By Laura Meehan

camping-trip-2018-768x1024The annual Silver Lining Mentoring camping trip is an August overnight weekend trip for mentees and mentors in Cape Cod, at the YMCA Camp Burgess in Sandwich. It is an event that holds special significance to the staff, young people and mentors who attend. This trip is one of the most celebrated events of the year. Our office is covered with photos documenting the experiences of the campers. Also, for many of our busy young people who work, go to school and have other commitments, the camping trip is their one chance this summer to get away and take a much-needed break from regular life in the city!

It’s not exactly what you’d call “roughing it,” as we have nice cabins, electricity, beds, and YMCA staff who are resources for us. But the trip does offer the same opportunities that many adults are nostalgic about from their youths relating to camp: spending time in nature, challenging yourself and learning new things, and interacting with wildlife.

This was my first year attending the camping trip at SLM, and it definitely lived up to the hype! Some of the outdoor opportunities included rock climbing; meeting chickens, goats and sheep; and lake activities like paddle boarding, swimming, and even jumping on a giant water trampoline. We also did the traditional camp activities like building a bonfire and making s’mores.

Perhaps distinct from other summer camps, Silver Lining Mentoring staff are not exactly camp counselors, but rather social workers and Program Coordinators. As such, we have very specific values that we live out in all programming, including during fun retreats like this one. At SLM, we practice “challenge by choice,” meaning that participants engage in the ways that feel best for them, and choose how involved they’d like to be.

At times, this meant that rather than encouraging everyone to climb to the top of the climbing wall, we celebrated one young person putting on their harness, but not necessarily scaling the wall. Or, we celebrated that another young person enjoyed watching the animals from outside the pen, rather than stepping inside and petting them. Overall, challenge by choice is about meeting young people where they’re at, and celebrating when and how they are challenging themselves by taking self-determined risks.

In true SLM fashion, we collected evaluations in order to understand the experiences for young people and mentors, which we will use to make camp better each year. We asked everyone to share with us how they would finish the sentence: “Because of the camping trip…”

And how would I finish that sentence?

Because of the camping trip, I witnessed a nervous, quiet group bond over their experiences and transform into a group of friends!

Because of the camping trip, I got to connect one-on-one with the amazing matches of young people and mentors that SLM creates and supports.

Because of the camping trip, I am already looking forward to next year’s camping trip.

Thank you to Camp Burgess, all of our young people, our volunteer mentors, staff, donors and all our other supporters, for making the annual camping trip possible!