GREENVILLE — Three young men from Nashville, Tennessee, graduated from The Light Foundation’s Outdoor Leadership Camp Wednesday, leaving Darke County better prepared to be leaders back home.
The Light Foundation hosted 14 campers from Nashville, Tennessee; Providence, Rhode Island; Worcester, Massachusetts and New Orleans for 10 days at Chenoweth Trails, which is the foundation’s facility near Greenville.
“They’ll remember Darke County for many things, maybe the mosquitoes, maybe the mud, maybe the smell of livestock, but there will be a lot more in there, too,” said Matt Light, a Greenville native and the founder of The Light Foundation. “And this will be a part of their lives forever.”
The camp is part of a four-year program that teaches the campers about leadership and making good decisions. By instilling responsibility in the boys and making them work hard, Light and the other camp counselors hope to mold them into leaders.
“When you take them out and you let them go see what some hard work looks like and what giving back looks like at the Brethren Retirement Community, they not only get that side of it but they also get to meet a lot of the people that are living there are hear their stories,” Light said.
The camp included a service project in which the boys constructed a pergola and did maintenance at Brethren Retirement Community. They also helped set up at Garst Museum for the Gathering at Garst.
“I think community service is a crucial part of this camp,” Ellijah McLean of Providence, Rhode Island, said. “In order to come to camp, we have to do community service at home. If we don’t, we get stuff taken away that’s usually fun to us like dirt biking or go-karting. So this camp really pushes you to do the right thing. I’m not sure if when I was in eighth grade I would have done the right thing just to do it. But after coming here, I learned doing the right thing, you don’t necessarily have to be rewarded for it. It’s more a reward to yourself. You feel great about it.”
There’s also a lot of fun built into the camp including dirt-biking, playing paintball, playing basketball and fishing. Fireside chats in which everyone talks about their lives also are a big part of camp.
“A lot of fun but we also work for the fun,” McLean said.
The camp is a big event for The Light Foundation and its youth but just a small part of a year-long effort.
“This is fun, and this is great to have this time,” Light said. “But this is really just kind of one very small piece of a much bigger puzzle.
“You look at this as the Super Bow, really. This time that we all spend together, this is where we create that bond. We’re one big family, and they get to meet all the people that are behind the scenes from the cooks to the clean up crew and this, that and the other. But really the hard work, all the practice, takes place throughout the rest of the year leading up to this time.”
Nick Schuckman, The Light Foundation’s programs director, checks in with each of the boys weekly throughout the year. The foundation also makes quarterly trips to visit the boys and make sure they’re staying on the right path.
“He calls every week and reminds us of what our goals are,” De’Chon Chithambo of Nashville said. “Like he doesn’t let us forget anything. We tell him whenever we’re doing good stuff and even like the bad stuff like if we forget to do a homework assignment or something. He’s a really good motivator and keeps us going with everything that we should be keeping from camp and taking home with us.”
The camp started with two groups of boys but has grown to include as many as 16 from four communities throughout the United States. The boys come back to camp each year, provided they stay on course and keep doing the right thing.
In coming to camp, the guys get to have some fun, bond with each other, learn some lessons and see life beyond their home communities.
“For a lot of these kids, they live their lives in a bubble,” Light said. “They don’t get to get outside of the box. They don’t get to see things from a different perspective. Unfortunately they’re learning from the same stupid mistakes from the people around them and not really getting that other side.”
Nicholas Vincent of Nashville said the past four years have taught him how to be a leader.
“These past four years have been really good to me,” Vincent said. “I’ve gone my sickness and stuff like that, but I’ve gotten through it, and I know that I’m going to be successful. I wouldn’t want to leave this camp behind without knowing I left an impression on somebody.”
The campers can leave an impression on people through their community service and by leading the younger members of the camp.
“The past few years I think I kind of found myself,” McLean said. “Freshman year, I was a little on the rocks a little bit. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be with myself. But coming to camp, looking up to Matt, Nick, Brian (Rehmert) and all our other counselors, I’ve learned so much about life, and I found out who I am now.”
The guys have created bonds that they said continue even when they’re hundreds of miles apart.
“I’m just going to miss this camp a lot because I’ve gained an extended family,” Chithambo said.
“I’m really going to miss my brothers here,” Vincent said.
The campers have come a long way, Light said, as have the counselors.
“This in my opinion has been our best year yet,” Light said. “I feel like we said that last year and maybe even the year before that. And it’s like anything else — you learn a lot from previous years. And I think we’ve learned a lot as counselors, and I think these kids are starting to see what these older guys are doing in camp.”