Community program Camp Wildcat proves rewarding for volunteers and alumni alike

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When Rebecca Beren returned from a semester abroad, she was repeatedly peer pressured by her roommate into joining Camp Wildcat.

""He would do the goofiest thing,"" said Beren, a sociology junior. ""He would take fliers and hide them around the apartment and be like, 'Hey did you find something?' and I would say, 'Yes, yes, I found it.'""

After coming home one day to find fliers for the club covering every inch of her door, she finally gave in and decided to go to a meeting. After that, she was hooked.

Camp Wildcat typically organizes its biggest event of the year over the summer. This weekend, it took 18 students in passenger vans to one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon hike is the biggest event it holds all year because the commute makes it the longest, and simultaneously gives the campers more time to bond, said Lucy Patterson, who directed the summer hike along with first-timer Beren.

""When you're talking to a kid about college when they're going into high school and you're saying, 'Yeah, college is for you,' it doesn't always work,"" said Patterson, an elementary education senior. ""The way we do it is more thoughtful and more powerful.""

Before joining Camp Wildcat, Patterson spent a considerable amount of time avoiding going to meetings because she had reservations about being an outsider among the members, but after joining a year later, she found the effectiveness of the camp to be exceptional.

""The thing about it is that it gives me so much energy and when I don't have energy to do other things, and I want to sleep in, the kids want to get up and do something,"" Patterson said. ""That makes me wake up and get up for them.""

Partway through her membership, Patterson decided to switch her major to elementary education, and although she had always dreamt she might one day pursue a career in teaching, Camp Wildcat made the decision more apparent.

""Sometimes I would think I'd rather do Camp Wildcat than school,"" she said. ""So I thought, if I can do this and be passionate about it, maybe this is what I should be doing for a career.""

What makes the Grand Canyon camp a major event is the combination of what is normally either a hiking or an activities camp - including arts and crafts and creative skits - into a camp that does both over a three-day period.

""They say it's like a form of community service but it doesn't feel like it, it's not like working at a food pantry or doing other work,"" said Bailey Cool, an international studies sophomore and presumed chairperson for the camp's community relations board next semester. ""Camp Wildcat is like a home for me. It's the primary thing I focus on, sometimes more than even some classes.""

It is not only the current members who become avid supporters of the club. During homecoming, alumni revisit the club and members get to trade experiences with previous years' members.

""It's really neat to see,"" Patterson said. ""Some things definitely don't change, you can tell for some it really consumed their lives in college.""

Visitors and members who stumble upon the Camp Wildcat Web site will see a section specifically dedicated to alumni, and frequenters often date back to as early as the club's creation in 1965.

Deena Davis, a camper from 2003 to 2006 who now resides in Chicago, is one of the many former campers that continues to check in on the camp and retain a piece of the experience.

""It's a thing where how much you put into it is how much you get out of it,"" Davis said. ""It's very rewarding.""

Glenn Millar, a camper of four years in 1980, now lives in California and serves on the board of Friends of Camp Wildcat, a network dedicated to providing generations of campers with support and resources.

Not only did his time with Camp Wildcat prepare him for social situations later in life, but it is an experience he will not soon forget, he said.

""Back when I was in Camp Wildcat, seven of us guys decided we needed to have a bachelor party. Nobody was getting married or anything, but we did it,"" Millar said. ""We called it the 'Gentleman's Foyer.'""

Millar said the group of seven friends, two of whom ended up marrying fellow campers, have kept in touch and have been getting together each year for 26 years - even if just to play golf.

""I think I could look back, and I often didn't get anything out of a grade,"" Millar said. ""What's important is the relationships you build, the results you create and the contacts you build.""

The friends Millar gained while at the camp sure had a hand in keeping his membership for all four years, but, more importantly, his love for working with children and the sense of accomplishment he felt were what drove him to stay connected for almost 30 years, he said.

""You can ask, did we change the kids' lives forever? I don't know,"" Millar said. ""But did we change their lives for the moment? Absolutely.""

Patterson already understands the effect her experiences with the camp will have on her later in life, she said.

""There's definitely this feeling I always say - it's working for something greater than ourselves,"" Patterson said. ""It's that feeling of accomplishment in our own lives and in our own studies.""


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