Mike McDonell, President of Kidventure (celebrating its 25th year) founded the organization to help enhance the lives of kids through the summer camp experience. Through day camps, overnight camps and after-school programs, Kidventure is a place where kids have fun, make new friends, while learning lifelong lessons. We sat down with Mike to learn more.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am basically a 14-year-old in a 50-year-old body as per my wife! I guess that is one of the reasons I started a summer camp organization 25 years ago. I have always been involved in sports, and the outdoors. I am blessed with an amazing family which includes my wife Peggy and my four kids, Mackenna, Peyton, Hadley and Michael Bennett. Each day, they challenge me, keep me on my game, and push me to be a better parent. We currently live in Austin, but started Kidventure in Houston in 1994, where our headquarters remain.
What was the inspiration behind Kidventure?
I had always been involved or worked in the outdoors. I was a climbing instructor and a mountain guide in my earlier days. I understood the power of the outdoors, and the rewards that adventure provided people when they stepped out of their daily routine. In 1994, we started Kidventure because we saw a need for children to explore, play outside, and be a part of an adventure camp. Technology was beginning to replace the active lifestyle, and kids were (and still are) behind the screen of some device. We felt like a summer camp experience could get them in an environment where they could take risks, make new friends, get outdoors, while seeking adventure…So, Kidventure was born.
Why do you feel like the camp experience is so crucial for kids?
Just look at the statistics, in children, we are seeing the highest rates of obesity, anxiety, and depression every recorded. We are allowing a lot of screen time which encourages a sedentary lifestyle. Our kids are not playing outdoors, creating face-to-face relationships, and interacting with the real world. They are spending more time on social media, playing video games and binging on Netflix. Camp, when done right, allows our kids to be physically active, learn essential character skills like kindness, courage, empathy, and respect. Camp allows kids to realize success and experience some failure. Camp gives our kids the chance to make friends in person, look someone in the eye, and communicate effectively and appropriately.
What has parenting taught you?
It is interesting. I work and have worked with thousands of kids over the past 25 years. But nothing prepares you for your “campers” at home. I am blessed to have four unique kids, and each one of them teaches me something about myself every day. Parenting is hard. It might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s the most rewarding for me. Four years ago, my wife Peggy and my other three children decided to adopt a child. We brought home Michael Bennet from China. He came into our family with many medical issues and challenges we had never experienced. Throughout these past four years, we have had to spend a lot of time in hospitals, visiting with doctors, and having surgical procedures. I would be lying if I told you it was easy, but the love and the joy Michael brings to our family is immeasurable. It gives my kids a greater perspective on life, and it taught us so much about caring for others.
Any last thoughts?
Kids face so many challenges each day, and camp programs go a long way to combat some of these challenges. There is a more powerful adversary to childhood depression, lack of physical activity, increased anxiety, and poor self-esteem – intentional parenting. We need to model what we want for our children. Log off your devices, go outside and play with your kids, maintain healthy habits. Give them your attention…it’s really what matters the most!