From the Desk of Joel Sieplinga

Can Camp Help Solve the Mental Health Crisis?

by Joel Sieplinga

The end of the year is a busy time in the Sieplinga house. Two young kids, both with December birthdays, mixed in with all of the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations makes for a lot of gatherings with friends and family. The other day, after several days of back-to-back parties, my (almost) 8-year-old asked from the backseat of the car, “who’s coming over today?” When we answered that no one was coming over, it was – gasp – just us, my son asked if we could invite some friends over.

We are made for community.

Even those who consider themselves introverted are hard-wired to connect with others. It’s not just my family, either. All people, but particularly teens, need connection with others. And there is a connection and friendship deficit in our culture right now. Consider this from a recent article in the Washington Post:

“Studies have shown that children who develop supportive, trusting friendships with others their age are more likely to become healthy, happy and professionally successful adults. This insight may be particularly timely, because so many teens are struggling. Psychiatric emergency room visits have been rising among adolescents, and top health authorities are warning that the United States is in the midst of a teen mental health crisis that the pandemic has only intensified.”

And this from Mental Health First Aid:

“No matter how old you are or what you’re going through, healthy and close friendships encourage positive mental health and well-being.”

Thankfully, there is not a friendship deficit at camp. We have designed our programs for this very cause. That is why we have so many intentional spaces at camp. The fire pits in front of each cabin are situated so that a group of dads and daughters can talk, share stories, and laugh during a weekend campout. The opening campfire at River Village is round, so you can look across and see the other students in your class singing and laughing to Boom-chika-boom.

As I have been giving tours of the soon-to-be-complete Barbara F. Kampen Dining Hall, I emphasize the number of round tables that can fit in the dining space. Tables where kids, counselors, families, and groups will be able to gather around a meal and talk. For some of our campers, the only times when they sit down and talk over dinner, uninterrupted from a screen, is around Thanksgiving or Christmas, and in the dining halls of Camp Tecumseh.

And so, as you load up into the car, on your way to yet another gathering, whether you are excited about seeing more people, or secretly wishing you could just stay at home alone in your pajamas, remember the fourth line from the Sagamore Creed: My friends are important to me and I am important to them, therefore I will care for my friendships and help them to grow.

With your support, we can change the world. We can be a place that builds community builders and leaders. Help us out at