The kids born in the 1990s are known as Generation Z. They have grown up with the World Wide Web and are highly connected because of the Internet. Instant messaging, text messaging, smartphones, tablet computers and social networking are part of their fiber. They have 24-hour access to the Internet with their mobile phones in their pockets. This generation would rather text than talk. They prefer to communicate online, many times with friends they have not actually met. They don't spend much time outdoors, unless adults force them into an organized activity.
America needs to send all of these kids to summer camp before this generation loses the values that have driven our country since the beginning. Summer camps have been a U.S. tradition for more than 150 years, according to PBS and Kaboose. Back then, before air conditioning was invented (living in Arizona, I can attest how important air conditioning has become), hot city summers were miserable and even unhealthy for children, so escaping to the country for a few weeks was the thing to do. Today, there are several other reasons why Generation Z must go to camp. They need to actually meet new people who are not part of their virtual world. Camp provides not only peers, but positive role models in counselors and those running camp projects. They need to learn risk-taking by trying new things and challenging themselves with a new sport or swimming or obstacle courses. They need to learn creativity with crafts or dancing.
Today's camps are so different compared to the traditional camps of my generation. In addition to general camps, there are specialty camps - sports camps, like basketball or horseback riding; academic camps, like biology or math; adventure camps, like scuba diving or rock climbing; arts camps, like theater or music; specialty interest camps for cooking or chess; religious camps and special needs camps.
Let's take a look at the special needs camps. Camp for All lists camps for epilepsy, cancer, special needs, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, arthritis and many more; most of these are nonprofit organizations that are helping kids with challenging illnesses or special needs. Those kids that need to go to these camps usually can't afford it because their families have spent so much already to keep them alive.
According to The Pew Research Center, the wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to its widest margin on record. Americans 65 and older have an average net worth 47 times those of people 35 and younger, who are most likely the parents of the Generation Z. So we have a bunch of kids out there who just can't afford to go to camp, which means we as Americans are short-changing this important generation.
The American Camp Association, the largest nonprofit organization for camps, including great camps like The Salvation Army camps, Girl Scout camps, Boy Scout camps, YMCA camps, 4H Camps and many more; has an easy way for you to make a donation online to send underprivileged kids to camp. Dollar Days, on its Facebook page, sponsored by Dr. Pepper, is taking nominations of worthy camps to win products to help support their camps. The famous Hole in the Wall camp, founded by the late Paul Newman, makes it easy to donate to help children with serious illnesses have a chance to simply be children.
In the evolution of life, it is time for the Baby Boomer Generation and Generation X to step up to make sure we do not lose this newest Generation Z to the virtual world. We need to get these kids out playing and communicating and winning and losing so they can take our place in getting this country back to leading the world in economic and ethical ways. Help send these kids to camp this summer. Who knows, Generation Z might produce a future president.
Marc Joseph is the author of The Secrets of Retailing, Or: How to Beat Wal-Mart! and the CEO/President and founder of DollarDays International Inc.