In 2009, Shenandoah National Park established a cooperative agreement with Northern Virginia Community College to develop an ecology-based educational camp for urban and under-served youth. The project was named Camp SEED (Students Encouraging Environmental Discovery). The pilot program brought urban youth from Washington, DC to Shenandoah National Park for hikes, educational discussions and an overnight camping experience. Shenandoah National Park staff helped the children overcome their anxieties about being in the woods, hiked with them to expose them to the many wonderful features in the park and demonstrated the health and mental health benefits of an outdoor experience. Because this was a service learning camp, the children gained valuable skills, exposure to careers within the National Park Service, and a sense of pride in a job well done.
The camp was highly successful. One camper said, “My confidence has increased and I’m not scared of a lot of things anymore. I can’t really say ‘I CAN’T’ anymore. This week made me proud of myself.” Another camper blogged that “being in the woods lightened my spirit and made me feel happy and a better person. This place is not only a place to get away from the stress of urban life but a place where you can find another family.”
Due to the nature of federal funding, Shenandoah National Park has been able to run summer camps only intermittently over the past several summers. The Trust has therefore committed to funding two session of camp in 2014 to help re-launch this program in earnest.