An Overview of Summer Camps

The effects of a week full of climbing, rappelling and kayaking aren’t surprising: “We make kids tired,” said Kevin Tobin.

Tobin is the director of Passages Adventure Camp, where tiredness is a by-product, benefit and bragging point.

“As the week goes on parents will notice their kids will want to go to be earlier and earlier each day, but they’ll also have more and more stories and be more and more enthusiastic about what they’re doing,” Tobin said.

Passages is an adventure day-camp that has been sending kids home happy, healthy and exhausted for 13 years. It offers 12 weeks of camp from June to August. The program seeks to develop a passion for the outdoors in boys and girls ages 8 to 13 by challenging them to identify their limits and then push beyond them. Campers learn how to safely rock climb, kayak, rappel and zip-line.

“Things like rock climbing and kayaking are great tools for teaching kids to experience and respect the environment,” said Tobin.

“We like it that Max gets down and dirty during the day in the mighty JamesPassages takes good care of them,” said Midlothian resident Janet Caudle whose son Max has attended Passages for three years.

Every week at Passages begins the same way, by making sure every camper knows the number one rule: no complaining.

Once the campers have mastered rule number one they can try out the zip line, rock climbing, rappelling at Belle Isle and kayaking in the James River.

Tobin said the activities at Passages can benefit all kids, not just adventure-seekers.

“Some kids are just rugged and you can tell that this is their element. But often times the kid that gets the most out of it is the kid that’s terrified and can conquer that fear. The goal is really the distance they travel, not the spot they get to.”

Passages uses a curriculum called the Rock and River Program, a program that helps campers challenging themselves by working through five skill levels.

“We’ve found that the best results come when the kids are competing against the program and themselves rather than each other,” Tobin said. “In this setting success is measured differently for each person so we congratulate achievement on an individual basis.”

Some campers, Tobin said, cry when the activities are described. Other kids can’t wait to hop on the 350-foot zip-line.

“Everyone has their own level of comfort with heights and water. We want to take them to the edge of that and have them so well supported and empowered they feel they can move beyond that and beyond and beyond,” Tobin said.

Passages’ goal-setting model not only challenges campers, but inspires them to keep coming back.

“I will be working on different levels of climbing and kayaking this summer and I look forward to it,” said Passages camper Evan Kureth.

Carol Pietryk’s said attending Passages challenged her two sons Gary, 15, and Colin, 10, in very different ways.

“Both of my boys have very different interests but they absolutely loved it,” she said. “The way they have things set up everybody can excel at their own rate. Gary really likes this sort of thing but Colin wasn’t sure at first. He came back and loved it. They do a good job of giving kids the confidence they need to try new things.”

Passages has a staff of 120 counselors each summer that help each run smoothly and safely. Most counselors were once campers.

“Campers receive patches as they complete the requirements for each [Rock and River] level. After level five,” Tobin said, “they get a job application.”

Of the 120 counselors 110 are returning to work at Passages again this year.

“It’s a fun job. The counselors make sure that no matter how hot or cold or rainy it is each day of camp is the best day of the kid’s life,” Tobin said

The balance between perceived danger and actual danger is attractive to both parents and their kids, Tobin said.

“Given that there’s risk in everything we do every activity has to have a high level of safety along with a high level of fun,” he said.

Since the camp began in 1994 Tobin said they haven’t had any serious injuries.

“We’ve never had to call for an ambulance. There’s been plenty of bumps and bruises and scrapes but we’ve been very lucky,” Tobin said.

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