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Summer Camp Transforms Youth for 100 Years

YMCA Camp Wapsie
The rowdie campfire at YMCA Camp Wapsie happens on Monday night. Campers and counselors gather around a huge bonfire to sing and scream their favorite camp songs and chants.

YMCA Camp Wapsie has just wrapped up summer camp, for the 100th time. The Eastern Iowa camp is celebrating its centennial year of bringing youth outdoors for a week of adventure, fun and friendship.

Credit YMCA Camp Wapsie
YMCA Camp Wapsie
Maxwell Meyer and campers.

To get a sense of how Wapsie has been successful in establishing a camp culture that transforms generations of campers into counselors and staff, we asked Maxwell Meyer and Sami Therme, both of Iowa City, to keep audio diaries of their experiences as counselors for some of the oldest and youngest campers.

"I think the teepee village is a great place for kids to get that first taste of camp," says Meyer, who's a junior counselor. "It can really be a make or break experience the first time you do something, but consistently the teepee village is one of those 'make' experiences."

The teepee village consists of two female and two male teepees for campers aged 6 to 9. Meyer says it's his favorite place on camp.

"It is organized chaos. It is the craziest thing you've ever seen, and it tests every aspect of your personality," he says. "But in the same sense that it's challenging, the village is also very rewarding for counselors and kids alike."

Therme is a senior counselor in cabin 12, for female campers aged 13 to 15. "It is always an exciting journey with them because they are so intelligent now, and so intuitive and so smart."

Credit YMCA Camp Wapsie
YMCA Camp Wapsie
Sami Therme and a couple of her cabin 12 campers.

Therme says balancing personalities and making camp a safe space are two immediate priorities.

"It's hard as a camper, I think, to feel that immediate safety, emotionally, physically, because they're so used to being in the care of their parents and at home," says Therme. She says she wants to establish right away that each camper is loved and supported.

In this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe also talks with YMCA Camp Wapsie summer camp director Drew Demery. They discuss why summer camp is such a transformative experience for so many Iowa kids, and how he and the staff work to establish a culture that encourages campers to explore who they are, and how to become who they want to be.

This program originally aired on August 16, 2018.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk