Dr. Andy Burka, Founder and Director Emeritus
From its inception in 1979, the Challenges Summer Program has been guided by a dual vision: 1) provide a safe environment that mixes fun, close relationships, and a place where children can just be themselves; and 2) teach campers important resiliency skills to improve their ability to handle challenging situations in positive ways. For example, we use the phrase, “collect-reflect-select” to remind children that there are coping steps that they can employ when feeling challenged: collect oneself, think about the options, and select a course of action. The program is held at the end of the summer to give children a jump-start of self-confidence before the school year begins.
Challenges is filled with fun but challenging activities done individually or as part of a group. There are plenty of opportunities to build important, life long social skills, too. One theme that runs through the camp is “all for one and one for all.”
After watching children come through the program and seeing them grow up we know the skills we teach are not software that are installed over the three weeks. What they learn at camp are more like seedlings of a plant that need to be nurtured by the significant adults in the child’s life. That is why parents participate at various times during the program. The Challenges framework and vocabulary help parents monitor and reinforce these emerging skills. Parents and their children share a vocabulary that enables positive communication about the inevitable challenges that everyone faces.
The resiliency curriculum is embedded in a program in which children are engaged in fun, hands-on activities that leave them wanting more. It’s the same for the staff who return year after year to be a part of the Challenges magic. Now in its fourth decade, the vision remains just as relevant as it did at the outset.