BOSCOBEL - Tucked away in a beautiful valley, just east of Boscobel and north of the Wisconsin River, is an inspiring institution dedicated to fostering leadership skills in young people with promise.
Lake Valley Camp, or as the program is now known, ‘The PEAK Initiative,’ has existed in the area since 2003. To reach the 650-acre camp in rural Boscobel, one travels down a narrow, gravel lane shaded by trees. Then suddenly the vista opens up and you can see the sparkling blue lake – a rare sight in our area. From there, you approach an area filled with gardens, horse stables, and buildings for common activities, and student and counselor housing.
During the summer, students participate in camps, travelling out to the facility for ‘Resident Camp.’ This is a 12-day/11-night outdoor experience for young people ages 9-18. While there, campers will enjoy swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, team sports/teambuilding, archery, gardening, cooking, outdoor exploration, campouts, creative arts, performing arts and practical life skills.
Campers will also participate in key aspects of camp life, including campfires, stargazing, singing, daily reflection, strengthening friendships, and community building.
The PEAK Initiative web site says that the group’s mission is to “bring out the limitless potential in young leaders through extraordinary experiences and nurturing relationships.” Youth, primarily from Milwaukee, are recruited into the program starting in first grade. Students participate in the multi-year leadership program starting with a day camp in the city.
As the students move through the program over multiple years and enter high school, they can apply to be part of the ‘Leaders in Training’ program.
“The Leaders in Training (LT) gives teens in the program experience in community action projects, community service, and a youth leadership education series,” Teen Programs Manager Lila Weatherall said. “Educational topics included in the program cover subjects such as time management, budgeting, self care and social engagement.”
One example of a community action program students in the LT program have undertaken is working on the issue of homelessness in Milwaukee. The students participated in a hygiene drive, and also engaged in a campaign around the issue of immigrant rights.
This summer, according to Camp Director Samone Hooper, the camp achieved what she described as a “pivotal turning point” in integrating with the Boscobel community where their camp is located.
Sadie Johnston, a Boscobel High School junior, has participated in the programs at Lake Valley Camp for the last seven years. She is now in the Leaders in Training program, and is enthusiastic about what it has offered her.
“One of the best things about participating in the LT program is the people I have met,” Johnston said. “I have learned so much from my current and former mentors and fellow LTs, and I am proud to say that I have made friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Johnston explained that for her, the LT program has taught her that if she wants to see a change in the world, the best way to make that happen is by going out there and making that change herself.
“Sadie has been our primary point of contact in an effort to forge deeper connections with the community in which our camp is located,” Hooper explained.
Johnston was able to establish a connection with key people in the City of Boscobel and identify community service projects where the campers could ‘give back to the community’ where their camp is located.
“Sadie is a very hard worker, focused, with lots of positive energy that she shares with her peers,” Hooper said. “Even though she lives in Boscobel and most students in the program are from Milwaukee, she has formed strong connections with her peers and they look to her as a role model.”
On Thursday, August 6, 12 students from the LT program at the camp participated in maintenance projects in Boscobel.
“Sadie was able to forge a connection with City of Boscobel Municipal Parks & Maintenance Department manager Dean Harville. Our campers helped with painting and preparing the shelter at Hinman Park,” Weatherall explained. “They were also able to help with painting the gazebo and bridge at the Depot Museum, and plugged in with painting benches, and rocks for the scavenger hunt, for the Boscobel Public Library.”
Weatherall said that Johnston is the first student from Boscobel to participate in PEAK Initiative’s LT program.
“Sadie is a quiet and observant leader, and it is always exciting to see Sadie break outside of her shell a little bit more and more every time she joins us,” Weatherall said of the Boscobel teen. “This year she stayed connected with her peers in Milwaukee by helping us organize the community service day in Boscobel.”
The teens who participate in PEAK Initiative’s Leadership Training take away many advantages from their time in the program. These advantages include paid internships, scholarships, a certificate of completion, earned certifications in employment skills, and letters of recommendation for further education or employment after high school graduation.
“PEAK Initiative’s approach to leadership development is driven by best practices in social-emotional learning and experiential education with proven results,” the group’s website explains. “Our success has led us to expand our offerings beyond summer camp to include after-school and weekend offerings, year-round. To date, we have served thousands of youth through our programs.”“In our program, we focus on growing our own leaders,” Weatherall explained. “We ask of our LT program students that they come back after graduation in some capacity to help teach the next generation. Most return for one or two years after graduation.”