Camp Shand is so much more than just a place. Like every camp, it’s more of an organization, an experience, a mindset. It’s about people. Especially kids.
Camp Shand exists to help nurture developing children, to teach them core values and allow them to simply be kids. What Camp Shand has figured out is that the best place to foster those essential life lessons is in the great outdoors.
“It’s not a place, it’s a program,” said Chris Smith, who’s in her 17th season as Camp Shand’s executive director. “Hopefully, the kids who are coming here are becoming more self-confident, learning how to resolve conflict, learning how to make friends. Hopefully, they’re learning friendships take work. Hopefully, they’re becoming more honest. Maybe they’re learning (physical) skills, but those skills are secondary.”
“It’s about the people, not the place,” said Camp Shand program director Spencer Shambaugh. “It’s (six to 14) one of the most important ages. It’s when you’re learning to be a person. It’s when you’re learning to be a member of society. It’s something just a little bit different than they’re used to. It’s pushing their comfort zones. How often do you spend seven days in-a-row outdoors?”
Physically, Camp Shand, the place, is located on 120 acres of wooded land at 20 Penryn Lane in Cornwall, on Lebanon County’s border with Lancaster County, on grounds that once hosted an amusement park. With its curious, energetic, elementary-to-middle-school-aged children, or ‘Shanders’, giving the place life, it’s still kind of an amusement park.
Officially, Camp Shand is owned the county of Lebanon, but the place is leased long-term to and maintained by the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA. Not every YMCA in the country offers a program like Camp Shand, but every one wishes it could.
“The ‘Y’s core values are honesty, caring, respect and responsibility,” said Smith. “We are trying to develop those things in kids. We offer archery, but we’re not teaching them to shoot arrows. They’re learning self-control. They’re learning listening skills. They’re learning patience. Everything has an underlying meaning, and much of it occurs naturally.”
“One of the things with child development, when kids are out of school for three months, they slide in their education,” said Shambaugh. “This is kind of like a school. For some kids, this is the only time they’re away from their parents. We deal with a lot of home sickness. But we try to work through it.”
Physically, Camp Shand features a lake for fishing and canoeing, a pool for swimming, separate primitive cabins for boys and girls, a trading post, a health center, a dining hall and an education and recreation center. Camp Shand offers week-long stays over the summer when kids are asked to follow schedules that include structured sleeping and meal times, activities, free time and down time.
Primarily utilized by Lebanon and Lancaster YMCA campers, Camp Shand also hosts youth groups, church groups, boy scout and girl scout troops, other regional YMCAs, and even field trips for local elementary schools. In that way, Camp Shand is used almost year-round, weather permitting.
“The outdoors is part of our being,” said Smith. “We need to be outdoors. We’re connected to the outdoors. Some of the kids who come here aren’t used to being outside, but within minutes of when they get here, you can see them connect with it. When the kids are here, they spend most of their time outdoors, and they learn what it means to be outside.”
“I think kids do spend too much time inside,” continued Smith. “Every night on the news you hear about kids suffering from mental illnesses like depression. Some of it is that they’re spending so much time in front of screens inside.”
There are so many things for kids to see at Camp Shand, and even more to explore.
Campers can engage in activities like basketball, hiking, arts and crafts, baseball, climbing, sling shotting, outdoor games, camp fires, rock throwing and nature hunts. From those activities, kids glean such life skills as independence, communal living, character building, creativity and team work. During their stays, the use of televisions and cell phones are prohibited by kids at Camp Shand.
“They’re (campers) from all over the place,” said Smith. “They can be from more affluent families or kids from low-income families. But they don’t care. It’s a great equalizer. They’re primarily Lebanon and Lancaster kids, especially for the day camps. It really comes down to people and kids. Sometimes we’ll have parents call to make sure their child’s friend is going to be here the same week. They can become lifelong friendships. It’s just amazing to see all those core values come to life.”
“We truly are inclusive to all,” said Shambaugh. “My favorite part is the relationships that are made here. A lot of them continue to grow. This is a unique place. Once they give it a chance, the kids like it. I think kids are naturally curious.”
The county of Lebanon just recently acquired Camp Shand from the Lancaster YMCA, after the property had been purchased from the Lebanon YMCA in 1995. Over the years, Camp Shand has been conducted at seven different locations.
“Originally, it was Lebanon’s camp,” said Smith. “In 1995, both ‘Y’s weren’t doing great, so Lancaster purchased it from Lebanon. (Lebanon Valley Family YMCA chief executive officer) Phil Tipton said, ‘We’ve got to get the camp back in the Lebanon fold’. The opportunities kind of reversed. It was just a natural flip, but we’re still just as committed to Lancaster kids.”
“Physically, the property is very much the way it always has been,” Smith added. “Over the years, we have made improvements like adding electricity and running water. During those years, the camp has affected thousands of young lives, tens of thousands. Sometimes when I speak at events, people will say, ‘Yeah, I went there’ or ‘I went to camp’. It’s not just this camp, it’s all camps. It’s so mission based. I love this camp. It’s matured, but it’s rustic. This is camp. We’re dedicated to keeping it like this.”
While Camp Shand may be old-fashioned, it will never go out of style. Some believe that the need for places like Camp Shand is even stronger today than it was in the past.
“You certainly want to have activities that spark their interests,” said Smith of the campers. “You want to plan things and be organized so they aren’t bored. The kids have choices when they’re here, and there are times when you can’t let them go unsupervised. But you can see them transformed right before your eyes, and they’re creative about it. You need to talk to them about what they’re seeing. You don’t have to force it, but you have to make it attractive.”
“I think kids are kids,” concluded Smith. “They certainly grow up in different times and they’re influenced by society. But I think more and more parents are going to choose camps like Camp Shand, because they’re seeing more and more kids need it. I’d like parents to think about the value of the things their children are getting here. I’d like them to think about how their children can benefit from this experience.”
Because if one truly believes that it takes a village to raise a child, it can shine an entirely different light on the concept of ‘Mother Nature’.
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