CREA Summer Camp CIT Program: Transforming Teens

This article was originally published in CREA’s Spring 2020 Newsletter.

CREA summer camp is a wonderful time for our younger campers to immerse themselves in nature-based play, science, and art with their peers. Last spring, under the leadership of our new Camp Director, Jenny Mueller, we wanted to enrich the experience for our older campers – cultivate their sense of responsibility and community as they move into their latter teen years.

Together, we worked to create a more robust leadership program for our 14 – 16 year-olds via two week-long stints and additional program enhancements.. In addition to their explicit responsibilities, they received an hour of hands-on training from Jenny every day after camp.

During this training time, Jenny guided CITs through a review of the day’s events and interactions, gave constructive feedback on performance, led team building activities, and encouraged CITs to step up and showcase their individual talents to campers.

All of our fifteen CITs were pushed outside their comfort zone daily and the personal growth we observed was remarkable. They learned how to communicate confidently with each other, camp leaders, and campers, how to take direction and constructive advice, and how to be positive leaders to younger campers.

This is no small feat for an age group that is maximally self-conscious in front of their peers.  Under Jenny’s wise tutelage, they learned how to be confident, effective leaders.

One of our CITs arrived from out-of-state, staying with grandparents in the area. He entered the program on a Monday morning as a tall, quiet, and quirky teen who didn’t know anyone in camp.

Within the structure of the program, this quiet young man built relationships with the four other CITs, showed tremendous personal growth, and developed into a valuable team member – learning and then teaching camp games to the younger campers. With encouragement, he taught campers one of his great talents learned from many years in Scouts – knot tying.

This young man’s grandmother was over the moon about the growth she observed in her grandson during his two weeks with CREA. One day after camp, he told his grandmother what he’d learned from Jenny during leadership training about what messages his body language was sending to campers. He had learned that standing with arms crossed can convey lack of confidence and aloofness rather than welcome to young campers.

His grandmother subsequently noticed him unfolding his crossed arms as he remembered this advice throughout the following week. She was grateful to Jenny and the CIT program – and a bit emotional – as she described the positive changes she was seeing in her grandson.

He left two weeks later as an assertive young man – one who had learned the importance of speaking up, sharing his talents, and using positive body language to show warmth and confidence. Equally important, he gained four new friends for life.

While getting kids outside (away from technology) to revel in the simple pleasures of nature-based discovery and fun is a big part of our mission, stewardship is our long-range goal. We engage people with nature as a means of inspiring them to become better stewards of the earth.

Stewardship is all about responsibility and care. And we can’t teach responsibility and care for the earth if we’re not also teaching responsibility and care for others. That’s why great camp directors, great counselors, and a great CIT program are so important to us.

We thank our 2019 CITs who enriched the camp experience and by extension, our community, by contributing collectively over 1,120 hours of volunteer time to CREA camp. 

CIT sessions are a learning and service leadership experience. Each CIT must apply to be accepted into the program. Documentation of CIT hours for community service credit is provided at the completion of each leadership session.