It is 8:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. The school bus rolls up, and many faces stare at me with mixed emotions. Some are smiling and very eager to hop off the bus, while it is crystal clear that others are shy or scared—or perhaps both! This is the morning of the first day of Arts Camp: The Art of Nature.
Fast-forward to the last day of Arts Camp. There are feel-good sticky note messages covering the camp walls, and all 60 campers are wearing warm fuzzies (think yarn pom-poms hanging like necklaces), hopping and laughing as part of the all-camp mini impromptu dance party that marks the finale to the week.
The transformation that happens during Arts Camp is due to so many factors—sometimes it is a strong connection with a high school volunteer who becomes a camper’s personal cheerleader; other times, it is the “aha!” moment when a camper tries theatre or dance for the first time. And despite what the instructors know our campers are capable of achieving, there are still those shining moments when each camper blows us away—maybe they learn choreography so much more quickly than we expected, maybe they make really insightful comments about an art project, or maybe they are incredibly enthusiastic for the critters they have captured in their bug boxes.
But whether the transformations are big or small, one thing is for sure—the campers who come to us on the Monday morning are not the same kids who leave at the end of the week! Each transformation is a result of the time they have to build positive relationships, take risks, try new things, express themselves, discover success as a group, and participate in days packed with creativity.
It sounds cliché, but the campers feel free at Arts Camp. They get to be their true selves, and it is amazing to observe their talents, challenges turned to triumphs, and (most of all) their love for the arts and nature. After almost 20 years in education, our campers are the happiest kids I have ever been around. But really, it is my heart that is the happiest because I know each camper’s experience will stay with them for a lifetime.
—Christina Ratatori (aka: "Miss Christina"), Education Director, Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts; Director, Arts Camp: The Art of Nature