For many youth and children across the state, summer camp is a rite of passage. Often, youth find formative friendships and grow their foundational social skills, all while establishing a life-long appreciation for the natural world around them.

Camp Millican worker in a tan shirt and red hat kneels down to explain something to a young camper in a blue shirt.
Camp Millican worker takes a moment to teach campers about the outdoors. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)

However, for various reasons, not every child can attend summer camp. This summer, 10 Brazos Valley youth were given the opportunity to attend camp when they otherwise would not have had the opportunity.

With assistance from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 10 scholarships were created and given to youth from the Boys and Girls Club of Brazos Valley that allowed them to attend a local summer camp, Camp Millican.

“We are fortunate to be able to connect grants with opportunity and opportunity with children in need to create an amazing summer experience,” said Chad Nelson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department and Camp Millican director.

Camp Millican is a week-long camp for kids ages 4-14. The camp was created to inspire youth to spend time outside, learn the “do’s and don’ts” of nature, and take what they learned to teach those around them.

Darlene Locke, AgriLife Extension specialist and associate head in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications, Bryan-College Station, said youth will one day be the leaders making decisions. It’s important for them to learn how to connect with nature in a camp environment where they learn about both nature and people.

Helping youth access the outdoors

LeAnne Pollock, AgriLife Extension project coordinator and assistant director at Camp Millican, was finishing her master’s degree when she helped kickstart the scholarship program. Her final master’s degree project involved two schools in the Bryan/College Station area, where she would teach groups of students about the outdoors and have them participate in educational and fun activities.

As she finished that project, she found she had extra funding and decided to donate the remaining amount to Camp Millican to create the scholarships that allowed additional youth to attend the Camp Millican summer camp.

“My passion is to get kids who don’t have the opportunity or access into the outdoors,” said Pollock. “Watching these kids enjoy learning and spending time in nature is something we can’t put a price on.”

Importance and mission of youth being in nature

“Sometimes, in our very busy schedules, we get complacent with the beauty of what’s around us,” said Locke. “It’s important to stop and breathe – to realize the beauty and serenity and to connect with nature.”

Reaffirming this importance in his summer camp programming, Nelson, known as “Mr. Chad,” and his team plan daily activities such as fishing, nature walks, friendship development games, knot tying and “leave no trace” principles outside where the campers spend most of their day.

“We have opportunities to teach the campers how the smallest thing can affect nature,” said Nelson. “They learn how to take care of our ecosystem, about the water cycle and that although we might not think it, bugs and snakes have a role in nature.”

For example, during a hike, campers noticed a turtle digging a hole to lay eggs. As kids do, they were eager to run over to the turtle and pick it up, but Nelson was able to take this moment and explain to the campers that disturbing the turtle could potentially interfere with her breeding process.

After spending time with the students, the team encouraged them to continue being stewards of nature and share what they learned that week with their friends and family.

Further opportunities with Camp Millican

Preparations for the 2024 Camp Millican have already started.

“Dr. Nelson and I are working on another grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife to create more camp scholarships,” said Pollock.

Camp Millican is also planning a “sensory day” in the spring for campers with special needs and disabilities.

“We want all kids to have access to nature,” said Nelson. “And we want them to feel good about that experience. We want them to have fun and feel confident in a way that makes them want to spend more time in nature and give back to their community.”

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