One aspect our approach to programming here at G.O.D. Int’l can be summed up in the simple phrase: “what you do here is what you will do there”. This phrase is given as a backdrop upon which to evaluate our various programs. Our present activity at camp keeps in mind the ways in which the program would work anywhere in the world. Camp Skillz Old Hickory was our initial site, but we’ve expanded to two other locations in Nashville: both low-income neighborhoods with little space and lots of kids. Thankfully they’ve both had empty basketball or tennis courts that we’ve converted into our camp headquarters for the summer. In addition, Camp Skillz has been facilitated in rural Uganda and El Salvador.
What does this mean with respect to Camp Skillz? If we’re not able to transfer the camp to various settings, then it’s locked into a geographical, economic, and cultural setting and is not duplicable. Because G.O.D. is also a third world development agency, the needs of the marginalized around the world are never far from mind. When we see our hundred kids having the time of their lives at camp, we’re super pumped about it, but we’re also thinking “how could kids in India have an experience like this?” It’s in our heart to answer that question, to make sure that the camp available to even our own kids is also available to our (global) neighbors. Like all of our programs, Camp Skillz was meant to be taken anywhere and to serve anyone. What can we point at within Camp Skillz that demonstrates this overarching mission-centric philosophy?
First, Location is local. Summer camps are notorious for promoting sparkling lakes, sandy beaches, lush forests, mountains, and even white water rapids. Summer Camp means a trek into a manicured nature--a land too expensive and inaccessible to the majority of the world. The poor can’t reach a camp like this. So, Camp Skillz can’t be dependent on large acreage, water parks, or protected nature reserves. Camp Skillz is the kind of camp kids can walk to from home. (Camp Skillz Old Hickory is actually the only site that parents also drive their kids to, but it still has a majority of “walkers,” and established crossing guards because of its’ neighborhood presence.) It has been our goal to bring camp to the kids that couldn’t otherwise afford it, no transportation necessary.
Second, creativity is a must. Because the program is neither dependent on, nor promotes facility attractions like indoor gymnastics centers, basketball courts, pools, rope courses, horseback trails, BMX tracks, etc., our staff is required to get creative as to how to convert a seemingly “basic” location into a world of fun. Our staff has to be reminded that the best thing we can offer the campers is ourselves. That’s what makes camp great, and transferable. The attraction is our people, made in the image of God, with an amazing capacity for innovation, creativity, and entertainment. Despite zero access to a pool or lake, campers are soaking wet every Friday thanks to counselors who reconfigure camp to be a new maze of water volleyball, dodgeball and slide contests. Each new site and each team allows for new possibilities for what camp can be. This summer we had cooking competitions, percussion lessons, and dance fitness. Camp Skillz will run with or without what it had the previous summer or previous location. This integrative feature allows for Camp Skillz to be a highly adaptive program that keeps things fresh and exciting, even for return campers.
Third, developing skills and friendship never get old. Camp Skillz emphasizes the development of practical skills and friendship. These features are timeless and universal, not bound to fads, trends, or a big checkbook. Helping youth to obtain practical skills will always be both relevant and necessary, so we do it. They might learn how to repair their own bike, cook their own lunch over a fire, create a sculpture or fashion their very own board game. But at the same time, they’re learning the even deeper skills: how to celebrate one another’s giftedness, how to work together to keep an environment clean, how to listen to someone else’s idea and incorporate it with your own. Apart from the family dynamic, friendship is the most important relationship for kids practice and learn the necessary morals which keep society harmonious and sustainable. These universally relevant features are the bedrock of Camp Skillz’ programming and also what grants the program a high rate of success when transferred into other cultures.
So, is it transferable? Absolutely. It stems from our mission to educate, advocate and empower the poor and marginalized. It blesses some outside of that demographic as well, but to the same degree, creating a beautiful picture of equality. Camp Skillz is an adaptive summer program which focuses on the development of friendship, practical skills, not dependent on an expensive facility. As such, we can take it anywhere, so long as we have individuals willing to use the gifts that God gave them to create a wonderful place for kids. I praise God that we do.