Is there a better way to prepare teens and young adults for the real world than allowing them to “practice” essential life skills? Summer camps at the Martin de Porres Center in the Shepard area of Columbus do just that, teaching youth aged 11-18 important life skills in a fun and safe environment and providing valuable work experience to teens and young adults.
Tucked away at the Martin De Porres Center, a ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, summer camps have evolved from swimming, snacks and games to an experience that shapes the character of each participant. These summer camps effectively mesh fun activities with key life skills inspired by the principles of “adulting” for some 150-200 young adults.
When considering a theme for 2023 camp programming, Martin de Porres Youth Program Manager Mayra Betances used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to identify a problem that she herself was experiencing. The quarantines of the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated her anxiety; she was hesitant to be around and make conversation with others. Normally an extremely outgoing person, she could only imagine the effect that months of lockdowns had had on teens, who already questioned their capabilities as they approached adulthood. As the manager of Rising Youth, a program of the Martin de Porres Center that assists high school students in succeeding academically and socially, she has seen the effects of quarantine firsthand.
The result of this personal introspection and her work with local youth was “What to Expect When You’re Adulting,” a fun, hands-on introduction to the skills that teens need to develop as they progress toward independence.
Through structured programs, campers learned to navigate the challenges they will inevitably face in the adult world. From mundane chores like budgeting and laundry, career skills like preparing documents or applying for a job, or life lessons like dialoguing peacefully with loved ones, the Martin de Porres camp experience provided the teenaged girls and boys who attended with more than memories.
Campers learned to resolve conflicts at home and school, how to be empathetic with those around them, and how to problem-solve peacefully – all under the guidance of Martin de Porres staff, Dominican Sisters of Peace, and Camp Program Mentors.
Program Mentors are former campers who now give back as counselors or “leads” to the camps that shaped them in prior years. Mentors, who may be as young as 17 or college-aged, apply for the position as a summer job. Each Program Mentor must complete Church-sponsored training on how to deal with their peers and younger teens safely and pass a background check. Once on the job, they help plan and manage meals, games and learning activities and are compensated for their time and service.
Through various activities, campers are led into encounters that present challenges. It is in overcoming these obstacles – even in an artificial environment – that the campers learn resilience, adaptability, and perseverance – undoubtedly key skills adults must embody.
For Program Manager Mayra Betances, the lessons taught at the summer camp hit close to home when she took her son, Deogo, to get his driver’s license. Thanks to the training he received in camp, he was well prepared. Mayra said, “He was just flying through this paperwork! Like any worried mom, I was going to ask if he needed any help, but it looked like he had it all under control.”
Former camper and current Senior at Ohio Dominican University, Wendy, says that working at the summer camps helped her to “Be a leader and mentor, which in turn better prepared me for a future career in social work.” As a Latinx woman, Wendy Vasquez will help to fill a need in the US, where less than 13% of social workers are of Latin descent according to Zippia.com.
In addition to teaching youth important “adulting” skills, Martin de Porres camps take pride in creating an environment that promotes growth. At the top of the list of the camp’s goals is to foster a safe place for youth to explore relationships away from the familiarity of family circles and classrooms.
The Martin de Porres Center camps are, in part, sponsored by Common Spirit Heath, the country’s largest hospital chain and its second-largest nonprofit hospital chain. Common Spirit has worked to reduce violence on several fronts for over a decade, and its support of the Martin de Porres Center and its youth outreach has been essential. Like Common Spirit, the programs at Martin de Porres take a comprehensive approach to building more peaceful communities. Martin de Porres Center Director Yahaira Rose says, “We are very focused on peace and non-violence initiatives, because we realize that if we help the youth, we help the family as a whole.”
The Columbus City Council is also a supporter of the Martin de Porre Summer camp programs. “Youth violence is on the rise, and there is no single solution,” said Council President Shannon G. Hardin. “But one critical piece is giving youth engaging, enriching opportunities to learn and grow… As a community, we must help them see beyond their present situations.”
Summer camps at the Martin De Porres Center are a fusion of education, personal growth, and recreation. Everything – from structured learning activities to fun field trips like kayaking or a trip to the local science center – is designed to offer opportunities for relationship-building, problem-solving, and personal growth. The result? Well-rounded young adults with not just the beginnings of solid career skills, but real-world practice of the soft skills that will help them succeed in school, in their families, and throughout their lives. Today’s youth face a world of challenge and opportunity. The campers at the Martin de Porres center have the skills to meet both.