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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, that facilitates their sports hour. During the summer, around eighty children between 5 and 11 years old participate.
In terms of my background, I have had the privilege of working on the biennial Olympic Games and other sporting events and have received souvenirs and sponsorship souvenirs.
Two years ago, at the end of the summer camp, I felt compelled to present an award. In front of the other campers I read a speech and gave a watch from the Athens Olympics to ours:
Camper of Honor
Your attention and care is greatly appreciated. The kind words you have
talked to your fellow campers and counselors have not gone unnoticed. Your effort and good sporting condition have been Olympic. To honor you, Camp Med would like to offer you a special watch that celebrates the Olympic Games and names you our honor
This generated a lot of excitement among the children, so much so that the following summer they asked me if I was going to give away another watch. I did, as well as eight other awards. I also gave out random prizes throughout the summer. Here’s what I’ve learned in the process.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
When I was a kid, half of the awards I received were generic in nature. These awards meant little to me, although some of them were large marble trophies. The most exciting award I received was a blue ribbon in second grade that said “Most Improved.” I liked the award because it was authentic and true.
One of the most personal awards of the summer went to a boy whose math team won regionals, then state, then western states, then nationals and has a wonderfully neutral 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 to be a keen observer, a good friend to many, and very wise.
camp Med has had the great fortune to have a Pythagorean among us and now we 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 their parents. The speeches are usually short, the children are eager to see what the prize is (the prize is always wrapped or covered) and to find out who gets it. So, in a few words, strive to communicate an essence:
I recognized your goodness from day one. It’s always a pleasure to have you here with us at Camp Med.
Kids also like prizes that sound cool. This one caught their attention:
Ninja soccer girl
You are like a ninja in the field, calm, elegant, very efficient and determined. It’s a joy to see you on the field with a soccer ball.
I wanted to suggest to this unassuming boy that NOW he is fully capable of doing special things on the football field:
king of football
You have steadily improved throughout the summer, but what has really impressed me is your heart. You’re willing to play on much smaller teams against an army of kids.
There is an element of poetry about your playing. You know when to pass, where to position yourself, when to accelerate, how to curve the ball and how to lead down the field.
PLENTY OF RECYCLING
Over the summer, my wife and I cleaned out the garage. He discovered a beautiful pin with small jewels. She didn’t want it anymore, but I saw an opportunity, one of our best soccer players in the camp was also a very stylish dresser.
Camp Med soccer girl
There was one day in the middle of summer when you had almost a perfect game. You were in a zone. Defensively, you took the ball away from everyone who came near you and then either threw the ball up the field or made an excellent pass. You’ve done it for 45 minutes straight. It was so exciting to see.
He had worked the 1994 World Cup and received a limited edition silk scarf to celebrate the event. Where can one find a happy home for such an item?
Most Improved Girl Award
Not only did you start scoring goals this summer, you started scoring goals.
It’s been a pleasure getting to know you better. You bring a bright and elegant presence to Camp Med.
I remember this young lady very gracefully removing the large scarf from her box and then calmly and meticulously folding it back. I could tell by the way she handled the scarf that she appreciated it.
When I set my sights that summer on giving awards, I discovered 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 prize appeared and then the perfect recipient was revealed. This intuitive process continued throughout the summer. As each new revelation was presented, it felt like I was cracking a code. I never thought there would be nine awards, maybe top three. Strangely, I didn’t seem to be in charge, I just listened, cooperated and went with the flow.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE
During a game, the rubber tip of a plastic hockey stick broke. At the end of the game, I announced that the MVP of the game would receive the rubber tip. This just floored the kids and they all wanted to get it. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. Kids taught me that prizes could be silly too.
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
Meanwhile, at home, we also went through our Christmas decorations that filled our garage. I thought, well, if kids want the rubber tip of a hockey stick, they’d probably like some Christmas items, and they announced that for a week (while it was over 90 degrees in Southern California) that it would be Christmas in July and I would deliver Christmas items all week. Every day, she brought 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 little boy came up to me and said he wanted a prize. I asked him what he wanted and he said without hesitation, “I want a Santa.” All kids wanted an award, but with this boy, there was an extra need for recognition.
The next day I came with my brown bag. He quickly came up to me and asked if that was his Santa, he was so excited and excited. At the end of gym time, I gave her the brown bag and told her she was getting this award for being so sweet on the inside. He opened it and took out Santa Claus. The kids cheered and clapped for him. He stood there in awe of his Santa, vulnerable, wide-eyed, taking in all the support. He later fondly told me that he felt, “a little embarrassed.” It was one of the most beautiful moments of the summer.
It’s an example of how by taking a positive action step (bringing Christmas in July), sometimes an opening magically occurs for something even greater to present itself.
Not everyone has an overflowing garage. There is a wonderful free organization called freecycle that is dedicated to reducing landfill waste. Members basically play a game of give and take, asking for what they want and posting what they have to give away. You can email the group asking for anything you want, for example: antique trophies and jewelry, children’s toys in good condition, etc. You will surely receive very interesting articles, all at no cost.
GIVE A WATCH
A watch turns out to be a perfect prize. They can be trendy, colorful and fun. It is practical. You can take it to school. He is with you all day. It feels special. Kids love them. This was the speech from this year’s clock recipient:
The MVS Award for Most Valuable Support
After a few days of Casal d’Estiu, I knew, from your actions of support, that you were destined for an award. It turned out that the one I found for you, however, was completely sold out in Southern California and Oregon and Minnesota. I finally found a store in Chicago, Illinois that had one last one.
You have helped me so, so much. I thank you so much, words cannot even be said.
This award is for whoever has been my right hand and has been wonderful and supportive throughout the Summer Camp.
This November, Sixty Minutes did a piece Millennial Kids whose childhood they said is “full of trophies and adulation.” The paradigm represented here is completely the opposite: sincere recognition and gratitude to the children who, by their presence, give much more than they receive.
As a child, I ask myself, “Am I of value?” “Who I am?” “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 at a deeper level, the items were constant reminders that I was good. A prize can go a long way in supporting a child’s self-esteem.
As an adult, I found the process of being the awardee to be a powerful and multidimensional way to connect with a young person. It can be done with humor, drama or warmth. It’s a very real and direct way of saying, “I value you.”
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