National Program Excellence Award Nomination

Monday, January 29, 2018

National Program Excellence Award Nomination

Camp Hawkeye is a small program in a big world.  I like to think of Hawkeye as "The Little Camp That Could" (like the classic kid's book The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper). With 350 million Americans running around it seems that 200 staff and kids each summer working, playing, learning and growing is less than a drop in the bucket.  However it is nice to know sometimes that the word, and more importantly, the work is reaching farther.  Like the exploratory tendrils from the roots of healthy plant looking to get a deeper, firmer hold the Hawkeye message extends out.  This happened last year for the first time on a national level in the camping industry.  Camp Hawkeye was nominated for a national award; the Eells Awards for Program Excellence.

In September of 2016 a pair of representatives from the Board Stewardship Committee for the American Camp Association New England (ACANE) section brought Camp Hawkeye forward as a candidate for nomination for a national award in camping; the Eells Awards for Program Excellence.  This was simply the first piece of communication about being nominated by our regional section.  It was an honor to considered at even this most introductory level and reassuring to know that other directors in New England (where resident camping got its start and with such a tremendous heritage of great camp programming and leaders) understood what Hawkeye is trying to do.

The ACANE board representative made clear that there are many camps in New England and this was an information gathering phase and in addition shared the specific information about the award.

The Eleanor P. Eells Awards for Program Excellence are designed to honor programs that:

1.       Develop effective, creative responses to the needs of people and/or societal problems using the camp environment and encourage continued development of such ideas,

2.       Stimulate the exchange of creative ideas, or

3.       Present to the public examples of positive contributions camp has made on the well-being of individuals and society.

One of the criteria a camp can meet:

·         Understand and make use of intergrouping - combining groups that have differences, e.g,. physical abilities, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, religion, and home environment.

More Specific Award Information here: https://www.acacamps.org/about/who-we-are/awards/eleanor-p-eells-award


They then asked the following:

If you are willing to have CH be considered, I think the information that would be great to share with the committee is - what is the camp doing that is unique/special to make diversity such a big of the camp program.  What is different than what other camps do? Since almost all camps intergroup and consider it to be an important part of camp.  Is it part of camper recruitment? Staff recruitment? Etc....  Any chance you'd want to write up a paragraph or two?  I know {…} and I would both be big supporters.

My answer:

Camp Hawkeye is a for-profit camp with a mission.  To bring together a diverse community of individuals that include campers and staff from a variety of geographic, socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.  In this way we seek to bridge social, economic, and cultural gaps to build positive relationships and deep mutual understanding for our young campers.  Hawkeye actively recruits campers from a variety of places, with a variety of backgrounds, and how self-identify in a variety of diverse ways.  We then normalize our differences through identification and valuation without dwelling on them or in an academic or clinical way.  Finally our program design focuses on relationships.  The activities we organize and deliver are not focused on skill acquisition for its own sake but as a vehicle for teaching acceptance, friendship, and leadership.  This approach is explicitly taught to staff during staff training and explained to parents before joining our community.  We:

1.       Actively recruit a diverse camper and staff group

2.       Normalize our differences

3.       Introduce and nurture a shared experience that values all contributions, abilities, and intelligences


Over the past five years we’ve changed our approach to creating and nurturing our diverse community.  We began by focusing on building a diverse participant population from the bottom up recruiting campers from diverse backgrounds and with diverse identities.  We found greater long-term buy-in and smoother more positive transitions working from the staff group down by recruiting staff from diverse backgrounds first.  Hawkeye continues to recruit diverse campers and we believe that every camper needs to be able to connect with a staff member that they believe is “like me” or “gets me.”  We continue to grow our own staff as our campers matriculate through our leadership development program and we actively seek out individuals from outside our organization as staff with diverse identities, experiences, and perspectives.


Over the next month we exchanged further information with the committee and happily learned that Camp Hawkeye was in fact to become a nominee from the New England section of the American Camp Association for consideration for this prestigious national award.  After a further interview with a committee representative who was to be the one to write the letter of introduction to the national committee the following letter was penned, sent, and shared with us.


To:    ACA National


FROM:  Rebecca Gilles


RE:  Eleanor Ells Sward for Program Excellence

            Camp Hawkeye Nomination



Camp Hawkeye is a unique one of a kind camp.  I had the pleasure of visiting Hawkeye this summer because I was simply curious to experience what a non-traditional intentional camp is like while in session.  I left after 24 hours feeling hopeful and happy about the future of Camp Hawkeye and the impact it is making on campers and staff. The feeling was way beyond the beautiful mountain views and the quiet lake; it is something hard to describe but I know I left with my own emotional impact knowing this camp is doing great things.


From the moment I arrived I was welcomed by each and every person in the camp.  Campers and staff all shook my hand, gave me wonderful greetings, showed me around camp and invited me to eat at their tables during the meals. I have never had such a gracious welcome to a camp ever before.  I was even invited to join one of the color groups for “eggy day” activities; yes I actually moved an egg with my nose across the grass from one rope to the other rope.  All I could do is laugh because I knew I was the oldest person doing these activities.


All camps are wonderful and unique in their own ways; but Hawkeye is truly different.  It felt different; I did not notice any social differentiation amongst the community, everyone was welcomed as who they are.  Talking with campers and staff was refreshing because they wanted to talk to me as a visitor to their camp; and they talked about their lives back home where they just don’t fit in but at Hawkeye they fit, even though kids are very different than their communities back home. 


The owners / directors Garrett and Jessica have created this amazing camp; they are dedicated to the camping profession and developing a camp where kids feel safe and included. A place where kids can learn and grow in and feel supported in the differences they bring. 


I left Hawkeye with that warm fuzzy feeling; so happy for those campers and staff to part of such a unique and different kind of camp.  I brought with me that hopeful feel back to my own camp.


To learn more about Camp Hawkeye please visit:  http://camphawkeye.com


Finally, in advance of the American Camp Association National Conference, we learned that we were going to be spared the cost of purchasing a flight to New Mexico; we did not win the Eells Award.  Saves the dusting on the mantle of course and my nine year-old participation trophy for pee wee soccer still gets pride of place here in the office.

Seriously…it is challenging and so very helpful to review, articulate and concisely connect industry peers to our mission and philosophy as they relate to actual practice of realizing a robust diverse community each summer.  We spend many hours each week talking about our camp community and our program specifics with parents, various providers, and other stakeholders.  The reality though is that each of those individuals are looking for something that matters through their own lens of experience.  They seek programmatic specifics on hiking, swimming, leadership development, acceptance of specific difference, and many others which most often crowds out this fundamental but technical topic.

I am glad to have been able to present our approach to the camping community writ large and again in expanding on it a little here.


Theme picker