Wayfinders, known for over 30 years as Bruce Irons Camp Fund, addresses academic and social capital gaps by including low-income and minority children in a 5-8 year-long program centered around summer camp. Our unique model that blends attendance at high-quality, multi-week residential summer camps, participation in year-round enrichment programming, and support of a dedicated adult mentor for five+ years gives students from high-poverty schools the opportunity to supplement their education with experiences that improve academic achievement and increase confidence, independence, and social capital.
Admitted to the program as fourth graders, Wayfinders scholars attend three summers of multiple week overnight camp in the NC mountains (grades 4-6) and three summers of STEAM/STEM/Leadership camp on college campuses (grades 7-9). Participants are also included in year-round enrichment programs designed to reinforce learning and increase social capital, such as swim lessons, technology workshops, hiking excursions, community service activities, theater and museum outings, job shadowing, paid internships, and targeted leadership programs. Each scholar is outfitted for camp with a trunk, bedding, and other essentials, and they are paired with a dedicated adult mentor who prepares them for camp and supports them for at least five years. In 2019, Wayfinders changed its name and adopted a new program model that expanded and refined our scope to allow students to remain in the program through 12th grade (8 years total). Mentors of high school scholars continue to support their mentees during their high school years by connecting scholars to existing college and career preparatory programs. Summer and year-round programming is also tailored to scholars’ specific interests and can include placement in camp leadership roles, job-shadowing opportunities, paid internships and jobs, or attendance at summer camps that are career-focused, such as STEM, culinary arts, or construction.
There are two pervasive critical needs addressed through Wayfinders: academic summer slide and lack of access to social capital. In a phenomenon known as “summer slide,” students who live in poverty lose up to 30% of their school-year learning over the summer, and the losses are more pronounced for black and Latino students. In addition, unlike higher-income white students, low-income and minority children have less access to “social capital,” which are the networks, understanding of social norms, and trust in institutions that enable children and adults to achieve educational and economic success — a disparity that is exacerbated in the summer months when students are not in school. Examples of social capital access points enjoyed by higher-income children but not by lower-income students over the summer include travel, visits to cultural institutions, and participation in camps and enrichment activities. Researchers have documented that social capital is as important as economic capital for successful societies.
“Helping opportunity find every child,” our new tagline, means that our job as a community is to fix something that is wrong with the world. Although we provide kids with experiences like summer camp that will help them grow, what we do through mentoring, access to opportunities, and the building of social capital is about fixing the world, not fixing the child. We remove obstacles to opportunity so that our scholars can flourish and reach their full potential — so they can become WAYFINDERS.