JOHNATHAN PAOLETTI

Daily Point of Light # 2188 Jun 24, 2002

Children have so many choices to make day to day. There are negative influences coming at them from every angle; life is tough for many children today. They are bombarded with pressures from what they see on the television, hear on the radio and see on the streets. Unfortunately, some children do not have a support network and they fall between the cracks. Many choices youth make today impact their tomorrow.

In 1991, Tom Lehman began to create what would become Camptown, Inc. He was able to leave his place of employment in 1993 to work full-time for Camptown. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to make a positive difference in the lives of youth. Camptown was founded to provide underprivileged youth in the Indianapolis area with the opportunity to develop wholly as young people. The goal of Camptown is to enrich the lives of the children so much that they will learn to make positive decisions and realize how their decision making process can shape their lives.

Camptown allows youth to plan and lead a wilderness adventure trip of their choice. They get to choose the location, types of activities they will do and plan their living needs for the duration of the trip. Many of the children have never been out of the city, and it provides a place for students to develop a positive self-image, build their confidence and develop life skills. Camptown is not a traditional camp experience. It concentrates more on developing leadership skills that the children can use all of their life. The staff plans wilderness outings that are centered on hiking trips along mountain trails.

Moreover, the camp teaches teamwork. The children learn how to work together and understand the importance of having someone to depend on them and having to depend on someone else. The children leave the camp with a positive self-image; they realize they are special. Campers also have projects that help them build self-confidence. Camptown’s beliefs are based on Christian principles and encourage youth to get involved with local churches. Positive role models and the experience of the outdoors challenge each youth mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.

Some of the youth have remained so involved in the Camptown organization that they have become Youth Leaders for new trip-goers in the following years. During the off-season, Camptown is just as busy planning for the next year and providing training classes, after school workshops and fundraisers to prepare for the upcoming season.

Since its inception, Camptown has grown tremendously. In 1993, they had 60 campers; in 1994, there were 97 campers; and in 1995, there were 150 youth involved in the program. By the year 2000, there were 400 youth at camp. All the growth is unduplicated youth. The participants come from area churches, after school programs, school programs, alternative schools and group homes. Big Brothers and other camps have used Camptown for a reward or part of their youth leadership program.

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