Camp Outlook: youth gaining confidence through wilderness experience.

Image by quiet.fyre |

Image by quiet.fyre |

I recently met with Mariana Borsuk-Gudz and Lucy Mackrell,  the winter and summer directors of Camp Outlook. As a registered Ontario charity, they run summer and winter camp programs for youth aged 13-17 who are referred by their school or social agencies.

The camp counselors bring high school students into the hills and along the waters of Ontario’s lake country, where the youth try canoeing, camping and hiking, often for the first time. Frequent trip locations are Frontenac Provincial Park and Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS).

Some youth face societal constraints such as financial hurdles or difficult family situations, which would normally prevent them from attending camp. Camp Outlook’s mission is to break down these barriers and give these youth the opportunity to attend camp.

Accessing nature in a meaningful way is often key in helping them overcome the barriers they face. Mariana has found that the initiatives of the program “encourage youth to realize their worth as individuals, their abilities, and their potential to achieve.” Many youth are working through hardship and struggles in their day to day lives, which can prevent them from achieving their potential.

Providing them with a fresh context in which to practice teamwork, develop confidence, and find their natural strengths and resilience can be hugely beneficial and even life changing.

Camp Outlook runs backcountry camp trips for a week at a time in the summer and each weekend throughout the winter.

In describing youth that return each week for winter trips, Mariana says, the “small victories” that are developed throughout each camper's experience are noticeable through changes in their demeanour and the way they approach problems.

Aside from “encouraging youth to realize their worth as individuals, their abilities and their potential to achieve,” the program also allows youth to develop a connection to nature. There is increasing evidence that interacting with nature is important for individual development, through creativity, mental well-being, self-esteem, and problem solving.

The qualities that nature provides cannot be taught, and must be developed through hands on experience. Lucy explained the story of one camper’s journey to get through a portage without stopping. “In real life, you cannot always achieve your goals in a concrete way, but the wilderness provides a tangible connection to achievement.”

The foundation of Camp Outlook encourages kids to develop a respect for the environment, and consequently, for themselves. As humans we are intrinsically connected to each other and our environment. Providing this experience to deserving youth gives them a chance to become a part of the large scale, healing nature of the environment, and may instill a lifelong respect for the natural world.

Studies have shown that childhood participation with nature correlates to adult environmental values, and that participating in wild nature, such as camping or hiking, has a positive relationship with adult environmental behaviour.

The initiative is Kingston-based and community-led, and the passion of the program leaders, who are students at Queen’s University, is inspiring. This program is made possible by the support of Camp Outlook alumni, community members, volunteers, Queen’s University financing and local businesses.  

For more information or involvement opportunities, please visit their website: