Another Summer, Another Week at Learning Outside

This summer, whenever I am in Chapel Hill, I’ve been working at a local day camp. It’s a camp I am very familiar with, having both attended it in elementary school and worked there for six weeks last summer. The camp itself is an interesting mix of activities, focusing on being in nature and creating art. Increasingly though, it has directed its attention to extending opportunity to disadvantaged members of the community. There are smaller camps reserved just for 12 kids referred from the elementary school by a social worker, and every week there are 5–10 refugees mostly from Myanmar, Jordan, and Syria.

The kids I enjoy working with the most are these refugees. Every week they come into the garden unsure of themselves and their English, and hesitant to interact with anyone but whatever friend or sibling they came with. It’s a predictable tendency, to remain with the people who are most familiar to you, so as instructors we work to get kids to branch out, assigning different partners, or picking kids from different groups to help us out with something. Inevitably, by the end of the week they have found some new friends, and whenever they find something cool or need help are quick to go find this person and share what they’ve seen.

What’s been especially rewarding this summer is that kids who I worked with last year are returning and remembering who I am. It reminds me that it’s worth tolerating the 100-degree or hotter weather that makes North Carolina summers almost intolerable. It also reminds me that I can have an impact in the community I live in. Especially in our world right now, with the gravity and scale of the issues we face, it’s easy for me to feel like all I can do at the moment is continue to learn. However working with these kids, and instilling in them an appreciation for nature and a need for people like us to take care of it, I feel as though I am truly having an impact. If we can get kids now thinking about the urgency of climate change, then maybe in ten or twenty years they will help us avert the most grave consequences.

Not to mention, kids can be quite entertaining to be around. I’ve always loved hanging out with kids, and at the end of the day, when we do our instructor debrief, everyone brings out the entertaining anecdotes from the day. Whether it’s the kid who told me, with a completely straight face, “No offense, but I thought you were, at the very least, 32 years old,” or the nine-year-old who marched up to me on the trail and said, “So tell me all that you know about this pH business,” I’m endlessly entertained by my campers.

Me, in my elementary school days, on the trail

Jacob and I working on an art project

With my fellow instructors and a group of first graders