5 November 2014

On the 5th of November, 24 year old Matthew Campbell will nervously await to hear if he is being called out as Young Ambassador of the Year at The Prince’s Trust Awards. 

The 24 year old lived in the hostel at YMCA Surbiton when he got involved with the Prince’s Trust. With the support of the YMCA and the Trust, he managed to change his life around, and is now studying Youth Work at University.

Read part one of Matthew’s story here.

Summer at Lake Valley Camp

This summer has possibly been Matthew’s best summer, so far.

On 6th June he travelled to the States, and after a short stopover in Chicago, he ended up in Wisconsin. There, he spent the summer working as a counsellor at Lake Valley Camp; which he calls “a unique programme aimed at helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds through their adolescence”.

Matthew saw a poster for the camp at University, and decided to send in an application, since, as he says, “it fitted in perfectly with the youth work degree I was doing”.

Since I have been in trouble with the police when I was younger, it took a while to get the visa. In my interview with the camp staff I was honest and told them everything about my background. I didn’t feel that that harmed my chances. On the contrary, I think they appreciated my honesty”.

Beautiful surroundings

Matthew really didn’t know what to expect when he first travelled to the Lake Valley camp site.

When I first saw it I was amazed. It was fresh and modern, with massive open spaces. It was surreal!” he says.

The camp is situated 2 miles down a gravelled track named Hoover Hollow Road. As you turn right, onto another dirt track, you are welcomed by their iconic symbol of a young person clutching a canoe paddle above their head. As you travel up this mysterious dirt track, the buildings of the Camp begin to come into view”, says Matthew.

“The excitement starts to build as you look right and see the horse stables and gardening barn. As suggested by the name, Lake Valley Camp is based around a lake. The serenity created by the lake is enough to bring butterflies to the most sternest of characters”.

Before the children arrive for the summer, the camp Councillors undergo an intense, week long training program.

Most of the training fell in nicely with what I knew from before”, says Matthew.  “However, it was a real eye opener with presentations and information about the youth population of Wisconsin, many of whom have little support at home. For many, when they get to the age of 12 they are often left to care for themselves”, Matthew explains.

Used his own experiences

For the first part of the Lake Valley Camp, Matthew was a councillor at the “pioneer village”, where he was responsible for the youngest children.

It was a new experience for me, working with the youngest children aged 8-11 years. I was in charge of a cabin with eight kids, which is a lot of responsibility. However, it’s is also such a boost to the confidence.

My relationship with the young people was great. Many face the same things I have gone through, so we connected well. They get bad grades in school, and so did I. I talked to them about my own background and when they heard that only three years ago, I was homeless, it really put things in perspective.

The magic of supporting and advising the youngest participants is very special. From their first day you are laying down the foundations for their future development at the camp. Although it can be very challenging trying to teach young people as young as eight to follow expectations, it is also very rewarding. I am really looking forward to meeting the young people I worked with this year, again to see if any of the influences I had on them have stuck”, he says.

The magic of the camp fire

As with most camps, the camp fires were an extremely important part of the Lake Valley Camp, and Matthew says “It was just magical sitting there under the stars”.

Opening and closing camp fires brought tears of laughter to my eyes on many occasions. The Camp fires are a time where participants and staff show case some of their best, and worst, talents. From rapping to well-rehearsed dance routines, the camp fires were a real joy and one of the highlights of my summer. By the end of the night, Jim the camp director brought out his guitar for a very soothing and relaxing song that sums the camp up and brings everyone together as a family.”

Will be back next year

Matthew has already been asked to come back next year, and is determined to do so. He feels that the Lake Valley Camp has become his “second family”.

“Being part of the Lake Valley Camp team this year has really made me feel part of something special. I now feel as if I have two families, one here in south London and another in America. I really do feel like Lake Valley Camp is my new home”.

Working at the Lake Valley Camp was a great personal development, and it has really put my head where I want to go now. Before I went there I felt a bit demotivated with my studies, and thought about switching over from youth work to social work. Now I know youth work is where I want to be”.