Outside Influences

A Thousand Summers has the great fortune to partner with some of the highest quality outdoor adventure summer camps in the United States. Though their natural environments differ, they share common philosophies of social and emotional growth through supportive communities and outdoor experiences.

“Outside” looks different for the kids in our A Thousand Summers program depending on which camp they attend. They might spend their summer exploring Rocky Mountain National Park or the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. They may find themselves at the bottom of a rock canyon in the Utah desert or learning about ancient cultures at Mesa Verde and in the Four Corners region. They may learn to love the remote North Woods of Maine and the Appalachian Trail or the stunning lakes of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Some even get to venture internationally to canoe through the pristine wilderness and interconnected waterways of the Canadian Boundary Waters. And starting this summer (2022), some of our campers will have the amazing experience of living in the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest at our newest associate camp, Camp Nor’wester.

I see the impact of camp on my son. He is much more responsible, independent, and confident in himself. Thank you for allowing these low income kids to have these opportunities and beautiful experiences in their lives…You have had a great impact on my son’s life that he will never forget.

  • parent of a Sanborn Western Camps camper

“My son had very welcoming and friendly camp counselors. He LOVED them. I know that those counselors made a huge difference for him. He was AFFIRMED. He was encouraged. He was accepted. It was great.”

  • parent of a Camp Kawanhee for Boys camper

Regardless of which camp they attend, all of our kids experience incredible scenery and invigorating activities from sunup to sundown. The highlight of their day might be standing on the summit of a snow-capped 14,000-foot peak, hiking to a pristine lake deep in the backcountry, or sleeping under the stars on a multi-night backpacking trip. Maybe they enjoy a lunch on the trail in the middle of a wildflower meadow, a shaded forest, or on the fragile tundra. They might feel the exhilaration of sliding down a summer snowfield or rafting or canoeing through whitewater canyons.

“Being outside and with other kids—this has been a huge lack in his life, and I am so glad he has gotten a chance to do both of those. He is maturing so much, and I can see the leaps from before to after camp. He is calmer, he is more confident, he feels more steady within himself. It is wonderful.” 

  • parent of Kooch-i-Ching camper

They could spend their days learning backcountry camping and survival skills—how to build a fire, cook outdoors, pitch a tent, build a shelter, use a map and compass, administer first aid, and Leave No Trace. They may overcome fear and self-doubt on a technical climbing route or create lifelong memories when things don’t go as planned on a challenging hike. They might experience the peaceful sounds of the canoe or kayak paddle dipping gently into the smooth water or the exhaustion of spending the day battling a strong headwind or navigating difficult portages.

“Each year I talk about the small summer successes that have pushed my daughter to growth. But now, as the years have passed, I see an overall picture, one that has deeply been shaped by her experiences at summer camp, the loving guidance of the camp, and the commitment of her mentor. She is passionate, driven, not willing to accept no as an answer, motivated to take the difficult route, and determined to succeed. It has been a beautiful journey to watch unfold. I cannot wait to see how that continues throughout high school and into her leadership years at camp.” 

  • parent of a Clearwater Camp for Girls camper

Maybe their day is spent as simply as splashing their friends in a cold mountain stream, building rudimentary stick dams in the creek, and letting their imaginations roam. Their time may be spent collecting firewood, finding the perfect flat spot to pitch a tent, and ending the day by roasting marshmallows and singing songs with friends around a campfire.

However they choose to spend their days at camp and whatever “outside” looks like at that particular camp, the kids learn and grow through their experiences. Their time away from home in a challenging yet supportive outdoor environment pushes them out of their comfort zone. They try new activities, meet new people, and discover new things about themselves. They become more confident, more independent, more responsible, and more resilient. Camp teaches kids life lessons and helps them develop essential social-emotional skills that stretch their potential and help them realize there are no limits to what they are capable of achieving.

“My son definitely feels like he was able to overcome some challenges and anxiety this summer. He has come home with a more relaxed demeanor and things don’t seem to agitate him as much as they did before…he seems to be much more able to roll with things since his return.”

  • parent of a Camp Thunderbird camper

“I am always astounded at what a different young woman comes home from camp each year…there is a new maturity, a clarity about the purpose of her life and her place in the world, a newfound understanding of what is truly important in life and her role in making a difference in other’s lives.”

  • parent of a Cheley Colorado Camps camper

The A Thousand Summers Campership Program opens up a whole new world to our kids and, in many cases, has a profound impact. The parents of our campers regularly tell us how incredibly grateful they are for this opportunity and what a remarkable difference it made for their child. As you can see from the parent comments we’ve included here, the particular camp they attend or the natural environment of the camp doesn’t matter. The personal growth experienced is universal.

“I have seen lots of different programs throughout my life that are geared toward kids and their growth. This is one of the best I have seen by far. My favorite part of this is growth in themselves in an austere environment. It is far too easy for our kids in today’s world to stay in a comfort zone of screens and social media. By unplugging them for a long period of time and sending them into areas where discomfort is going to be normal, they tap into a whole new area of development and self-discovery. This is just an amazing thing, and I can’t say enough about how much it has helped my son.” 

  • parent of a Colvig Silver Camps camper

Summer camp is powerful in many ways and unquestionably important in the development of young people. Thank you to our wonderful associate camps who provide such rich programming opportunities and experiences for the kids we serve. And thank you to everyone who finds it in his or her heart to share the gift of camp, whether that gift is for their own family members or for kids who deserve the opportunities and advantages that summer camp provides.

“This opportunity that you have given our daughter to attend camp in a different ecosystem, surrounded by inspiring counselors with college experience, has been a window into another way of life she will always have with her… Our family is grateful and blessed with your generosity, which has helped our daughter explore beyond what our family can provide.”

  • parent of an Ogichi Daa Kwe camper


Camp Kooch-i-ching

On the shores of Deer Island on Rainy Lake in northern Minnesota sits one of JACF’s newest associate camps—Kooch-i-ching. Just outside of the town of International Falls and very close to the Canadian border, Kooch-i-ching welcomed its first campers in 1925 and offers programming for boys in grades 3-11. Kooch-i-ching has a long history of inspiring “the growth of young men through fun, challenging, wilderness adventures that promote self-discovery, teamwork and service to others.”


JACF began sending campers to Kooch-i-ching in 2017 and will send 8 boys this summer to the unspoiled wilderness of northern Minnesota and the finest canoe country in the world. Campers at Kooch-i-ching canoe through Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, following the trails of voyageurs and fur traders as well as blazing new trails. For those campers who prefer land to water, Kooch-i-ching also offers extended backpacking and climbing trips in the Rockies and western United States.

Regardless of which adventures campers choose, they all have new experiences that challenge them to plan, prepare, problem solve, and work as a team. They strengthen their friendships and build character as they work together to meet and master the challenges they face. These trips are hard work and push campers to their limits, but they are also incredibly rewarding and fun.

Advanced wilderness trips, the three-week “Big Trips,” have become an important tradition at Kooch-i-ching. For the oldest, most experienced Kooch-i-ching campers, the “Big Trip”—a 350-mile canoe trip to Hudson Bay, Canada—is an adventurous rite of passage that will never be forgotten. You know you are very far north and really out in the wild when eight polar bears are walking near your campsite!


Kooch-i-ching also offers a strong in-camp program that includes land and water-based activities, skill development, athletics, and campfires. The Native American program is one of the most popular programs at Kooch-i-ching and teaches Native American dancing and crafts, culminating in the long-standing tradition of the Grand Council display. Campers at Kooch-i-ching also participate in community service activities while at camp to help build and take care of the camp facilities.


Campers and staff participate in the Grand Council in front of parents as a part of camp’s final weekend celebrations

Similar to many of JACF’s other associate camps, Kooch-i-ching campers work to uphold a timeless code of ethics—in this case, it is called the Law of the Woods. Inspired by Native American values, the Law of the Woods encourages individuals to:

Be clean

Be strong

Protect all harmless wildlife

Speak true

Play fair

Be reverent

Be brave

Be silent


Be kind

Be helpful

Be joyful


JACF is proud to partner with Kooch-i-ching to offer the experience of a lifetime for some of our amazing kids. Though Kooch-i-ching is a camp for boys, it also has a sister camp in the same area called Ogichi Daa Kwe for girls in grades 2-12. Ogichi Daa Kwe is a newer camp, established in 2005 and offers similar programming for girls. Ogichi “empowers the strong spirits of young women where the characteristics of teamwork, confidence, perseverance, integrity, leadership and respect are cultivated as the cornerstones of a strong, spirited adulthood.” This summer, 5 JACF girls will challenge themselves through the wilderness programs at Ogichi Daa Kwe.



Both Kooch-I-Ching and Ogichi Daa Kwe are run by the Camping and Education Foundation based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hugh Haller, President/CEO of the Camping and Education Foundation says,


Our partnership with JACF represents a new horizon for us. We have always provided opportunities for underserved youth but, in recent years, we have become much more intentional about this effort. Sometimes, folks will ask why this is so important to us and my response, simply put, is because it is additive. Whether it is experiencing cabin life with kids from all walks of life, or on a wilderness canoe trip where there is no bench and no place to hide, offering these type of immersions to those who would otherwise never get the chance is as transformative for our camp community as it is for our scholarship campers. JACF recognizes this value more than most – their entire mission and vision supports this belief – and we look forward to growing with them for many years to come.

For more information, please visit:

Kooch-I-Ching:   https://www.koochiching.org

Ogichi Daa Kwe:  https://www.ogichi.org

Building Community – The Ogichi Daa ‘Kwe’

RAINY LAKE — It’s early afternoon on the shores of Frank’s Bay, International Falls, MN and a lunch bell starts to ring.

From all directions, campers and staff descend upon the dining room in the camp’s impressive main hall.

After a morning of rock climbing, canoe building, archery, weaving, sailing, trip preparations and more, energy from the group is high. Some girls have already found their seats at the round tables – designed so nobody gets lost on a long bench – while others gather into a circle listening to songs written and recorded by some of last year’s campers and staff. Camp Director, Kathy Dix guides JACF trustee Kirstin Sullivan and Executive Director, Tim Lucas to a table toward the front of the hall.

The sense of friendship within the great hall is strong. The feeling of welcome is comforting.

There’s no assigned seating. The older girls don’t just sit with the older girls, each table is a balance of all ages. Everyone gets along. It’s what the camp prides itself on.

“These girls are building long-lasting bonds,” said Kathy. And those bonds were clear.

Before indulging into the allergy attentive, made-from-scratch meal, grace is chanted and smiles are exchanged by the girls. With their messy ponytails and sun-kissed cheeks, it’s clear camp is one of their favorite places to be.

“This is so good,” says returning camper Gemma as she takes a bite of her lunch. A native of Chicago, Gemma says she loves coming to camp in International Falls. She speaks highly of the camp community and everything that comes along with it.

“We work in tribes,” she said. “I’m part of the south tribe.”

The purpose of the tribes is to establish vertical friendships among the camp’s more seasoned campers all the way down to the younger girls, known in the Ogichi world as the “chickadees.”

“The tribes rotate chores,” Kathy explained. While many teenage girls may gripe about the thought of scrubbing showers and scraping food off hundreds of dishes, Gemma expressed excitement over the duties.

“It’s fun,” Gemma said. “It’s how we keep the camp clean. It gives us some responsibilities.”

The groups makes the best of it. After lunch, the tribe assigned to dish duty turns up the music and turns the task into a dance party, complete with bumping hips and contagious fits of laughter. Regardless of where the girls are from (and the diversity is broad), bonds were forming that would likely last a lifetime.

There is a reason girls come back year after year as campers and then eventually as staff members. This place leaves its mark on these girls. Powerful memories are made out here. It’s incredible.

For the first time JACF campers will venture to the shores of Rainy Lake and join the community of Ogichi Daa Kwe, in anticipation that this summer will be the time when  camp first leaves its mark.



Aspects of this blog appeared in the ifallsjournal.com

Why I’m Thankful for Camp Thunderbird

We are very fortunate to partner with some amazing summer camps, offering incredible and life changing experiences for their campers. Every now and again we are able to share these experiences through their eyes.

Thunderbird taught me independence, as I learned from a young age how to live away from home without my parents, which made coming to college relatively easy for me. I learned to embrace my quirks and cherish them.

Check out more reflection in this post from Camp Thunderbird alum, Shelly Feldman.






Camp Visit to Sanborn Western Camps

Members of the JACF staff and Board of Trustees recently conducted a visit to Sanborn Western Camps in Florissant, CO and what an experience it was! As a part of our ongoing quality control, we evaluate our associate camps on a regular basis before offering to renew our association. An important part of that process is the site visit. Thanks to the visit team of Debbie Leibold (Board President), Buffie Berger (Executive Director), Mike ‘Saybo’ Seybold and Tim Lucas (seen here with JACF campers Luis and DeJuan); and our thanks to Jane Sanborn and her amazing staff.