This is part of a series of stories celebrating buildOn’s milestone this month of reaching 500 school built globally and one million hours served by United States students locally. During the next few weeks we’ll be looking at buildOn’s impact on several communities where we build overseas and where we serve in the U.S.
buildOn members from Detroit have been going to YWCA Camp Cavell every season for years. Saying this is buildOn Detroit members’ favorite service projects is an understatement. “They love Camp Cavell,” said buildOn’s Indira Pierce, who has been taking her students there for the past three years. “Literally, I get messages every week asking, ‘when I can go back?’”
Camp Cavell’s Program Director, Janine “Gabby” Forton, is one of the many staff members who work with buildOn. “We push them to their limits,” she said.
Forton assigns volunteers a variety of tasks to help get the camp ready for the season, from cleaning the alpaca tents to setting up a Haunted Forest for children during Halloween. The camp setting, more than anything, is usually the biggest shock many buildOn members face. The camp is in Lexington, Michigan, on the coast of Lake Huron. Cell phones don’t work, you can’t watch TV, and the cabins are rustic. “A lot of the students we get are from the city and have not been to our area. The local mall is 45 minutes away, and it’s half an hour for fast food.”
The YWCA runs an interim house at the camp for women who have suffered domestic violence. Female volunteers live and attend group sessions with the women in the interim house while male volunteers stay in the camp cabins and work with the summer camp children, organizing games and activities in the cabin.
“We give the moms a break,” said Leslie Potts, buildOn Detroit alumna and a freshman at Bowling Green State University. Some of the mothers come with up to four or five kids, so the camp depends on volunteers to entertain the children kids by taking them on horseback rides on the beach or teaching them how to kayak while the mothers are in therapy. If the children act out, the volunteers act as positive role models by calling them out. “You see the kids mirroring their actions at the end of the week,” Forton said.
buildOn members also participate in a lot of trust and team-building activities at Camp Cavell. Staff puts them in unknown yet controlled situations, such as technical tree climbing, where students are put in harnesses and have to climb 60 feet up in the air. “We have kids that say, ‘wow,’ you really pushed me beyond what I thought I could do,” Forton said.
It’s not a secret amongst buildOn members that Camp Cavell is a great experience. Pierce had to create a waiting list to go on this month’s trip back in August. The good thing is Camp Cavell never runs out of work to be done. “Given the economic situation now, it’s nice to have these responsible young people come in and volunteer their time,” Fulton said. “Without them, there’s a lot we couldn’t do.”