As a kid, I made “quicksand” out of dirt and hose water; I picked dandelions and made houses for roly-polies; I played “spy” with my brother and two neighbor boys. Little of this play was directly supervised, and none of it was directed by adults.
As an adult however, un-planned play time with kids leaves me with a deep anxiety. I worry that they will be bored. I’m terrified that they will be hurt. I hear myself reflexively cry out “Be careful!” and watch their every step.
I think, “I must be doing this wrong. Don’t kids need structure?”
But they probably need less regiment than I think. Despite my anxiety, kids thrive on unstructured play.
Folks tell me this when I meet someone new and tell them where I work. High schoolers and adults alike remember spending time at Wildwood with their sixth grade class or at summer camp. In fact, we estimate that 160,000 Kansas Citians have visited Wildwood at some point.
What’s wilder is that Wildwood is turning 40 this year!
We created a new 40th anniversary logo, and we think it’s time to re-tell the Wildwood story.
This month, Marcus Kain, one of our most dedicated volunteers reached 100 hours of service for Wildwood.
Marcus is a very active human. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, trail runner, and public speaker with a passion for mentoring youth. He regularly speaks to Kansas City area middle and high school students about business and ethics, and is currently writing a philosophy book.
Last week, I spent a cold afternoon placing colored LED lights in trees with a volunteer and fellow Wildwood staffer, preparing for the first Electric Night Hike. I grumbled. My fingers were numb, and I couldn’t imagine the lights looking good, much less magical.
As the sun went down though, I relaxed. The lights began showing through the trees, a line of green and yellow and red lights lighting up the path around the pond. It was indeed magical.
I stopped for a moment, breathing in chilled November air and gazing skyward. I was amazed how many stars were visible. Twinkling light that had traveled at least eight years to get to me, to camp.
My cold fingers and wind-burnt cheeks didn’t bother me any more. I remembered why this year’s fundraising campaign, Light Up Wildwood, matters.
What do electronic dance music, outlaw country music, and summer camp have in common? They all happen on the same 150 acres we call Wildwood Outdoor Education Center.
In 2019, we embarked on our second year of a contract with a local music festival company, Borda Productions. The company puts on two multi-day music festivals at Wildwood, bringing thousands of visitors to the Wildwood property each year.
The festivals, as you might imagine, are loud and different and, at the beginning of September, sweaty. Festival goers love Wildwood for its natural beauty, great camping areas, and convenient Miami County location.
When you think about summer camp, reading probably doesn’t spring to mind. You probably think about canoeing, fishing, archery, swimming, campfires, and new friends.
But reading has become an integral part of camp at Wildwood. In 2017, thanks to a generous grant from the Harry L. and Helen M. Rust Charitable Foundation at Commerce Bank, we were able to build the Wildwood library and adopt the “Explore 30” Camp Reading Program–a program that encourages everyone (campers and counselors) to read for at least thirty minutes each day.
This summer, I was “Noticed” by a fellow staff member for having a cheery attitude at camp. They handed me a blue rubber bracelet stamped with the words “I AM NOTICED.”
“Hey, I just wanted to give you this because I Noticed your good attitude, and I wanted you to know that it matters.”
“Thanks,” I said, still slightly confused, but grateful.
It had been a long week–the summer heat zapped everyone’s energy, and I had was working hard to keep a smile on my face. So I was tickled to be the recipient of an unexpected act of kindness and noticed for trying.
Although the bracelet didn’t match my style, it stayed on my desk all summer.
When I cleaned off my desk in early September, I wondered what being “Noticed” was all about.
Six times this summer I woke up early to meet the big yellow bus in local grocery store parking lot to load up campers for their journey to Wildwood.
Parents and their campersturn in their final paperwork with camp staff, load duffel bags and pillows into the rear door, give each other big hugs before they spend a week away from each other.
I love seeing the excitement of kids and parents, the slight smell of diesel, the squeak as the bus comes to a stop–it all reminds me of my week at Wildwood as a sixth grader. The excitement of going somewhere far away, on my own.