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The Fun of Giving Awards
I volunteer at Camp Med, a licensed daycare program sponsored by the city of South Pasadena, facilitating their sports class. During the summer, about eighty children between the ages of 5 and 11 participate.
As for my background, I have had the privilege of working at the biennial Olympic Games and other sporting events and have received souvenirs and sponsor memorabilia.
Two years ago, at the end of the summer camp, I felt the need to give an award. In front of the other campers, I read the speech and gave ours the Olympic clock in Athens:
We greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness and care. Nice words you have
conversations with your fellow campers and counselors did not go unnoticed. Your effort and good sportsmanship were Olympic. In your honor, Camp Med would like to present you with a special watch that celebrates the Olympics and declare you our Honor
This caused great excitement among the children, so much so that the following summer they kept asking me if I would teach another lesson. I did, as well as eight other awards. I also gave out prizes randomly over the summer. This is what I learned during the process.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
Growing up as a kid, half the rewards I got were generic in nature. Those awards meant little to me, even though some of them were big, marble trophies. The most exciting award I received was a small blue ribbon in second grade that said “Most Improved.” I liked the award because it was authentic and true.
One of the more personal awards this summer went to a boy whose math team won regionals, then state, then the Western States competition, then the national competition and has a wonderfully neutral persona like Mr. Spock:
The Pythagorean Prize
Pythagoras was a great mathematical genius of ancient Greece. He believed that numbers were the ultimate reality. Pythagoras was also known as a keen observer, a good friend to many and very wise.
Camp Honey was very fortunate to have a Pythagorean in our midst and we now pay tribute to you.
He received a bust of Pythagoras.
I always give the child a copy of the speech as a reminder of what was said and as something to show the parents. Speeches are generally short, children can’t wait to see what the prize is (the prize is always wrapped or covered) and find out who gets it. So try to convey the essence in a few words:
Reward for kindness
I recognized your kindness from day one. It is always a pleasure to have you here with us at Camp Med.
Kids also like prizes that sound cool. This caught their attention:
Ninja soccer girl
You are like a Ninja on the field, quiet, graceful, very efficient and determined. It is a pleasure to see you on the field with a soccer ball.
I wanted to suggest to this humble boy that he is now fully capable of doing special things on the football field:
King of football
You’ve improved steadily over the summer, but what really impressed me was your heart. You are ready to play in much smaller teams against an army of children.
There is an element of poetry in your playing. You know when to pass, where to position yourself, when to accelerate, how to curve the ball and how to lead on the field.
PLENTY OF RECYCLING
During the summer, my wife and I cleaned the garage. She discovered a beautiful pin with small jewels on it. She didn’t want it anymore, but I saw an opportunity, one of our best soccer players at the camp was also very stylish.
Camp Med Soccer Girl
It was a midsummer day when you had a near perfect game. You were in the zone. In defense, you took the ball away from everyone who got in your way, and then you passed the ball into the field with your boot or made excellent passes. You did this for 45 minutes straight. It was so exciting to watch.
I worked at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and received a limited edition silk scarf to commemorate the event. Where can one find a happy home for such an object?
Award for the best girl
This summer you didn’t just start shooting on goal, you started scoring goals too.
It was a pleasure to get to know you better. You bring sparkle and an elegant presence to Camp Med.
I remember how this young lady very gracefully removed the large scarf from its small box and later calmly and carefully refolded it. I could tell by the caring way she wore the scarf that she appreciated it.
As I set my sights on the awards that summer, I discovered that there was an interesting dynamic at work. In the case of the footballer’s girlfriend, I knew I wanted to give her an award and then the award appeared. In the case of pranks, the prize appeared and then the perfect recipient was revealed. This intuitive process took place over the summer. As each new discovery came, it felt like I was cracking a code. I never thought there would be nine awards, maybe three at the most. Strangely, it seemed like I wasn’t in charge, I just listened, cooperated and went with the flow.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE
During one game, the rubber tip of the plastic hockey stick broke. At the end of the game I announced that the MVP of the game would receive a rubber tip. This just annoyed the kids and they all wanted to receive it. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. Children have taught me that even rewards can be stupid.
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
Meanwhile at home, we also went through our Christmas decorations that filled our garage. I figured if the kids wanted a rubber hockey stick they would probably like some Christmas items and I announced that one week (while it was 90+ degrees in Southern California) would be Christmas in July and I would be giving out Christmas items throughout week. Every day I would bring a brown bag with a Christmas item inside and the kids couldn’t wait for the prize giving to see what was inside.
During the week, a young man approached me and said he wanted a prize. I asked him what he wanted, and without hesitation he said, “I want Santa Claus.” All children wanted a reward, but with this boy there was an additional need for recognition.
The next day I came with my brown bag. He quickly approached me and asked if it was his Santa Claus, he was so eager and excited. At the end of sports class, I gave him a brown bag and told him that he got this award because he’s really cute inside. He opened it and took out Santa Claus. The children cheered and applauded him. He just stood in awe with his Santa, vulnerable, wide-eyed, receiving all the support. He later told me he was “a little embarrassed.” It was one of the most beautiful moments of the summer.
This is an example of how taking a positive action step (providing Christmas in July) sometimes magically opens the possibility for something even greater to emerge.
Not everyone has a full garage. There is a wonderful, free organization called freecycle that is dedicated to reducing landfill waste. Members essentially play a game of give and take, asking for what they want and posting what they have to give. You can email the group asking for what you want, for example: old trophies and jewelry, children’s toys in good condition, etc. You will probably get some very interesting items, all for free.
GIVING A WATCH
The watch turned out to be the perfect reward. They can be trendy, colorful and fun. It’s practical. You can take it to school. He is with you all day. The feeling is special. Children adore them. This was the speech for this year’s recipient of the watch:
MVS award for the most valuable support
After just a few days of Summer Camp, I knew from your support that you were destined for the prize. However, it turns out that what I found for you is completely sold out in Southern California and Oregon and Minnesota. I finally found a store in Chicago, Illinois that had another one.
You helped me so much. I appreciate you so much, words cannot even be said.
This award goes to the one who was my right hand man and was wonderful and supportive throughout summer camp.
This November, Sixty minutes made a piece on Millennial Kids whose childhood they said was “full of trophies and adulation”. The paradigm presented here is the complete opposite: a heartfelt acknowledgment and thanks to the children who, by their very presence, give much more than they receive.
As a child, I used to ask myself, “Am I worth it?” “Who am I?” “What am I good at?” In a powerful way, certain awards gave me some answers. The answers were very clear (I’m good at swimming, for example), but on a deeper level, the items were constant reminders that I was good. A reward can greatly support a child’s self-esteem.
As an adult, I have found the awards process to be a powerful, multidimensional way to connect with a young person. This can be done through humor, drama or warmth. It’s a very genuine and direct way of saying, “I appreciate you.”
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