ETC Campers Find a Community Amid Challenges

By: Mollie Shauger | Thursday, October 17, 2019 | Summer Camp

The Explorers group and their trip leaders.

True to its name, the Environmental Trips for Challenge program at Fairview Lake YMCA Camps offers a challenge for new and returning campers alike. Programs vary by the degree of challenges and adventures off the camp grounds.

The challenges could also be personal: it could be a fear of bugs or general apprehension about being outdoors. 

It was camper Sunjarae B.’s first time doing the two-week Explorers program in August, where he canoed more than 40 miles down the Delaware River and hiked more than 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail. He learned how important teamwork is. “I want to quit everyday but I had amazing staff and campers who supported me,” the Newark teen said.

In fact, it was teamwork that that was the most stark change from the first days of the trip to the last, counselors with the Explorers program noted, and it was noticed even in the smallest interactions. The campers would help their peers figure out how to distribute weight if a backpack was too heavy, or offer to carry someone’s water bottle.

“The best part is seeing them solve problems,” said Dina Zemlyanker, one of the trip leaders. “It’s very nice to see them helping each other.”

From the first days of team building, the Explorers campers said they started to feel like a family, making jokes together and even coming up with a song that helped to motivate them. 

Will Schaefer, a counselor with the ETC programs, said campers come together as a team over the course of their stay. Being together from morning to night is one reason for that. “There’s just something different about ETC than traditional camp,” Schaefer said. “I feel like it’s more inclusive in certain ways. It works to break down certain [social] barriers.”

Beyond gaining knowledge about the environment, ETC campers learn invaluable skills that they can use long after camp ends, such as teamwork and problem solving. Before their trips, campers participate in team-building exercises. They also decide on the meals they will eat as a group, which has included chicken quesadillas and vegetarian chili. 

The team-building and bonding that happens in the beginning of camp and at the end sets the ETC programs apart from other environmental-focused camps, noted ETC Director Brendan Rearer. The relationships and the camaraderie the campers build can help them overcome the toughest challenges.

“What is cool about ETC is the recreational activities offered are new, exciting and varied to the campers. The ability to have fun, safe outdoor adventures helps build community and connect with other people while overcoming the same challenges,” Rearer said. “It is really cool to see how campers improve their initiative, responsibility and resiliency after completing a trip.”

For more information about ETC programs at Fairview Lake YMCA Camps, visit



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