Who Are At Risk Children and Why Camp Compass Academy Provides Programs for 4 Years for Them
with John Annoni
Editor’s Note: John Annoni of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is an avid outdoorsman and a fulltime school teacher, as well as the founder of Camp Compass Academy. He is also the founder of the orange ribbon campaign called America’s Outdoor Heritage –Two Million Bullets.
In 1994, John Annoni started an outdoor program for children to be introduced to the outdoors. The purpose of the program was to acquaint youngsters, who never had had an opportunity to hunt and fish, to these outdoor activities by their earning hunting and fishing trips with mentors.
“We don’t just talk about the outdoors and teach our children outdoor skills,” Annoni explains. “They actually can earn hunting trips for themselves and their mentors.” Annoni quickly says that his introduction to the outdoors may very well have saved his life. He was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and his family lived in a housing project called Hanover Acres. According to Annoni, “My grandmother raised me, but on the weekends I went to the housing projects to visit my biological mother. I quickly learned if I wasn’t in the house on the weekends, I couldn’t get smacked around (hit) by some of the men who were coming to visit my mother. So, I found a little wooded area that led down to a dump close to the apartment where there were starlings, pigeons, rats, squirrels and other animals. I would go down to this little wooded area to dodge abuse. This little wooded area allowed me to be free from all the things going on in the projects.”
When Annoni became a teacher, he recognized the need for an educational vehicle that would supplement what the children were learning at school by exposing them to and teaching them about the outdoors. Initially Annoni would meet and teach youngsters about the outdoors during the summer months when he and the children were out of school. He developed a week’s camping program. He would pick up the children and take them camping every day and named the program named Camp Compass. Since those early days, however, the outdoors-skill program is now called Camp Compass Academy and functions all year long.
“I knew that to have a significant impact on these children’s lives, we would need to set up a mentoring program,” Annoni reports. “For this mentoring to be significant, it would have to run for at least 4 years. The goal of Camp Compass Academy is to help develop children academically, socially and morally by using the outdoors and outdoor skills to teach life lessons. Camp Compass Academy allows children who don’t have access to the great outdoors to have a vehicle to not only go outdoors and learn about hunting and fishing but also how to be accountable for their academic and social work to earn the opportunity to participate in outdoor skills.”
The typical members of the Camp Compass Academy start in the sixth grade. During the time they are in the sixth grade, they spend 2 -1/2-hours each Monday after school with their mentors. During this first year, they take and pass a hunter-safety course. They are taught an academic curriculum around outdoor themes, and they have frequent trips set up to go on outdoor adventures. Annoni and his team believe that an outdoor education should be more than taking children on a field trip, feeding then a hot dog and soda and then having no more exposure with the child. “We wanted the Camp Compass Academy to grow with the child over numbers of years,” Annoni emphasizes. “So, we’ve added two more phases (years) to the outdoor academy experience. The second phase is called the exploration phase. The third phase, or third year, is titled the extension phase. We’ve learned from the children we work with that once the children are exposed to the outdoors, begin to have a good time in the outdoors and enjoy learning outdoor skills, they’ll develop a fever or a passion for being outdoors.”
Annoni and his team have learned that after the children participated in great adventures in the outdoors, there needs to be a way to continue their outdoor experiences and further their outdoor educations. Luckily, a merchant who owns a carpet store donated a portion of the space in his building where Camp Compass Academy has been meeting for the last 10 years. The Camp Compass program tries to positively impact young people from the time they’re 10-years old until they’re 13- to 14-years old. “We believe these ages are when young people are most impressionable,” Annoni says. “These times are when they begin to make lifelong decisions about the types of people they want to grow up to be. During that period of time, we want to help these youngsters become the kind of people of which Camp Compass Academy, they themselves and the community can be proud. We use the outdoors as the vehicle to help accomplish this goal.”
For more info about Camp Compass Academy, go to www.campcompass.org.