Camp changed Ron Weber’s life.
In 1991, the 21-year-old Elmira native trekked down to South Carolina to work with at-risk youth at the Fairplay Wilderness Camp School. It was a profound experience.“I thought I was going to help kids, and I was, there’s no doubt about it, but it probably changed my life as much or more than the kids,” Weber recalled. “You could put a million bucks in one hand, and that camp experience in the other, and I would definitely take the camp experience. A million bucks is just a million bucks, but the camp experience when it comes to changing your character and your life, there is nothing that measures up to that.”
Teamwork, communication skills, problem solving and relationship building are the foundation of camp, he says. And there is no better way to teach kids those valuable life lessons.
That’s why it was Weber’s dream to start a camp program in Ontario that could help boys and young men who “have had a bad shake at life.”
“The programming is one thing, but (reaching) the heart of the people is another. And that combination is a winner.”
In 2012, Weber and a group of friends purchased property on Crane Lake in MacTier, Ontario. After obtaining the status of a registered charity the following year, the group began running canoe and camping trips each summer. Now, the camp runs several one and two week sessions through the spring and summer, supported by a dedicated network of volunteer counsellors, called chiefs.
The concept is “therapeutic wilderness camping,” which originated with the Salesmanship Club in Dallas Texas during the 1920’s to “provide an alternative setting for boys who were struggling with a traditional classroom setting.”
There is something about being in the wilderness that facilitates the bonding and learning processes, Weber said.
“We are off the grid, there is no power back there other than what we generate with the generator. …Things like iPods get put in storage. So they come face to face with creation, with the woods. They listen to the birds at night, and when they’re back in the woods for the first time they hear every little sound. There is something about the quiet. Sometimes you wind up out there with the kids under the stars and you start talking about life. And you can work through all kinds of things and ask those questions. There is something about creation by itself, with the trees and the woods and just the oxygen that is refreshing and it’s adventurous and there are things that they see that they don’t see any other way.”
It’s a very structured program: the boys build their own sleeping quarters and have daily chores like cooking and cleaning. But there are the traditional camping activities for fun as well, like swimming, fishing and canoeing.
Norma Martin is a volunteer and board member with the camp.
“There is something about that freedom, where all the distractions are gone so that all you are focusing on is ‘why do I do the things that I do?’ So when you act out in a group and they say ‘that’s not an okay thing,’ and you talk about why that hurt the other person, all of a sudden you are face to face. You aren’t distracted by the noise of the city or anything. You come face to face with who you are.”
That gives mentors like Weber the opportunity to really make a difference.
“That process of getting to the spot where I learned how to relate to other people, to where these boys really started to trust me and follow me, it changed my life. I can’t stress that enough. It just stood me on my head.”
For more information about the camp, which offers its programs to boys between the ages of 10 and 17, check out the website at www.cranelakediscovery-camp.org.