Perspectives Online

Adventures in Leadership. At this camp, the challenge is to learn entrepreneurism. By Art Latham

Camper Dillon Cable, Golden LEAF coordinator Lora Young, instructor Kevin Curry, and campers Charity Delaney and Bryan Moody display goats Charlie and Claire.
Photo by Art Latham

If you listen carefully in a certain remote mountain setting along the Dan River near Hanging Rock State Park, you can hear the sounds of learning.

That's because, as it has for the past 13 summers, North Carolina

4-H's Sertoma Educational Center - which always has ranked far above the average sylvan summer youth diversion - hosted Camp Challenge here.

During Camp Challenge, the joyful noises heard at most camps - swimming pool splashings, the clop of horses' hooves from the riding ring - combine with the scritching of pens or the clacking of keyboards as more than 600 campers learn computer literacy and other success-oriented skills, while gaining information about diverse careers in agriculture, math, science and independent living.

The camp sessions, developed as part of co-sponsor North Carolina Bankers' Association's commitment to the "America's Promise" project, added a component during the past three summers, as youth, aided by scholarships and curriculum from Golden LEAF, were challenged to explore new careers in agriculture.

The camp is for high-achieving, low-resource middle-school students, especially those from tobacco-dependent counties identified in the multi-year Golden LEAF grant. It also teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurship, as alternatives to tobacco farming. In short, the camp is dedicated to developing tomorrow's business and community leaders.

"From the minute you arrive," promises Camp Sertoma's online brochure " . . . you will be taking part in an adventure that will strengthen your leadership and communication skills. You will set goals and learn to face challenges and think optimistically."

And, notes co-sponsor North Carolina Banking Association's Web site, "Financial literacy is at the top of the important topics at Camp Challenge. In the camp's financial education regimen, youth learn the difference between wants and needs, about checking and savings accounts and how to budget."

Top photo: Yesenia "Jessi" Pardo, Deandre Ward, Victor Walker and Casey Greer add their thanks to the N.C. Bankers Association.
Bottom: Q'Knelah Kellam, Lora Young, Shaquille White and Rachel Beatty go over a financial assignment in class.
Photos by Art Latham
In addition to Golden LEAF funds, the camp also continues to be supported by camping scholarships from a consortium of bankers, banks, financial services and other mortgage and education lenders, realtors, state and federal financial offices, insurance companies, state government agencies, a few benevolent clubs and attorneys, several foundations and endowment funds and North Carolina 4-H, Cooperative Extension's youth development program.

This summer, Golden LEAF grants supported Camp Challenge II, with master-level classes that included a real-work practicum or simulation that built upon experience many returning campers gained last summer during Camp Challenge I.

Also, since last summer, Golden LEAF helped fund Challenge Weekend Academies to bolster the two summer camp experiences, with two overnight stays at 4-H learning facilities: either the 4-H Eastern Educational and Conference Center for eastern North Carolinians or Betsy-Jeff Penn or Camp Sertoma for westerners.

Autumn academy sessions included specialist-led workshops and a "Mini-Society." That's where the campers "make their own laws, develop their own businesses, buy and sell to each other and try to see who can make the most money," says Lora Young, Golden LEAF Camp Challenge coordinator.

The spring sessions focused more on such topics as alternative agricultural careers, value-added agriculture and livestock programs, says Young, a recent N.C. State University grad who's an Oklahoma State University graduate student this fall.

"The kids studied growing shiitake mushrooms and other alternative crops," she says, "and earned a 'salary' for the 'job' of attending the workshops. They earned 'bonuses' for participation levels and at the end of the weekend, instead of the traditional quiz, reviewed what they'd learned through an 'Agriculture Jeopardy' game with two teams competing.

"We tried to teach them that many things they do are agriculture-related and they just didn't know it," Young says, "and that many careers in agriculture might not necessarily seem at first as if they were agriculture-related - marine biology or anything to do with science, for example. And we had animal science workshops: goats in the west and sheep in the east, plus we introduced students to local producers."

At both sessions, instructors introduced value-added concepts and how to produce a value-added product, with a practical application.

"They made strawberry smoothies and discussed the differences between gross profit and net profit," Young says. "They really liked that."

Campers took Camp Challenge's leadership components to heart, she says. "We had a couple of girls and a couple of guys who had been here before, and this year, they just voluntarily took on leadership roles. It was good to see the transition from camper to role model. That's good not just for the campers, but for the counselors."

Does the Camp Challenge approach work?

Last year's participants took tests before camp began, then again at the end of the camp session. They didn't respond at all to financial literacy questions on the first test, and answered only a few questions about agricultural careers.

However, on the second test, 80 percent responded correctly to all questions, showing they understood terms such as "credit report," "fixed expenses," "value" and "wants and needs," as well as the basic concepts and advantages and disadvantages of using credit. And 85 percent retained information about alternative careers that might allow them to remain in their home counties, should they care to.