Giddy Up to Camp Whittier fundraiser from 4 to 8 p.m. June 16. The event includes dancing to the music of the Tim Buley Band until sunset, wine tasting by Santa Barbara Winery and beer by Firestone Walker Brewing Co.. A gourmet dinner will be prepared by Camp Whittier chef Fabio Hidrobo. Tickets are $100 apiece, and funds raised will directly serve those in need of summer scholarships. Click here for more information, or call 805.962.6776.

In addition to its outdoor programs, Camp Whittier is also available for rent for birthday parties, corporate parties, family reunions, church groups, youth groups and outdoor weddings.

“We have the capacity beyond the members to serve the public at large and have been a de facto ‘recreation’ facility for the county Parks Department by renting out to other nonprofits, schools, businesses and the general public serving the same mission,” Rattray said.

» Click here for more information on Camp Whittier, or call 805.962.6776. Click here to make an online donation to the Camp Whittier Scholarship Fund Campaign, or contact Camp Whittier director Debi Hite at 805.962.6776.

» Connect with Camp Whittier on Facebook. Follow Camp Whittier on Twitter: @CampWhittier.

» Click here for more information on the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, or call 805.681.1315. Click here to make an online donation.

              |  United Boys & Girls Clubs Special Series |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk contributing writer Nancy Shobe can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or follow her on Twitter: @shobebiz. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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