Veterans Step in at Secular Kids Camps
Army veteran of Afghanistan and Korea, Abel Alba
Camp Quest is an international network of camps for “children of nontheistic parents”. There is a long tradition of sending kids away during summer for values, socializing, and personal growth (and a bit of time away from home). Camp Quest West is a dual camp with northern and southern California locations operating this July. Camp Quest West director Megan Pike had this to say:
[We draw] a fair amount of volunteers who are military veterans. Not having served myself, I can only guess at the reasons for this phenomenon, but my suspicion is that the idea of service, honor, and community resonate strongly in these individuals and that they are drawn to volunteering. Whatever the reason, West has benefited from these volunteers. They understand the importance of maintaining a schedule, innately know that order and discipline provide predictability and make children feel safe, and recognize that a supportive community and respect for independent thinking are not mutually exclusive concepts. Our military volunteers tend to quickly fit into our community, and their command presence often bonds them to their campers rapidly.
Abel Alba served six years in the military as a 25P microwave systems operator in the signal field, in Korea and Afghanistan, before being honorably discharged as a Sergeant in 2011. He is one military volunteer and tells his story:
At Camp Quest, I wanted to provide a level of pride and camaraderie equal to that which I experienced in the military. In basic training each platoon would assign themselves a group name and a song to announce themselves. The competitiveness led to very creative and audible group cadences.
I successfully led my cabin to do the same, encouraging them to devise their own songs or cadence. They displayed a great deal of pride when referring to themselves as Blackbears, and took the initiative in maintaining the standards (cabin cleanliness, behavior) that were set. The result I hope was a bond within the group that they will remember for years to come.
Every day of camp I assigned a new Cabin Lieutenant to be responsible for organizing cabin cleanup and maintaining order in accountability formations. These are all methods that worked very well in the military and proved equally as effective to build every child’s leadership abilities.
At the end of the summer camp, best lieutenant was awarded to the camper that showed the greatest leadership skills, while awarding for other skill sets as well.
MAAF is hoping that many veterans will volunteer, especially in California, to provide good opportunities for outdoor, values-based leadership that translates well from military service. And of course Camp Quest is great experience for all kids. Parents can find 15 camps across the US and one in the UK and Switzerland.