Simple Pleasures: A Summer Camp for the Young at Heart

by Kathy on July 1, 2012 · 26 comments

in Background, Before I Blogged, Camp Echo, Coping, Family, Friends, Happiness, Life, Memories, NaBloPoMo, Planning, Relationships, Song Lyrics, Summer Camp, Writing

It’s the first day of NaBloPoMo for July and the theme is Kids.

One of the main reasons I signed up to participate this time around  is that I really like the prompts that Melissa Ford came up with and am excited to write about many of them.

Since we don’t get prompts for the weekend days (and I likely will not write about every single one anyway), I was inspired to come up with one of my own for today.

In Mel’s intro to this month’s theme, she said this:

We will also return to looking at life through your childhood eyes (especially what you thought about adults like yourself back then). So join us as we span the spectrum of time — from when you were a kid to the best moments of kidding around today.

That sparked something in my memory and I decided to search for (and found an old copy of) a paper that I wrote in college, when I was a freshman at the University of Illinois. It was for a 100 level course in my major, Leisure Studies, that dealt with program planning. I turned this essay/program plan in on May 3, 1994 and eighteen years later I thought it would be fun to revisit and share with you here. It is interesting to see my writing style and where I was at in my life back then compared to now.


Fairy tales can come true.
It can happen to you,
if you’re young at heart.

For its hard you will find
to be narrow of mind,
if you’re young at heart.

You can go to extremes
with impossible schemes.

You can laugh when your dreams
fall apart at the seams.

And life gets more exciting
with each passing day.

And love is either in your heart
or on its way.

Don’t you know that it’s worth
every treasure on earth,
to be young at heart.

For as rich as you are,
it’s much better by far,
to be young at heart.

And if you survive to 105,
look at all you’ll derive
out of being alive.

And here is the best part,
you have a head start,
if you are among
the very young at heart.

~ Frank Sinatra

Fairy tales, open minds, schemes, dreams, excitement and love… all of these are mentioned in that famous tune sung by Frank Sinatra, “Young at Heart.” All of these are also important to anyone, at any age, trying to get the most out of life. Although I may be only nineteen, I have learned that what makes me happy, and gets me through troublesome and tedious times, is when I focus on the simple pleasures in life.

In my nineteen years, I have come into contact with and become very close with many elderly people. The street I spent fourteen of my years growing up on was predominantly populated by retired couples and widows. My grandparents, all four of which are still alive, I have seen often and gotten to know well through the years. And during my first semester here at the University of Illinois, I volunteered, every Sunday afternoon, at a local nursing home.

In all this time spent with people many years my senior, I have learned a lot. I learned that they all have had very eventful lives and many of them love to share their memories. But when I look at many of these elderly in my life, I see something missing. Some of these people seem to lack that sense of being “young at heart.” So I think of where I gained much of my appreciation for simple pleasures. I imagine a place where I believe many elderly could “find themselves again,” or learn to embrace life in the present. That place I see is nature… or, in essence, summer camp.

For as long as I can remember, I have looked forward throughout the school year to attending or working at, various summer camps. My favorite one is an overnight camp in Fremont, Michigan run by my home town’s (Evanston, Illinois) YMCA. This camp is called Camp Echo and is where many of my favorite childhood memories were formed. Happy childhood memories of summer camps are common to a lot of people. But the way I see it, why should the wonders of summer camp end when a kid gets “too old,” or enters the “real world?”

Robert Flugham wrote a famous poem titled, “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” In this poem he shares his belief that if we all took time out every day to take naps and have some cookies and milk, we would all live a lot happier lives. That is the way I feel about summer camp. If everyone took the summer off, or at least two weeks (the length of one camp session), to get away and be in nature, I think our world would be a lot saner. But “everyone” is a lot of people, so I am going to focus on one group, the elderly. I believe that if the elderly start to spend some time, every year, relaxing and enjoying the simple pleasures of nature and activities in a summer camp like setting, they will live longer and happier lives.

Obviously, nature and camping are not for everyone. I know plenty of people, of all ages, that would rather do anything than rough it in the wilderness. I also know lots of folks that long for enjoying life in nature… but where do summer camps exist for anyone over eighteen? I sure do not know of any. Here is where I got the idea for my program plan. And the first step of planning any program is to do a needs assessment.

I believe that there is a need for the elderly in America to have a summer camp they can call their own. This camp will be geared towards them and will contain activities much like that of camps they might have attended as children yet will be modified to meet any special needs they might have today.

I propose to build summer camps, or convert ones that already exist in Wisconsin or Michigan, for ou4 nation’s elderly. Once the camps are ready all these folks who retire to the South, to get away from the harsh winters of the North, can return in the summer to attend camp. Summer in the South are so hot and humid anyway… so, what better way to cool off and kick back, than a relaxing few weeks in the wilderness of the Great Lakes states?

The first of these camps I have begun to imagine I call “Simple Pleasures: A Summer Camp for the Young at Heart.” The objective of “Simple Pleasures” I base on that of the YMCA camps I attended since my childhood and now have gone on to work at. The objective is that of enhancing three points of a triangle. The triangle represents the mind, the body and the spirit of each individual attending the camp.

The structure and activities at “Simple Pleasures,” for those of you, who attended summer camps as children, will remain generally the same. As for the specifics, the campers will still sleep in cabins, eat their meals in dining halls and participate in as many water front, nature and arts & crafts activities as they chose. The only differences will be various modifications that will be implemented to make it possible for all those with disabilities attending camp to be able to participate in whatever they want to do.

The modifications I see for “Simple Pleasures” are all those required by the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and more specifically by Title III (passed in January 1992) of that Act. All the buildings on the camp will be wheelchair usable, as well as assessable. These buildings include: the cabins, the dining hall, the social lodge and especially the bathroom facilities (or KYBOs as we called them at Camp Echo). The paths on camp’s grounds, including that on the trails in the forests, will be paved in a way that wheel chairs could move easily about on. The water front areas will those contraptions that enable people who use wheel chairs to easily and safely get into the water, or boats, or canoes, etc. These modifications will basically deal with environmental barriers that the elderly might otherwise encounter at camp.

The modifications I can envision to deal with intrinsic barriers will involve a staff that is appropriately qualified to work with elderly. The actual camp counselors will have to be certified in First Aid, CPR and life guarding. Although it is common for most counselors to have these certifications at many camps, it is not always mandatory. At “Simple Pleasures” it will be imperative that they staff be qualified to handle any life threatening accidents that might occur on the water front or during other daily activities.

Another area of the staff that will be required to hold significantly more experience and expertise, than at an average camp, will be the nurse and health staff. At most camps there is one certified nurse and no other health professionals. The campers at “Simple Pleasures” will be “young at heart,” but not so young in body. So, it is important for this program to have medical staff prepared to administer more than just daily pills, calamine lotion and Band-Aids. I hope that this camp will improve the mind, body and spirit of those attending, but of the three, unfortunately body is something the elderly have the least control over.

The final area of the staff that I consider changes in their responsibilities to be essential are the kitchen staff. Since the diets of the elderly often need to be adjusted to keep them healthy, “Simple Pleasures” cooks will have to be knowledgeable in what is good for the campers’ systems. The cooks will make tasty meals, low in cholesterol and other ingredients detrimental to those at risk o heart attacks, etc. But this is a camp for people to learn, or continue, to get the most from the little things in life that make them happy. And since food for many is a simple pleasure, the cooks will also not forget to include some goodies (healthy or not) at every meal.

Another intrinsic modification will be in the amount of campers that will attend “Simple Pleasures” and live in each cabin. Most adolescent camps have anywhere from one to two hundred campers. This is a manageable amount of campers considering the average camper to staff ratio at most overnight camps is four to one. The adolescent camps tends to have twelve campers and three counselors (where the ratio is taken from) sleeping on bunk beds in each cabin. But bunks are not the most ideal sleeping arrangements for the elderly, especially if they use wheel chairs. So, “Simple Pleasures” will have fifty to one hundred campers, with six campers and two counselors in each cabin sleeping on twin size beds. With these sleeping arrangements, the elderly campers would be more comfortable and less crowded. And with two counselors living in each cabin, the camper to staff ratio at “Simple Pleasures” will be three to one. This increase will make it possible for the campers to receive more individual attention.

The marketing of “Simple Pleasures” will be through an agency such as a YMCA or recreation department. In this way I could reach those “young at heart” in the communities of those agencies who already show somewhat of an interest in maintain their mind, body and spirit through leisure activities. I will advertise in their seasonal brochures about “Simple Pleasures.” Then I will also hold a few information sessions at the local agency for those who are interested, but want to know more.

Finally, I will evaluate my program by asking and observing throughout the sessions (not just when camp is over for the summer) if the campers enjoyed their experience at “Simple Pleasures.” I will find out what they liked most and what they felt they got out of it. I also will take into consideration what specific activities seem to go over well. I will compile all of these evaluations and then use what I find as a base for making any necessary changes in the summers to come.

A retreat to nature is something that everyone in America, especially the elderly, could benefit from a few weeks every summer. I know, as I have grown, that my experiences at summer camps have had a very positive effect on my maturation and, more importantly, my attitude on life. I have learned a great deal from these many elderly I have gotten to know and care about through the years. But as much as I have learned from my older friends, I also feel I have a lot I can give back to them. I have watched so many of my favorite elders lose sight of happiness, that can always be found, in some of the, often little, yet wonderful, treasures in life. “Simple Pleasures” is my answer to those who may have lost, or want to keep alive, their sense of being “young at heart.”

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jjiraffe July 2, 2012 at 12:33 am

Interesting, Kathy. The retirement village where my parents live is based around the tenants of being in nature, playing and having fun at all ages. For the first time, I really see the appeal.


2 Kathy July 2, 2012 at 10:01 am

I am glad that you appreciate this, especially in light of where your parents live now and the tenants of their retirement village. That sounds like a place where I would like to retire someday.
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3 Kristin July 2, 2012 at 2:02 am

What a fascinating idea, Kathy. I love that you went back to something you wrote many years ago.
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4 Kathy July 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

Thank you Kristin! 🙂
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5 Deborah July 2, 2012 at 9:25 am

This is a great idea! I work with a lot of elderly people, and so often I see people falling back into the mentality of “oh, I’m so old, I can’t xyz” or going on and on about how things used to be. It would be great if more elderly people could enjoy the time of life that they’re in, and enjoy what the present day has to offer. Do you know if anything like this exists?
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6 Kathy July 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

Thank you Deborah! Not long after I wrote this (in 1994) I found out about and eventually got to work at a residential summer camp in NW Illinois that catered to senior citizens for two sessions every year (the first and last weeks of our summer camp season)! I plan to write a follow up post to this one, in which I will share about my experience working there. Unfortunately that particular camp has since closed, but I would imagine it wasn’t the only one of its kind and am also interested to know if there are others that exist in our country or somewhere else in the world. I will have to look into that and find out.
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7 Lori Lavender Luz July 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm

So you were a wonderer/writer even back then! Well done, Kathy.

I have seen my parents in nature and it is so rejuvenating. Do you have any follow-on thoughts to this paper, now with a little more life experience under your belt?
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8 Kathy July 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Thank you for your kind words Lori!

Thank you also for sharing about your experience with your parents and nature. And to answer your question, yes! I plan to write about that sometime soon, as a follow up to this post! 🙂
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9 Winnie July 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I think the idea of a camp for elderly folks is inspired. I have spent lots of time in nursing homes with various relatives and friends, and outings are very important and make them so happy. I found you thru BlogHer and look forward to reading more articles in the future. Your story is a very touching one.


10 Justine July 5, 2012 at 12:52 am

What a wonderful, inspired idea! I hope your camp becomes a reality before I grow old! (I never went to summer camp, and always wanted to …)
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12 Justine February 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I loved this idea back when you first posted it, and I still love it now! But I also appreciate the new context you give it in TWT … and I have to confess, some of the older people I see at my Y are in better shape than I am. 🙂
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13 Trudy January 23, 2014 at 4:00 am

“Simple Pleasures: A Summer Camp for the Young at Heart” was indeed a extremely awesome blog post, .
I hope you keep authoring and I’m going to continue browsing!

Thanks a lot ,Jo
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14 Cut The Wood website May 9, 2017 at 6:59 am

One more issue is video games usually are serious anyway with the principal focus on knowing things rather than fun. Although, it comes with an entertainment factor to keep the kids engaged, just about every game is often designed to work towards a specific expertise or programs, such as math concepts or scientific discipline. Thanks for your write-up.
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15 June 7, 2017 at 6:06 pm

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