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Camp Wildcat Encourages College-Going Culture in Youth
Camp Wildcat is a UA student-led nonprofit organization whose members encourage Tucson youth to start thinking about college and making other goals for their future.
Greg Porter has a specific, powerful memory from Camp Wildcat.
During a hike, Porter noticed a camper was getting tired, discouraged and starting to struggle. But with encouragement from counselors, the boy still finished the hike. The boy then decided to dedicate the hike to the memory of his recently deceased uncle because he was the one who convinced his parents to let him attend Camp Wildcat.
It is these types of moments – helping young people realize their potential in life – that drives the Camp Wildcat student counselors.
"We're trying to inspire them that their goals are obtainable," said Porter, chairman and the Associated Students of the University of Arizona liaison for Camp Wildcat, a student-run organization with more than 100 volunteers.
Camp Wildcat is a UA organization, founded in 1965, that offers children from Title I schools a camping opportunity they otherwise could not afford. Enabling these children to become campers for a few days treats them to an experience of a lifetime, the counselors say.
"We also like to hope that they have a fun time," said Porter, an Honors student studying chemistry and creative writing.
The organization, which is gearing up for the April 19 Big Camp 4, promotes self-confidence and individualism with activities that encourage the elementary and middle school students to get out of their comfort zone.
It is important for the campers to understand that no matter what their background is, they can accomplish anything they set their minds to, said Sarah Findysz, one of the Camp Wildcat directors.
Throughout camp, counselors put on five or six presentations to expose campers to different ways of thinking about their future. The counselors also talk about college and try to emphasize that anyone can get an education and be successful in life.
Many times these children don't know what to expect at camp and are cautious or nervous about new experiences, said Ryan Kreisberg, a coordinator for Camp Wildcat.
The Camp Wildcat staff tries to separate the campers from others they already know and have them talk to those they are not necessarily acquainted with. "We're trying to get them out of their comfort bubble," said Kreisberg, a graduate student in the UA Center for the Study of Higher Education.
Most of the counselors find they really enjoyed Camp Wildcat after their first time and quickly realize they are making a difference in the children's lives.
"After a couple of camps, I just fell in love with it and stuck with it ever since," Porter said.
At Camp Wildcat, the counselors have a short amount of time to spend with the participants. They do everything they can to encourage the students to envision themselves attending college and succeeding in the future.
Camp Wildcat counselors said the most rewarding experience of camp is watching the campers grow and learn.
You can see their young lives changing right before their eyes, Findysz said. "We have 48 hours to make an impression," she said, "and we definitely do."
And it is not just 48 hours for Camp Wildcat. The organization has seen 48 successful years.
The next camp will be at Whitetail Campground on Mt. Lemmon on April 19.