Camp Care-A-Lot, established in 1994 by volunteer community members, helps children aged 6-10 to build self-esteem and teaches children how to manage their own problems. Children from impoverished homes in Central Illinois, sometimes feel unloved. Camp experiences help these children learn to deal with their anger, aggression or despair through an intense week of learning and living together.
In nine sessions, this residential camp, has served almost 450 children at no cost to campers’ families, and is staffed entirely by volunteers. Six hundred individual volunteers (250 annually) staff the two weeklong camps each summer and work all year to provide this program. Businesses, civic groups and individuals provide volunteers and financial support to the fulfillment of the camp’s mission: to teach children to care about themselves, other, their country, community and environment and to let them know that people care about them. The camp provides a safe nurturing environment with nutritious meals, affection and opportunities to have new experiences.
The children swim, paddle canoes, play games, make crafts and sing songs by the light of campfires. Sprinkled among each seven-day camp’s typical activities are sessions on conflict resolution and anger management, while counselors and speakers remind kids of the importance of staying in school and staying away from drugs and gangs. There’s typically a waiting list for the camp, which is staffed four kids to one counselor, 21 years or older, to make sure everyone gets plenty of attention.
Through their camp experiences, volunteers and campers indicate positive changes in their attitude and behavior. Educators/youth agencies say that children carry to school what they have learned at camp about teamwork, cooperation and managing conflict/anger.
Other achievements include receiving many local grants, having positive media coverage and enjoying the support of law enforcement officials and local Firefighters Unions. Mayors teach children about government/citizenship and prepare the each camper for their opportunity to be “mayor of the day.” Children with low self-esteem increase confidence, have learned dignity and help others. A “Good News Camp Care-A-Lot paper” showcases accomplishments during camp.
Camp Care-A-Lot’s volunteer led, recreational, social and educational programs include: teens leading anti-gang, violence, drug/alcohol programs, senior citizens assisting with crafts, social workers leading sessions on conflict resolution/anger management, and community members helping campers write letters, creating talent shows, providing recreational activities, sharing their careers and stressing the importance of education.
In its 7th year in Springfield and 4th year in Jacksonville, Illinois, the camp is supported solely through donations and the work of hundreds of volunteers. The nondenominational camp is held at the Lake Springfield Baptist Camp site in June and the Western 4-H Camp in Jacksonville in August, and kids are referred to the camp through area charities, schools, and agencies.