Over the course of more than 20 summers, hundreds of children and teens from Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati have discovered a different world at Camp Joy. Set on 317 acres in rural Clarksville, Ohio, Camp Joy provides Club members – and thousands more youth – with a week-long respite from summer in the city. As most of these kids reside in Cincinnati’s urban core, activities like hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing are often new to them. For some, it’s the first time they’ve ever spent away from home.
The camp dates to 1937, when Cincinnati church leaders sought to create a safe haven and “place of joy” for inner-city children afflicted by poverty and intense summer heat. In 1959, Camp Joy established its permanent home in Clarksville. The camp now serves over 13,000 participants a year, including youth with medical challenges and some in foster care.
Club members can also attend spring and fall weekend retreats, which combine with the summer experience to build their leadership, teamwork and social skills. In fact, surveys show youth who attend Camp Joy score higher on the Deveraux Students Strengths Assessment – a measure of social-emotional skills among children in kindergarten through eighth grade – than youth who have not attended the camp. Not only do they develop new interests in outdoor pursuits. They also will often overcome personal and physical challenges, helping to build self-confidence, self-reliance and self-esteem.
A Proper Partnership
Because Camp Joy has the necessary infrastructure and staffing, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati can apply its limited time and resources to serving its youth in other ways. Together, these youth-serving nonprofits work to secure funding that allows any Club member who wants to attend camp can do so at no cost to their family. The National Recreation Foundation, for example, an enthusiastic and generous partner for many years, recently donated $100,000 to fund camping experiences for two years.
Since a small group of Club members first went to camp in 1999, the collaboration between Camp Joy and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati has impacted hundreds of kids. This summer alone, more than 150 Club youth will enjoy the week-long camp experience. Many Club alumni still recall stories of how the camp changed their perspective on the world … and the impact is just as strong on youth who now attend Camp Joy.
Visit BGCA.org to learn about Boys & Girls Club summer camps in your area.
Terri Lessnau is grants & government relations manager for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati.