Not your ordinary summer camp


CHARLESTON — Reminiscing about summer camp can conjure up all kinds of images: pony rides, potholders, games of “Marco Polo” in the lake, and a midnight camp fire complete with ghost story. You were there for a week or two, then you were gone. If you were lucky, you met a pen-pal from across the country … with whom you inevitably fell out of touch.

Daniel Crooks, a sophomore at Bishop England High School, has quite a different story to tell of his most recent summer camp experience. For eight weeks, Daniel attended Camp Rising Sun in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was nominated by his guidance counselor to attend the international camp based on his qualifications of a strong: character, commitment to leadership, and desire to serve others.

The camp is funded by the Louis August Jonas Foundation, set up by George “Freddie” Jonas in honor of his father, and by an annual fund raiser that targets alumni support. In lieu of a monetary fee, campers are charged with returning back to the world some of the good they learn.

George Jonas formed the camp just after the stock market crash in 1929. Camp Rising Sun’s mission is to “develop in promising young people from diverse backgrounds a lifelong commitment to sensitive and responsible leadership for the betterment of their communities and world.” Though Jonas died in 1978, his camp continues to target 14- and 15-year-old boys because, as he described, at that age “they haven’t developed prejudices.” Jonas envisioned his camp as one that would nurture clear thinking about important issues, spiritual development, and unselfish behavior. He also wanted his campers to exhibit the ability to solve conflicts without violence.

To achieve these goals, campers work together to overcome boundaries and get to know each other. They learn respect for nature and appreciation for music, and, as the camp guidelines state, “each camper is expected to work on a construction project that will add to the beauty and usefulness of the camp.”

One of Daniel’s projects was a stone walkway that connects two of the camp’s buildings. He was in charge of calling on patrons to donate the stones that form the path.

Like any camp, free time is allotted for sports, reading, talking, but this group of campers tend to get serious. Guest speakers share their stories that range from history to the arts, and camp fires lead to intense discussions about various global issues. Campers learn about such world topics as coping with hate and promoting sharing.

Rising Sun is comprised of 167 acres of land, on which the usual 60 campers have the freedom to roam. Two nights a week, the campers are allowed to sleep anywhere they like on the property. Campers spend the remainder of the week sleeping on “tent hill,” which consists of 17 tents of four people.

The authority of the camp rests primarily with the campers. Throughout their stay they take turns being sachems (a Native American word meaning chief) of various activities. Daniel’s opportunity to be sachem came about when the men of Camp Rising Sun invited their sister camp over for a get-together.

The benefits of Camp Rising Sun are manifested in Daniel’s mature outlook on life. He claims he has gained a better acceptance of others for who they really are. “All of the boundaries broke down after a few weeks …. People let down their guard,” he said.

Daniel describes his relationship with fellow campers not as one of friendship, but of brotherhood. He is now part of a circle of intelligent, mature, compassionate young men like himself that spans the globe.

The teen brought some life lessons home with him. One is the realization that he has the ability to make a difference in his community. He is going to propose a plan to Youth Services of Charleston to improve race relations in our community, claiming that people need long periods of exposure to one another in order to truly gain understanding.

“Showing movies about race relations is a nice thought,” he said, “but it takes more than four hours a month to get to know people.”