I've just completed 5 days of camp with high school students from all across Southwest Ohio. I'm sitting there on the left, with a look of rest, refreshment and eagerness for an awesome week ahead. While my current look probably doesn't reflect one of rest and refreshment, the week was indeed phenomenal. I am thankful to the 125 students, 22 counselors and all of the other great staff people that made the week come to life. I was fortunate to witness a side of students that many people never get to see. Too often as adults, we only see the young people around us through the eyes of the most recent news story of violence or teen pregnancy. As a result, we can easily cast every teenager into that mold. We seldom give them the benefit of the doubt, we're usually suspicious and always assume that they are up to no good. While teenagers can be known for not always making the greatest of decisions, there's more than meets eye behind many of them.
Over the years, two special traditions have been developed at Camp 9Twelve. The first are known as "Character Awards". These awards are presented to students who demonstrate leadership, enthusiasm and encouragement. These awards are taken from the character qualities of Paul, Peter and Barnabas from the Bible. Every year students are given an opportunity to vote for the current year's recipients and trophies are presented at the end of the week. While many teenagers are indeed causing trouble and throwing away their futures, these awards prove that there are others who are choosing a different path. What's amazing about these character awards is that it's never difficult to come up with students who have consistently demonstrated these qualities throughout the week. Students want to do right. They want to be good. Deep inside of them there is something that clicks when they receive recognition for living a life of character.
The second tradition that developed seven or eight years ago is the hosting of the Warren County DD group. Each year, Warren County brings out 5 or 6 bus loads of developmentally challenged adults to spend several hours at camp. This year our high school students spent over three hours with close to 40 developmentally challenged adults. There were groups that fished, danced, colored, played cards, took walks and played soccer. All across our campus small groups of students looked up from their devices and personally engaged those whom society has deemed outcasts. Deep inside of students and adults for that matter, is a little something that feels right and whole when the focus shifts from selfishness to others centered. What's amazing is that every year without fail there are numerous camp evaluation sheets that all say the same thing: "We loved working with the people from Warren County. Please do that again next year."
Maybe the "problem" with teenagers isn't solely on their end. Maybe they do need to start making better choices and thinking things through a little bit better. But maybe we as adults need to hand out recognition and opportunities a little more frequently as well. What if we didn't just call teenagers out when they blew it? What if we just as often called them out when we saw them do the right thing or make the right choice. What if we put them in more situations where their compassion for those on the fringe of society could be demonstrated more easily? What if stopped assuming that they probably wouldn't care about serving those in need or cleaning up or giving back?
Let me end by saying, "Thanks". Thanks to those 126 students in that picture who helped restore my hope in the future generation.