Article published to Cooperation Works Newsletter 8/2019
It was early in the morning when Stephen McDow, Keystone Development Center’s (KDC) director of membership & development, along with his sons Sebastien and George-Arthur, left their home in rural Maryland for a two-day trek to Chippewa Falls, WI, to attend the Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Kamp Kenwood. While Stephen’s kids attended the camp, Stephen was imbedded as a counselor to observe so that he can apply what he learned to KDC’s youth education program in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The journey was filled with car trouble, constant bathroom breaks and need for snacks. However, after their long nearly 1,000-mile journey to the upper Midwest, the dynamic trio made it to camp.
Named in honor of Wisconsin Farmers Union’s President, Ken Hones, Kamp Kenwood began in the 1940s and has had more than 50 years in operation, according to their website, “offering a place for people of all ages to come together to celebrate, to learn, and to enjoy family, friends, and nature.”
The first few hours of camp were what you could expect. Enthusiastic campers arrived with their parents, stood in line to check-in, and received a wellness check. Not only were the campers excited, but the energy from the staff was noticeably palpable. Bright-eyed and energetic camp counselors, led by the fabulous co-operator Cathy Statz, Director of Education, were ready to get on with an action-packed co-opy time filled with free play, tasty treats, great food, as well as singing and learning about the sectorial diversity within the co-operative eco-system.
Sebastien and George-Arthur met their camp counselors Trevor and Kieran, as well as their fellow campers. Stephen observed as Trevor and Kieran made sure the young people made their beds, got settled in, and understood the rules of the cabin. The counselors then told Stephen how he could be helpful. Stephen says people might think he is being hyperbolic but,
I didn’t know what I agreed to, but I am glad I did. For more than 15 hours per day, these counselors, ranging from high school to college-aged, were smiling, dancing, and playing with 62 young people from rural communities in Wisconsin. I had to keep up and for the first time, I realized that I needed to marathon train to be in shape <<joking>>. Overall, they wanted me to make sure the kids were brushing their teeth, beds were made and the floor was swept.
Stephen went on to say,
As cabin dad, I made sure I was up at 5:30 am to be prepared for the daily routines and to help. A hand-full of campers and counselors woke up at 6:00 am to go on a nature hike. At 7:00 am, a loud rooster crowed, and Cathy greeted everyone with a wakeup call. I then helped make sure the campers brushed their teeth and got dressed for the day.
With 15 campers, two counselors and a cabin dad, somewhat of a controlled chaos ensued. Young people started to make their beds, sweep the floors, wipe down the bathroom sink and make sure the toilets were not too bad. Trevor ran a tight, but fun ship. He checked every bed – including Stephen’s! – and made sure the floor was properly swept. Stephen reports, “Trevor was an awesome dude and made sure the cabin was spotless. It was his leadership that resulted in our cabin winning the “Best Clean Cabin” and earning Bruce the Penguin rights for the evening – it’s a camp thing.”
Bruce the Penguin is sort of a camp mascot and it gets passed around from cabin to cabin to those who do things like keep their cabins clean. The best part: the campers are the judges! It is a fun way to achieve basic tasks and chores without being dogmatic or authoritarian.
After the cabins were in tip-top shape, the campers gathered around the flagpole, just outside the dining hall, to raise the American flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say an inclusive grace which thanked the farmers and the land for providing good food to eat.
Stephen felt like another great aspect to Kamp Kenwood was the co-op store. Every camper got to experience opening a co-operative business and being a member-owner. The young people elected a governance board and paid their dividend to fund the co-op! It was excellent member participation and these young people embodied the purest example of our co-operative principles. Campers ran the store and at the end of camp, they return a patronage dividend from the proceeds and decided where they wanted the majority of the money to be invested.
Also, over the course of 4 days, campers talked about, for example, the advantages and power of producer co-ops, what a worker co-op is, and why did housing co-ops begin. One of the highlights of camp came during the learning sessions when counselor Lexie asked the young people how much they knew about Rochdale in England and the United Kingdom’s cooperative movement.
Please watch the video: https://youtu.be/_2LUClnsV_I
Stephen sang great camp songs like Bazooka Bubblegum which caused him to reflect on his days as a camp counselor at Camp Sunshine within the Washington, DC Family and Child Services where he, along with his fellow counselors, provided abused and neglected young people a place to just be kids and have fun in the Prince William County, Virginia, forest.
Stephen’s youngest son, George-Arthur, was asked about his most memorable moment in camp, “My friend Ben and I played a lot and we had so much fun learning about Water Sheds.”
Both Sebastien and George-Arthur commented that Kamp Kenwood’s version of capture the flag was AWESOME, too!
Every day was action-packed and programing nearly went nonstop. Between the interactive skits, playing dress-up, learning and singing, life at Kamp Kenwood ended around 9:30 pm when Trevor told the campers a bedtime story. Stephen felt like the Rocky Balboa story was the best. Trevor told the Rocky story orally and Stephen felt like he was watching the actual movie.
Overall, Cathy Statz and Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Kamp Kenwood provide young people the opportunity to learn about different types of co-ops and their sectors in America and around the world, as well as about how co-operatives are inclusive and help fight against economic and racial injustice.
Kamp Kenwood is a must-attend. Stephen created a fun video to give you a sample, check it out here! https://youtu.be/JUtWa9p5LW4