Now in its fifth year, the camp format is finally back to what it was originally intended to be — a place where kids gain confidence and leadership skills.
“This is great, this is my favorite thing that I do all year,” said a (slightly) winded Lt. Steven St. Pierre, taking a break from a round of Capture the Flag to talk about the Bristol Police’s Youth Leadership Camp, now in its second of two, one-week sessions.
For the campers, a game like Capture the Flag is fun, and an opportunity to run around outside on a beautiful summer day. For St. Pierre and the other officers and counselors running the camp, it’s also an opportunity to reinforce a theme of a day. On this day, the theme is honesty and respect.
“Are they being respectful of each other? Are they being honest about when they get tagged? And then we'll go back onto the pavilion and we debrief,” he said. “Did the team come up with a good plan today, and did they change their plan?”
Games and exercises like this help provide leadership opportunities. “We throw in some lessons in and then we go out and do another activity,” said St. Pierre. “So they're getting physical activity all day long, but they're also getting lecture and lesson all day long.”
Now in its fifth year, the camp format is finally back to what it was originally intended to be, to act as a bridge between elementary school and middle school, and middle school and high school, to get the kids exposed to other kids in the district and to teach them leadership skills.
“Covid really put a hiccup in that, we had to stay in much smaller groups,” said St. Pierre. “You get more comfortable in a smaller group, and by day two, you know all six, seven people in your group, and it's easier to open up. It's harder to do it when you have to lead in front of 35 other kids. So they're all doing very, very well with that.”
Camp is structured so every day builds off of every other day. The first day sets the tone as campers learn how to work in a squad, lead a small squad and accomplish an objective. On Thursday campers go to a ropes course where they really get taken out of their comfort zone.
“Our themes for that day are courage and communication,” said St. Pierre. “So they have to be able to communicate with each other, show good teamwork skills with each other, and they have to conquer some of their fear. By the end of the day they all feel like they can overcome something, which is great.”
“We focus on discipline, self respect and integrity and honesty. Our goal is that they feel empowered to be leaders and so when they leave here, hopefully, they can affect change in their peer groups and influence their peers positively and the flip side of that, resist negative influence as well.”
A big turnout this year
This year, Youth Leadership Camp is bigger than ever, with 33 campers in the first week and 37 in the second, as well as about seven additional counselors in training.
“That really is the culmination of the program because they were campers, and now they're teaching other campers,” said St. Pierre.
The program has been so successful and well-received, it’s serving as a model for other local communities, with officers from Portsmouth, East Providence and Cranston coming to observe and participate. “We have a unique program,” said St. Pierre. “We don't spend a lot of time talking about policing or what we do. We spend all our time trying to make (campers) good leaders.”
“I love coming here. Everybody that comes here loves it because you actually see the benefits of what you're doing each and every day…Some of these guys, they come off shift, and then they come here and work, though for the most part we try to reassign them so that they're focusing their energy here, because you really have to bring big energy.
“Our motto here is ‘all negatives get turned into a positive’ and so the campers leave here feeling positive, feeling that they can overcome things, that there's never a stopping point, and they can achieve their goals.”
Interested in summer 2023? The cost for each session is $45, to help pay for the ropes course field trip, and registration for next summer’s sessions will likely open in late May or early June (it was June 1 this year, and session one filled up on the first day.)
Contact the Bristol Police Department or keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates.