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Experiences of YMCA Day Camp Counsellors and their Perceptions of Youth
A large body of research examines the benefits of youth programming for children and their families, yet there is limited research that specifically focuses on day camps and the experiences of camp counsellors. My MA thesis explores the experiences of YMCA day camp counsellors and their perceptions of the children with whom they work. More specifically, I explore how camp counsellors perceive campers’ strengths, assets, and home life, the extent to which camp counsellors impose neoliberal values onto youth, and the social and developmental benefits of the camp experience for both campers and counsellors. Drawing on social capital theory (e.g., Putnam, 2000), Tara Yosso’s (2005) concept of community cultural wealth, and the “multiple worlds” model of Phelan et al. (1991), this thesis was undertaken with two broad objectives: (1) to understand the broader ideological forces that inform youth programming and the implications for creating an inclusive and equitable camping experience for diverse populations of young people; and (2), to illuminate the ways in which campers and counsellors benefit from participation in camp from a social and psychological standpoint. The study is informed by qualitative interviews with eight study participants who were previously employed as YMCA day camp counsellors for a minimum of one full summer. Semi- structured interviews were utilized to elicit camp counsellors’ experiences along with their perceptions of youth and youth programming. These interview data are triangulated with my personal experience as a YMCA day camp counsellor. My findings highlight the drive and dedication that camp counsellors have to bettering the lives of the children they worked with. In addition, the study spotlights the ways in which youth programming is informed by the dominant neoliberal ideology. Despite the noble intentions of camp counsellors, this can result in a camping experience where neoliberal values are imposed on diverse populations of youth with i little consideration of the unique challenges that might inform resistant attitudes, or the strengths and assets that marginalized youth produce within their families and communities. In spite of these limitations and concerns, camp functions as a space where campers and counsellors have the opportunity to build constructive forms of bridging and bonding social capital. Lastly, I argue that camp has a vital role to play in an age of helicopter parenting where interaction by way of electronic devices has largely supplanted face-to-face interaction. In short, this thesis reveals both the shortcomings and benefits of the day camp experience, and unveils the complexities and challenges associated with youth programming in an increasingly diverse and unequal society.