Minden's O'Malley one happy camper
By Sue Tiffin
Published Sept. 13, 2018
When Teo O’Malley was six years old, he went for the first time on a week-long camping program at Camp Medeba, a summer camp and outdoor education centre in West Guilford.
“It was scary, I was freaked out,” said O’Malley, now 14 years old.
Though nervous at first at the prospect of being away from home, by the end of the week, the Minden resident was hooked on camp and couldn’t wait to go again.
“Mom always tells me that as soon as I got home, I said I wanted to go back next year for two weeks,” he laughed. “The people there are amazing – the cabin staff, kitchen staff, maintenance, everybody – and the activities – riflery, canoeing, kayaking, zipline - are so much fun.”
He did go back, and found his outdoor adventures so endearing that he started to find ways he could camp even when he wasn’t at camp.
“Teo has always loved the outdoors,” said his mom, Tina Gilbert. She said that he was always outside when he was younger, hiking, finding new things, and “herping,” or looking for snakes.
When Teo was eight, he bought himself a one-person tent, a sort of covered cot, and set it up next to the family’s back deck.
“And as soon as it was warm enough, well, not even for me, he would sleep out there every night,” said Gilbert. “He loved everything about camp and camping.”
Teo continued to camp every summer, for two weeks with a visit home on the weekend.
“He thrived,” said Gilbert. “Every time we went to camp, everyone knew and remembered Teo.”
Over the years he was able to connect with other campers – some who have come from as far away
as Singapore, Spain and Argentina.
“When you get dropped off you go to your cabin and you get all settled in,” he said. “Most of the time I get there pretty early. You sit in your cabin and it’s really awkward for an hour until dinner. Nobody talks to each other. The counsellors just try to get you to talk. Then after the first couple of days after you’ve had the chance to get to know each other, most of the time you become pretty good friends with most of the people in your cabin.”
When he was in Grade 7 at Archie Stouffer Elementary School, then-principal Traci Hubbert called Gilbert to inform her that Teo had been chosen to attend Tim Horton Children’s Camp that summer. Tim Horton Children’s Camps are located in Parry Sound and St. George in Ontario, Tatamagouche in Nova Scotia, Kananaskis in Alberta, Seven Sisters Falls in Manitoba, Quyon in Quebec and Campbellsville in Kentucky.
“The reason he was selected to attend the Tim Horton’s Camp was for his leadership and character,” Hubbert told the Times. “Teo is a leader by example. He is kind to everyone and can often be found smiling. He willingly helps when he sees that something needs to be done. Nothing is ever a huge issue for him or an imposition on his time.”
Hubbert remembers that Teo was actively involved in the school-wide implementation of Feed All Four, a program developed by the Trillium Lakelands District School Board to support the body, mind, spirit and emotions of individuals.
“When representatives from the Ministry of Education visited the school to learn about what we were doing, Teo was able to articulate the benefit of Feed All Four to being a healthy, well-rounded individual – he also blended that with a dose of teenage realism and earned several laughs – lovely sense of humour,” she said. “He assisted in younger classes introducing concepts to students and is generally well liked by his peers and adults because he treats everyone with respect.”
Teo attended the 10-day camp program in Parry Sound.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said. “I’d been going to Medeba, but it was a new camp, new people, people I’d never met before. I was scared when I was going there, but I had lots of fun.”
The next year, Gilbert received a package telling her Teo had been picked for a four-year program of 10 days per summer due to the leadership skills he exhibited. That he stood out to program leaders is not a surprise to those who know him well.
“Teo is very driven, independent, social,” said Gilbert. “And he is very eager to help.”
“He really is just such a great kid with a positive attitude,” said Hubbert. “He’s the kind of person who makes a difference in the world by just remembering to be kind.”
Not only did Teo want to attend camp again after his very first visit, he was already, at the age of six, looking forward to the future when he would be old enough to take part in Medeba’s LIT (Leader-in-Training) program.
“He told me on the way home [after his first camping experience] he was going to do it,” said Gilbert. Teo had seen a group of kids older than him at the camp, and when he asked about them, learned about the LIT program. This past summer, he was finally old enough to apply.
“Medeba’s Leader in Training (LIT) program is designed to develop leadership potential and encourage personal growth in young people,” reads the Medeba website. “The program emphasizes the development of Christian and outdoor leadership skills through the use of adventure and community. It offers a balance of formal training, mentoring and practical hands-on experience and is a great transition between being a camper and becoming a staff member.”
The LIT program is an eight-week program broken down into two parts that can be taken in one summer, or over two summers, which is what Teo hopes to do.
The courses focus on teaching campers how to be a leader. In the first half of the program, leaders in training focus on life management including goal setting and personal organizing skills and spiritual leadership and spiritual disciplines, effective communication and conflict resolution, behaviour management through communicating expectations and how to teach and lead through observation of leaders and staff evaluation. The second part of the program focuses on life management including developing healthy relationships and learning about media, learning how to facilitate groups, how to teach and lesson plan, make decisions and deal with behaviour problems. Both programs offer practical opportunities to teach and lead, training in outdoor skills and the chance to learn how to operate an outdoor centre.
“I was so, so excited,” he said of his chance to be in the program. “It was so awesome. Every morning you do an activity or work out, go for a run or do physical activity just to get outside and do stuff. Then every once in awhile you do camp activities, but you do a lot of sessions, they call them. You learn about leadership and about the Bible and stuff.”
Teo specifically notes that participants in the LIT program learned about delegation.
“Being able to know the job that is at hand and be able to share it with other people and get other people involved and included to make the work load easier on everybody,” he said.
At camp, the Grade 10 HHSS student appreciated the chance to do more advanced activities through the LIT program, including whitewater kayaking, a four-day canoe trip, and rock climbing in Dorset. He also got to set out by himself for an eight-hour solo trip at the end of the four-week program. Bringing along his hammock, a tarp, toilet paper, rope, water and sandwich, after weeks of getting to bed at 10:30 and waking up at 7 a.m. for camp activities, Teo was ready to spend much of his eight-hour solo trip napping. But first he had to complete an assignment reflecting on himself and his time in the LIT program.
“I was just thinking about my friends I’d made at camp,” he said. “You spend a month with them, so you get pretty close. I was thinking about the school year coming up, and the school year that happened, and how I could make it better. I was thinking about [the second part of the LIT program] and everything I learned at camp, all the leadership stuff. I was just thinking about all of that stuff, thinking about how I can be a better person reflecting on all of that.”
After that nap he so desired, he read Genesis and parts of Exodus from a Bible.
“I think I definitely believe in God, but I don’t know I’d call myself a Christian,” he said. “Just some of the Bible’s rules and stories and stuff, even if you’re not Christian, there’s still good stories to read and life rules to abide by. It’s a thing that happens in life, you’re probably going to come across people who are Christian, so it’s good to know about that kind of stuff.”
In the LIT2 program, he’ll have the opportunity to go on a 24-hour solo trek, in which he’ll set up a tent and cook dinner.
“I have full confidence in Teo,” said his mom. “I really believe the solos are good for kids his age. They need time to reflect. Not on a screen. Away from social media and the stresses of that. I know Teo has a good head, and will do the best in the situation he’s in.”
Teo said phones are only allowed during free time at the camp.
“They think that phones kind of ruin the experience, and I think that too,” he said. “You don’t want to always be on your phone. You’re not absorbing as much information as you could be, and that experience.”
Much like traditional camps, Teo has had the experience of performing skits, singing songs around a bonfire and has enjoyed memorable experiences to write home about.
“On the canoe trip, we decided we were going to camp on a peninsula,” he said. “It stormed when we got there, but nobody got wet, everyone was fine, it was OK. We made dinner after the storm, then everyone was going to bed. It was a really hot night so I had my boxers on. Me and my friend were looking up at the stars after we went to bed. It was kind of windy. Then it was really windy. We could hear the girls yelling so we got up, and their tent had blown away into the water.”
Teo rushed with his friend to help, and he laughed, remembering himself trying to help with the tent, standing outside at midnight while dressed in only his underwear.
“Camp has encouraged him to try new things, to help others try new things,” said Gilbert. “The friendships Teo has formed in all his camp experience will last his lifetime. It is a brother/sisterhood. He’s learned to respect others and nature. He has learned to help others before himself.”
“At Medeba they really focus on how you can be the best you can be, try to be the best person, be like God I guess, embody him in everything you do, so being a nice person really falls into that,” he said. “I try to be a nice person, even if I maybe have not been the best person with them in the past, and just try to accept everybody and be loving towards everybody.”
Though summer is just ending and school is just starting, Teo is already looking forward to camp next year.
“It’s a great time,” he said. “If you get the opportunity you should definitely do it.”