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The Fun of Giving Awards
I volunteer at Camp Med, a licensed day care program sponsored by the city of South Pasadena that facilitates their sports classes. About eighty children aged 5-11 participate during the summer.
In terms of my background, I have had the privilege of working every two years at the Olympics and other sporting events and have been the recipient of souvenirs and sponsorship memorabilia.
Two years ago, at the end of summer camp, I felt compelled to present an award. I read a speech in front of the other campers and handed over the watch from the Athens Olympics to our:
We greatly appreciate your consideration and care. Kind words you have
spoken to your fellow passengers and advisors did not go unnoticed. Your efforts and good sportsmanship were Olympic. To honor you, Camp Med would like to give you a special watch that celebrates the Olympics and names you our honor
This caused great excitement among the children, so much so that the following summer they kept asking me if I would give them another watch. I did, as did eight other awards. I also gave away prizes at random times during the summer. This is what I learned in the process.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
When I was growing up as a kid, half the awards I received were general in nature. These awards didn’t mean much to me, although some of them were big, marble trophies. The most exciting award I received was a small blue ribbon in second grade that said “Best.” I liked the price because it was authentic and true.
One of the more personal awards of the summer went to a boy whose math team won regional, then state, then western states and then national competition and has a wonderfully neutral Mr. Spock personality:
The Pythagorean Prize
Pythagoras was a great mathematical genius of ancient Greece. He believed that the highest reality was numbers. Pythagoras was also known as a keen observer, a good friend to many and very wise.
Camp Copper he was very fortunate to have a Pythagorean among us, and we now honor 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. The speeches are generally short, the children eager to see what the prize is (the prize is always wrapped or covered) and to find out who gets it. So try to convey the essence in a few words:
Price for goodness
I recognized your goodness from day one. It is always a pleasure to have you here with us at Camp Med.
Kids also like awards that sound cool. This one caught their attention:
Ninja soccer girl
You are like a ninja on the field, quiet, graceful, high performing and determined. It’s 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:
You have steadily improved over the summer, but what has really impressed me is your heart. You are willing to play in much smaller teams against an army of kids.
There is an element of poetry in your playing. You know when to pass, where to line up, when to accelerate, how to curve the ball and how to lead the field.
During the summer, my wife and I cleaned out the garage. She discovered a nice pin with small gems. She didn’t want it anymore, but I saw an opportunity, one of our best soccer players at the camp was also a very stylish dresser.
Camp Med Soccer Girl
There was a day in the middle of summer when you had a near perfect game. You were in the zone. Defensively, you picked up the ball from anyone who came your way and then kicked the ball upfield or made an excellent pass. You did it for 45 minutes straight. It was so exciting to watch.
I worked at the 1994 World Cup and was given a limited edition silk scarf to celebrate the event. Where to find a happy home for such an item?
Best Girl Award
This summer, you have not only started shooting at goal, but also scoring goals.
It was a pleasure getting to know you better. You bring a radiant and elegant presence to Camp Med.
I remember how this young lady very gracefully took a large scarf out of a box and later calmly and carefully folded it. I could tell by the way she handled the scarf carefully that she appreciated it.
When I set out to do the awards this summer, I found that there was an interesting dynamic at work. In the case of the soccer player, I knew I wanted to give her an award, and then the award appeared. In the case of the scarf, the award was revealed and the perfect recipient was subsequently revealed. This intuitive process took place all summer. With each new revelation, I felt as if I had cracked a code. I never thought there would be nine awards, maybe three tops. Strangely, it seemed like I wasn’t in charge, just listening, cooperating and going with the flow.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE
During one match, 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 toe. It just crushed the kids and everyone wanted to get it. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. Kids taught me that prices can be stupid too.
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
In the meantime, we also went through our Christmas decorations at home, which filled our garage. I figured that if the kids wanted a rubber hockey stick, they probably wanted some Christmas items, and I announced that for a week (while it was 90 degrees in Southern California) that it would be Christmas in July, and I would be giving away Christmas items throughout the week . Each day I brought a brown bag with Christmas goodies inside and the kids couldn’t wait for the prize giving to see what was inside.
Within a week, a young guy came to me and said he wanted a prize. I asked him what he wanted and without hesitation he said, “I want Santa.” All the kids wanted a prize, but this boy needed extra recognition.
The next day I came with my brown bag. He quickly came up to me and asked if it was his Santa, he was so eager and excited. At the end of sports class I gave him a brown bag and told him he was getting this prize for being very sweet inside. He opened them and took out Santa. The children cheered and clapped for him. He just stood there in awe with his Santa, vulnerable, wide-eyed, taking in all the support. He later told me he felt “a little embarrassed.” It was one of the most beautiful moments of the summer.
It’s an example of how a positive action step (providing Christmas in July) sometimes magically opens up something even bigger.
Not everyone has an overcrowded garage. There is a wonderful, free organization called freecycle dedicated to reducing landfill waste. Members basically play give and take, asking for what they want and posting what they have to give away. 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 receive very interesting items, all for free.
GIVING A WATCH
The watch becomes the perfect prize. They can be trendy, colorful and fun. It’s practical. You can wear it to school. He is with you all day. It is strange. Kids love them. This was the speech for this year’s watch recipient:
MVS award for the most valuable support
After just a few days of summer camp, I knew with your support that you were destined for the award. However, it turns out that what I found for you was completely sold out in Southern California, Oregon, and Minnesota. I finally found a store in Chicago, Illinois that had one last one.
You helped me a lot. I appreciate you so much, words can’t even say.
This award goes to someone who was my right hand man and was amazing and supported me throughout summer camp.
this November Sixty minutes did a piece on Children of the Millennium whose childhood, they say, was “full of trophies and admiration”. The paradigm shown here is quite the opposite: heartfelt appreciation and thanks to children who give much more than they receive by their presence.
Like a child, I ask myself, “Do I have any value?” “Who I am?” “What am I good at?” Some awards gave me some answers in a powerful way. The answers were very obvious (for example, I am good at swimming), but on a deeper level the items were a constant reminder that I am good. Appreciation can greatly boost 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. It can be done with humor, drama or warmth. It’s a very true and direct way of saying, “I appreciate you.”
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