For a group of rising eighth graders, it was just a week at camp in July.
In reality, however, Kiwanis Club of Maryville’s Leadership Adventure Camp is more than that. At its core, Leadership Adventure Camp was designed to build confidence in the students. It was a confidence Camp Chair Randy Allen hoped the students would take to their schools as emerging leaders.
Maryville’s Kiwanis Club and the Kiwanis Builders Club created the camp five years ago as way to teach students about leadership, cooperation and communication in a fun environment at Camp Wesley Woods. Because the number of students who could attend was limited, being accepted to attend the camp is prestigious itself. Teachers from Maryville Middle School, Heritage Middle School and Eagleton Middle School nominate students they believe stand out among their peers. The original 150 nominated was narrowed to 50 through essay questions and interviews, and then to the chosen 34 students.
These 34 students enjoyed all aspects of a regular summer camp. Mixed in with canoeing, rock-climbing, repelling, archery classes, hiking and rope courses, the students had to create service projects they could perform in their schools and community.
The students were not alone in the creation. Teachers, politicians, business owners, coaches and journalists from the Knoxville and Maryville communities each spent some time at camp, giving words of guidance to improve character and promote leadership in the students. Students were active in their participation as well, breaking into groups to brainstorm ideas to make their community better.
Kathryn Pepperman, Bailey Thompson, Whitney Hair and Austin Loo, from Maryville Middle School, were in a group together. Their community project was centered on something that has affected each of their lives - cancer.
Each student had a family member afflicted with cancer and the group chose as there goal raising money for the American Cancer Society. They designed five wristbands with inspirational phrases for patients, friends and families. The phrases are faith and non-faith based. “God is my buddy” and “Don’t ever give up” were two ideas they had.
Kathryn said the group planned to find the most inexpensive way to produce the wristbands to be more efficient. On top of the basic sales, Kathryn said they would ask businesses for donations so they could give the bracelets away at fundraisers to help build awareness.
“The goal is to raise money to help find a cure,” Bailey said. “We do not want to set a certain goal, just raise as much as we can get,” she said.
Another group, Marrisa Myers and Laura Barry from Heritage Middle School, wanted to improve their school’s appearance. Heritage Middle has two portable classrooms and Marrisa and Laura said planting flowers, trees and bushes around the area would make it look nicer.
To raise money for the soil, plants and supplies, the two came up with a talent show idea. Laura said she didn’t think Heritage had a local talent show, and she believes it would bring in a lot of people. Tickets sales would be the only income, but the girls said it would also be fun.
In addition to spoken presentations, the students gave a Powerpoint presentation about their project. One of the camp’s speakers, Patsy Russell, a teacher from Heritage Middle School, said these projects may or may not actually happen. The goals of the lesson are what the camp is focused on: leadership. “It was all about planning ideas, organization, teamwork and being a leader,” Russell said.
Outside of the presentations were the camp activities. Allen said they were designed to build belief in students’ ability to overcome obstacles. One of the obstacles was the Giant Ladder, a two-person climbing course. From the beginning, the space between the steps was small but quickly grew into four-, five- and six-feet wide. Alone, an individual would not make it to the top, but with teamwork, communication and trust, a team of two could climb every step.
The week ended with a banquet sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. Allen said he wanted to emphasize the importance of the club. “I may lead (the camp), but I could not have done it all without the club’s help,” he said.
Kathryn said her time at Leadership Adventure Camp was a fun experience. “I would not have the same chance at other camps,” she said. “I would do it again.” As a leader, she learned the value of listening. “It is important to be a follower because you can take what you learn from that leader and be a better (leader) yourself.”
Kathryn’s most memorable moment was the V-Swing, a giant swing that begins with a jump from 40-feet in the air. “I was screaming the whole time, until I stopped,” she said. Her advice to anyone who wants to do the camp next year is to just be who they are. “Leave the fear of heights at home, be yourself and have fun.”
As the students head back to school, Allen said they will remember their great time. “The camp helped (the children) expand their boundaries and trust in themselves,” he said. “They start timid Sunday, but, by Thursday, they want to attempt (all the courses).”
Allen said his daughter Ashley was one of the first campers. In her, he sees how the camp helped her become more confident and feel more accomplished as a person. And he hopes every camper will take away the same experience and apply it to their community, just as his daughter has.