At Camp Nominingue, we are lucky in that most of the campers that we work with are very unlikely to ever become street gang members. In his book Young Thugs, Michael C. Chettleburgh identifies socio-economic forces as the primary reason why young people join gangs. Despite this, the motivations that lead young people to join gangs are the same motivations that lead youth to form groups, join teams and seek out friend groups.
Young Thugs is divided into two parts: the first focuses on the lure of street gangs, and the second on confronting and controlling street gangs. I found the first part particularly interesting and the second part a bit drier. Michael C. Chettleburgh stresses the necessity of dealing with the root causes of gang growth by improving job opportunities for youth in low income areas and improving programs to integrate immigrants into Canadian society. Chettleburgh also explains clearly how our prison system contributes to gang expansion and how the system is failing to rehabilitate any of its inmates.
The drive that leads young people to join gangs exists in all of us: we like to live in packs; we like to have a group where we can share ideas, protect and care for each other; we look for the camaraderie of the group, to enjoy recreation opportunities, and collaborate in the achievement of a common purpose. For many campers and staff at Camp Nominingue, this is exactly what camp achieves! Most campers stay at camp for two to three weeks. They live in tents in groups of five until the age of thirteen and then in groups of three until the age of fifteen. All campers learn and practice new skills in the company of other campers who are interested in learning similar skills. There is a canoe trip for everyone who wants to experience one – a group of five campers and two counsellors set out from camp for 3, 5, 7, 8 or 10 days, paddling, portaging and setting up camp each night at a new site.
For many campers and staff, Nominingue becomes their second home. In the fall, after the return from camp, camp stories fill their conversations. During the winter, camp friendships are maintained through common interests and activities, and modern technology. In the spring, planning for the summer and dreaming of canoe trips and other fun occupy the thoughts of many. There are numerous factors that contribute to the creation of this second home: the bonds of friendship that are forged on a challenging portage or while sitting in the tent during a storm; the support of a thoughtful counsellor in a time of need; the exhilaration of success achieved in learning a new skill, in winning a difficult challenge, or in coming together as a team.