Tulsa Teens Gain Life Skills at Westside Y

Combine all of the fun of camp with the opportunity to learn important life skills.

Summer break is just around the corner. Most kids are already counting down the days to freedom, ready to swap their school uniforms for shorts and swimsuits. While teenagers are dreaming of long, lazy days of sleeping late and hanging out with friends, parents are wondering how to keep their offspring safe and occupied. The Counselor-in-Training (CIT) program at Tulsa’s YMCA Westside Summer Day Camp may be one way to keep both parties happy by combining all of the fun of camp with the opportunity to learn important life skills.

Amelia Andrews is the Camp Director of the Y’s Westside location at the intersection of I-44 and Highway 75, west of the Arkansas River. This 28-acre facility has hiking trails, a fishing pond, an indoor gym, a pool and ropes challenge courses. Summer camp programming is available for kids ages 5-12. Children ages 13-15 have the option of becoming CITs. CITs participate in regular camp activities while also taking a leadership role with the younger campers.

“We have a specific program that we build around them,” Andrews explained. “They get to do all of the camp activities, but on top of that, we try to provide them with a program that builds their leadership skills.”

Many of the CITs have been involved with the summer camp in the past. “A lot (of our CITs) are campers that have been here before, but a handful are new and have come to us just for the Counselor-in-Training program. I don’t feel like there are a lot of programs out there for teenagers or that age group,” Andrews noted.

The CITs join the younger campers during the day, helping them with different activities. “It might be that they want to go help at ropes or help down in archery. Maybe they want to be with the 5- and 6-year-olds because that’s the age group they feel they’d be best with,” Andrews said. “We’re trying to give them that role of a counselor and teach them the skills they need to turn around and teach the kids. We try to give them as much as they can take on.”

The CITs are well supervised, working closely with Andrews, the camp counselors, and other staff. “We sit down as a group and go through the handbook and talk about expectations,” Andrews explained. “Our CITs are role models, and they are held to those standards… Every kid in camp is looking at our CITs and our counselors because they’re leading the group; they’re leading the games. What comes out of their mouths, how they react, how they treat each other and other campers – everyone is watching, and it matters. We sit down with the CITs just like we would in staff training with our counselors.”

In addition to honing their basic camping, communication and leadership skills and learning how to work with children, the CITs are also taught the value of community service. “How they can be a part of our community and serve others, we try to teach them those skills,” Andrew explained. The CITs participate in field trips to places like the library and the food bank. “We take them out into the community to teach them about serving others and becoming part of the community to give back.”

Many of the CITs return year after year. “We have a lot of CITs that have been with us for years at camp and have waited for that day when they get to age into that program and be a CIT and get to lead those groups and do all the counselor stuff and one day be a counselor here full-time during the summer,” Andrews noted. “We give a lot of people their first jobs…we’re teaching them from the ground up from a young age these skills, and they’re coming back to us.”

The CIT program may be just the summer solution parents are seeking for their children. As Andrews notes, “Parents right now are looking for opportunities for their kids to get out of the house during the summertime and to really do something that’s worthwhile. We have a great opportunity for them to learn how to serve at a young age and to develop into young adults and to be a part of a community…It’s a good opportunity we have, and I love it. I absolutely love what I do.”

For more information, visit www.ymcatulsa.org/camps.

JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.

Categories: Summer Camps, Tweens & Teens