By Tiffany Meredith
Eric Dumas is just like any other honor-role high school student. He works hard on his homework. He wants to one day go to college.
But he didn”t always have this passion for education. In fact, he used to do the bare minimum to get by. His mom had to nag him constantly to get any homework done.
“I know now he”ll say he wants to get on the honor role,” said Amerlia Dumas, Eric”s mom and resident of Payson. “That”s a goal for him. Before it wasn”t. He just wanted to do the least to get by. It was always a push from me, but now it is more inner.”
The change in him came after he attended Camp WILD [Wilderness Instruction and Leadership Development Foundation]. BYU students and professors developed the outdoor adventure camp to help increase the confidence of at-risk youth.
“As kids grow from about the age of 11-16, how they see themselves isn”t really stable, and their experiences influence their identity, and their identity influences choices they make and motivation throughout their life,” said Mark Widmer, a professor of recreation management and youth leadership who developed the camp three years ago.
The camp”s overall goal is to help youth realize their own talents and abilities and give them confidence to succeed in life through overcoming outdoor challenges.
“After kids guide a raft, they have an overwhelming mastery experience and think, ”Wow! I did that. Now I can do anything,”” Widmer said.
Widmer, who is interested in the impact of outdoor recreation on the youth”s perception of their own abilities, surveys and studies the changes in the children. Though there are several similar camps around the U.S., Widmer is hoping to document the positive effects to prove recreational theories.
BYU undergrads mentor and act as counselors during the two to three weeklong camp in Shupe, Idaho, leading the youth in hiking, rafting, fly fishing and nature identification. The students take a class the semester before camp to learn recreational theories and plan activities.
“In that class, we go over some leisure and recreational theories that we want to incorporate into our program to make it theory based,” said Schenk, a BYU grad student and co-director of Camp WILD. “From my perspective, I think it is important to incorporate challenge with fun as well because research suggests that this challenge element and overcoming challenge generalizes back into life.”
Laura Halsey, a recreation management student from Waldorf, Md., and an exploration guide for the camp, said she saw the change in the youth as their confidence grew. She said she saw something click in their heads and heard them say they could do things they didn”t think they could before. The counselors put in countless hours to plan the camp and lead it and know the difference it makes in the lives of the youth.
“I think if I didn”t see that kind of change in the kids, I wouldn”t be coming back,” Halsey said. “But it”s something I really feel strongly about.”
The reaching effects of the camp on the youth are clear. Many youth come out of the camp with a new excitement for life and perform better in school and social situations.
Roxie Fonohema, whose daughter, Elisabeth Fonohema, went to camp last year said her daughter was hesitant to be away from home for so long, but ended up loving camp. . She said her daughter, who did things that she never would have tried otherwise, still talks about her experiences.
“It brought her out of her shyness a little but mostly helped her develop skills,” said Fonohema. “It really helped her enthusiasm for life.”
Tyawana Taylor, a student from Summit High in Orem who also attended Camp WILD, said she not only had a lot of fun, but learned about herself.
“When I was backpacking, I thought I was going to die,” she said. “I was the last one to the mountain in our group. I have really low confidence and didn”t think I could do things but then I did them and felt better that I could accomplish those goals.”