There’s nothing like being a kid at summer camp. For the youth of Boulder County, there are a million and one summer camps to check out (yes, a million and one, that’s an official statistic. Really. Check out our listing). But sometimes, we hope for a little something extra for our children besides playing capture the flag and marching to the mess hall.
To that end, we’ve searched far and wide for summer camps with global purpose. These organizations ultimately make kids more understanding, respectful, and dedicated to working as a team to help their communities. Sometimes this means traveling abroad to help those who are less fortunate. Other times it means building certain crucial skills in a team environment to refocus your thoughts towards helping others and developing a greater sense of respect and compassion. We’re lucky to live in a place that offers something from every end of the spectrum.
Here are the best camps with a global purpose in Boulder County – because kids are the future, after all, and they deserve to have fun while learning how to build a better, more connected, and compassionate world.
When it comes to summer programs with a true global purpose, Global Works is the paragon. The volunteer-driven organization, based in Lafayette, has spent the past 29 years providing students with authentic travel experiences with their Summer Service Adventures. On these trips, students take part in service projects while living with host families, making for a truly immersive experience. Destinations include anywhere from Nicaragua to the Fiji islands, and Costa Rica is known to be the summer’s most popular Summer Service Adventure destination, as trips there offer an environmental focus.
It’s not all about island sunbathing, though. These are hands-on experiences that give kids a new perspective on what it means to be part of a global community. One of this summer’s three programs in Costa Rica centers around helping sea turtles, while trips to other destinations may involve pre-med or public health components. The Global Works recipe for success involves sustainable community service, cultural immersion, leadership and adventure travel, sometimes with a dash of language immersion, too.
According to co-owner and executive director, Fritz Moriarty, Global Works helps students increase their confidence and gain a greater sense of global citizenship by developing empathetic relationships globally. “We try to really dig a lot deeper into the travel experience than taking photos and being tourists,” Moriarty said. “For us that means, as much as possible, developing real world authentic relationships with local communities and by doing service projects and having community partnerships.”
A service project site can range from an elementary school play area to a storm-ravaged town meeting place. Some of this year’s other Summer Service Adventure locales include Hurricane Maria Relief in Puerto Rico and an Earthquake Relief trip in Nepal.
The organization regularly returns to locations where they have built relationships, and often adjusts the trips’ service projects at the advisement of local contacts dependent on local need, such as helping rebuild schools in disaster-stricken regions. Each trip is aligned with a specific service project mission that requies a certain number of service hours. For example, this summer’s 12-day International Development trip to Guatemala will count as 25 community service hours, and the 24-day New Zealand and Fiji Islands Eco Adventure will count as 40.
Through all this hard work and community service, participants learn something on a deeper level. What is that, you might ask? “Community is something that we talk a lot about here,” Moriarty said. “Working together and having this amazing formative experience builds very strong bonds. It’s then getting that sense of community onto the places we travel to. It’s getting to know other cultures that, when you come home, you get to see those folks as more equal to yourself,” Moriarty explained. “You develop a sense of empathy with more people and a more diverse population.”
Global Works wants students to learn about and respect other cultures, to have a better understanding of not only different societies around the world, but the similarities of all humans. The life-changing experiences are an added bonus. “Hopefully that leads to an environment of respect where we can support each other and have positive relations with other people in our community.”
BOULDER DINNER THEATER ACADEMY
Sometimes purpose is found a little closer to home – in a camp setting that’s a far cry from a log cabin. At Boulder Dinner Theater Academy (BDTA) summer camp, kids work together to take on challenges under the spotlight. “We want to provide quality theatre education for children,” said BDTA business manager, Carrie Hausfather. Every kid loves a good story, and Hausfather says that learning under the guidance of professionals makes for an incomparable experience.
The weeklong standalone sessions for elementary school kids explore the technique of playmaking with plenty of fun involved. What’s not to love about singing and dancing your heart out with all your new friends?
Kids of all ages can participate in this summer camp, as BDTA also offers a three week camp for middle school and high school students during which they put on the same performance as the BDT mainstage. This is both an educational and cost-effective experience, as they share costumes, props and sets.
Anyone who has ever attended or participated in a live performance knows that in order for it to work, it’s all hands on deck. Teamwork is essential, and your co-performers and tech team basically become your stage family. Having the support of one another is imperative and needs to be airtight in order for the show to succeed, so the ‘have each other’s backs’ mentality stays with participants long after the show.
At BDTA summer camp, students learn all of this and more. A special feature for older ‘campers’ is that part of the summer program includes participating in elective courses that delve deeper into aspects of the theatre experience. Eventually, many of these participants will get the chance to work with younger students in the weekly kids camps. Hausfather says that having older student actors as mentors is special to the kids in the weekly programs, where campers get the opportunity to interpret their favorite stories or themes onstage in all their glory.
Kids camp usually starts out by learning the meaning of ‘adaptation’ from longtime beloved director, Joan Brousseau-Rubald – or, as she’s better known, Miss Joanie – and then campers get to create their own adaptations. Weekly themes range from fairy tales to Dr. Seuss and culminate in a performance for family and friends at Salberg Park. “Their imagination is the limit,” said Hausfather.
COLORADO MOUNTAIN RANCH
For those who grew up in Boulder County, one of the best places to let our imaginations run wild in the summertime is Colorado Mountain Ranch, and that still stands true today. The thriving ranch gives kids from all backgrounds the full mountain ranch experience: horseback riding, hiking, archery, the works. Campers have so much fun they don’t realize the more meaningful lessons they’re learning along the way. “Kids are pretty cool because they’re living in the moment and loving what they’re experiencing,” said Colorado Mountain Ranch consultant and staff member Jojo Morrison. “It’s not until they’re adults they look at these experiences and realize they were their truest selves.”
The beloved family-owned ranch has been giving kids a place to be themselves and experience the joys of nature since 1947. It offers Adventure Camp as an all-around, full package camp experience with a range of activities, Focus Camp for more concentrated time in specific areas of interest, and Teen Leadership Training for teenagers learning to be counselors-in-training and work as mentors for younger campers. “When they come to our summer camps they do get to experience everything, and… we also look to change the programs to keep up with what kids are interested in,” Morrison said.
What’s unique about summer camp at Colorado Mountain Ranch is its simplicity: its ability to slow life down for a minute and let kids soak up the simple happiness of nature and life. The pillars of the ranch’s summer camps are to have fun, make friends, get outside in nature, try something new, and be supported whether you succeed or fail – and, no matter what, always get up and try again with the help of your leaders and peers. “It’s about having a place where you can just explore and be yourself and no one’s judging you or grading you, no one’s better than the next person,” Morrison said. “Let’s dial it down and just create that happy childhood that everyone’s looking for…”
Besides all the fun campers have in an outdoor environment, they’re learning new ways to appreciate the world and people around them. Something crucial at Colorado Mountain Ranch is creating friendships and embracing people’s differences to realize we’re all cut from the same cloth on a soul level. Kids of varying backgrounds from all over Boulder County and beyond attend the camp, learn about team-building and support one another in an accepting environment where it’s fine to fail because you are learning lessons along the way.
Morrison believes that it’s the support of extensively trained staff members that helps children develop confidence while also learning compassion. “Learning to make mistakes in a safe environment helps build insight into any child, but it also builds confidence, and that’s something you carry with you wherever you go.”
Confidence is a theme that resonates throughout another revered local summer camp, Women’s Wilderness, where young people who identify as female learn to develop courage, confidence and wilderness skills. Executive director, Emily Isaacs, says that their teachings have expanded since their 1998 start to encompass marginalized communities that aren’t traditionally represented in the outdoor world. “We are interested in helping people learn technical outdoor skills – but really the heart of what we’re doing is helping people, girls in particular, discover who they are,” Isaacs said. “Here you learn to develop new skills and abilities no matter what you were born with.”
It goes without saying that not everyone is born with the ability to navigate a tricky stream crossing or effortlessly climb a steep rock formation but at Women’s Wilderness, girls will learn the skills and emotional strength necessary to do so. Even better, they learn in a supportive environment with trained professionals, so supporting their peers follows naturally. “All the mentors they see are women working in a positive way, and that’s huge,” Isaacs said. “We’re breaking down the things that separate girls from working as a team to be each other’s allies and they’re doing that in a wilderness setting away from dominant society.”
Girl power is one driving force of Women’s Wilderness, and diversity and inclusivity are equally as important. The organization ensures that young women of all different backgrounds can attend their summer camps and, perhaps more importantly, feel completely welcome and at home when they get there. Staff members go to great lengths to make sure the camp is inclusive and accessible for all, from helping with transportation, mailing out paperwork in languages besides English, and having proper outdoor gear available for any girl that needs them.
The Women’s Wilderness attendance model includes a third of attendees who pay in full, a third who use partial pay, and a third who attend on full scholarship. They go to different schools in the area to recruit girls and work with family liaisons in Title I schools. They also make a point to connect with teachers and coaches in order to have a diverse range of referrals and to make sure that anyone who wants to attend has the ability to do so. According to their website, Women’s Wilderness has never turned away a potential camper due to financial aid issues in 18 years and have managed to provide $335,000 in financial assistance in that time – whew! Talk about dedication to accessibility.
Beyond the finer points of accessibility, Women’s Wilderness wants to ensure common respect and acceptance, down to questioning themselves for potentially appropriating a symbol such as a mandala. Isaacs explained that working both individually and as a team towards a greater goal in a diverse and inclusive environment is key to guiding the young campers to success in an outside world that can be cold and harsh at times, particularly in those middle school years. “It’s a tumultuous time where your bodies are changing or not changing, you’re navigating cliques, social media, peer pressure, identity, what’s cool, and the beginning of romantic relationships,” she says. “[At summer camp] it’s one of those rites of passage to take on challenges.” Camp leaders incorporate bite-sized challenges that are appropriate for the group and encourage the girls to help each other and experience success together. These are of vital importance for real-life application – as a member of today’s society.
According to Isaacs, young women at this camp are put in the position to truly evaluate the questions, “Who am I and what do I have to give back to my community?” Noting a lack of this questioning in our culture, Isaacs believes that going through this mental process is a key part of healthy rites of passage, and Women’s Wilderness strives to provide a safe and encouraging context for it. “Life is shaky, life is challenging, and people are going to push you. Girls learn to source from within and to connect with that strength, self-determination and sense of self,” Isaacs says. “Once you taste that, which I think girls really do here, you don’t forget it … you’re unshakeable.”
From learning the ins and out of stage teamwork to building sustainable communities abroad and developing wilderness skills and acceptance, the summer camps in BOCO provide a wide variety of opportunities for kids to learn lessons that will help them go forward into the world as more compassionate global citizens. These will help them become citizens who are much more aware of the needs of others and who will then seek to help not only their communities, but the world beyond the city limits.
In today’s volatile world, it’s important to remember what makes us human, and to offer help to our fellow humans in times of need. Childhood is the best time to incorporate these lessons and life skills to have our children develop into compassionate creatures with a greater understanding of wider, global society. Getting to learn such lessons at a young age while frolicking through the mountains, riding a horse, or completing a fulfilling service project overseas is an opportunity for kids that’s not to be missed.
Summer camp will always be a place to explore, try new things, and have the best time ever, no matter what the setting. In BOCO, we have all of the resources necessary to help kids learn, grow and succeed to become respectful global citizens – campfire marshmallows optional.