GREENVILLE – They all agreed their experiences at Camp Vohokase over the last four years has changed them.
Three young men from Ohio were this year’s graduating class from Camp Vohokase, a four-year summer camp which takes 16 boys from “at risk” areas across the country and brings them together to learn leadership, accountability, hard work and ethics. The Light Foundation team headed by Matt Light, a Greenville native and three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, guides these young men throughout their high school years. When they complete the four years of camp, they graduate with the lessons they have learned and the skills they’ve acquired and will pay that experience forward by carrying on the torch of leadership within their own communities.
“Being out here has definitely helped bring me out of my shell,” said Trenton Turvene, one of this year’s graduates who is from Arcanum. “Four years ago I didn’t think coming here to this camp would benefit me at all, but my mind has definitely changed now. I have learned so much. This is just a great place to be.
“Leadership is the biggest part of this camp,” he continued. “I’ve actually stepped up especially around my sisters at home and other people at school just guiding them the best I can and as well as I can. It has helped me be a better person not just for myself but everyone around me which I did not think this was possible when I started here four years ago.”
Turvene said he enjoyed the many activities at the camp such as dirt biking and go-carting, but his favorite activity was the evening fireside chats where the boys would talk about their life’s experiences and get to know one another.
“Sitting around the fire having conversations with everybody was definitely my favorite part of this camp,” Turvene said. “Hearing how other people’s lives are and comparing to how my life is I could relate to some things these fellas around me were going through. I have definitely made some lifelong friends out here.
“The time I’ve had here has really been great,” he continued. “It’s great to have people I didn’t think I would have support me other than family at home. It just makes me happy.”
Another of the Ohio graduates had a similar life-changing experience over the last four years.
“When I started four years ago I didn’t think it would be as educational as it was,” said Dylan Pope. “I’ve definitely become more mature and learned a lot. They have taught me so much for the betterment of myself. I just thought it was going to be some camp but it wasn’t. They help you through life and what you need to learn for your life.
“This experience has been amazing,” he continued. “I enjoyed the fireside chats the most. I think getting to know what everybody has been through and trying to help them has been great. It has helped me change a lot. My freshman year I was definitely immature and probably a little annoying. Now I just try to be helpful and be a leader. I want to help others become more of what they can be.”
Camp Vohokase is a 10-day summer camp that ran from July 2-11 at a more than 400-acre facility know as Chenoweth Trails located just a few miles west of Greenville. But it is more than just those 10 days in the summer, according to Matt Light.
“This isn’t just the 10 days we are out here in the woods,” Light said. “This is a four-year, 365-day commitment. This is all day every day until these guys graduate. They commit to us, but we also commit to them. It is a two-way street. When things get tough we don’t walk away. We’ve had kids that unfortunately we’ve had to get out of the court system and out of jails. We’ve had kids we had to put in alternative programs in other states and help carry the burden of some of that stuff, but we made a commitment to do it and it goes a long way in earning these guys’ trust too. This is not always the easiest place to be sometimes but we have a lot of fun, we work really hard and at the end of the day they have a great resource and they have a family to look at.”
Light also explained the word “Vohokase” is from the Northern Cheyenne term that means “light.”
“The first year we didn’t have this facility,” Light said. “We created this. Brian Rehmert and I sat right here when I bought this property and just started with a wood chipper getting rid of trees and the first year right where we are standing we had canvas wall tents and no running water. We had no electricity for the first four years but we some how made it work. I don’t know how we did it but we did it.”
This is the 12th year for the camp, Light said.
“We’ve seen some great progress and some awesome things happen,” Light said. “I did this for the majority of the time I played football. I went from here directly to training camp and in some ways this was harder than training camp. But it is an amazing thing to be part of and to share with these guys and watch them mature. These guys that are graduating from Ohio are three incredible young men that have bright futures. They are already talking about coming back and serving as junior counselors which we have a junior counselor here that graduated from this program four years ago and I’m sure we will have that continue to happen. It’s been a cool thing.”
This year, as is the case every year, a new group of four young men joined Camp Vohokase. This year’s group came from Hammond, Ind., hometown of Matt’s wife Susie Light.
“I’m personally overwhelmed by the kindness, character and sincere enthusiasm displayed by each of these young men,” she said.
One of those young men, Milton Lenoyr, said he already has felt a change in himself.
“Being here has changed me on an emotional level already,” Lenoyr said. “When I came to camp I thought it would be boring but once I started to get into it it got funner and funner.
“It’s been a good experience so far,” he continued. “They kept telling us before we came to the camp it’s not going to be like we thought it was, but it is even more than what I expected. I thought it would be like any other camp, but it goes a lot deeper with the connection. We share our past life and what we went though and that’s pretty cool.”
Community service is also a big part of what the camp tries to teach, Light said.
“We went to Dayton Children’s Hospital and split into four teams of four each performing a different service at the hospital,” Light said adding that each group got to do each service. “One group went with me room to room visiting kids and brightening up their days and another four were doing face painting. Another four would be cleaning an inside stairwell with the hospital cleaning crew and the other four were outside cleaning with the grounds crew.
“And it’s all about discipline too,” he continued. “I get to introduce them to guys I grew up with in this community that were instrumental in keeping me on track and holding me accountable. You know sometimes the simplest of things are the things that get overlooked and don’t ever get done in a lot of these young men’s lives. If they just had people that would stop and push the pause button on their own life whether it was a parent or a sibling or somebody else, but a lot of them don’t have people like that. It’s hard to be the disciplinarian or to keep people in check and when you don’t have it that’s when you end up having young people making a ton of mistakes. When they are here they have to do all their own dishes. It may be the first time they’ve done laundry when they come to this camp but they are going to do their own laundry and clean up after themselves. They’re not going to leave stuff laying around and that goes a long way. Discipline is a big deal. It worked for me in football and it will work for these guys in the real world.”
This year also marked the 15th anniversary of the Light Foundation and making a difference is what it’s all about. The Light Foundation was established in 2003 and strives to instill and augment the values of responsibility, accountability and hard work by providing youth with unique outdoor learning experiences that assist them in reaching their highest potential. Its goal is to lead young people down a path to becoming responsible members of their communities who can pass on the torch of leadership and achievement to their friends and families. Since its inception, the Light Foundation has raised nearly $6 million for various programs and initiatives.
“We want to be a beacon for charitable organizations, athletes and youth to work hard, put their best foot forward and strive to become champions in the game of life,” Light said.
The Daily Advocate sports editor Skip Weaver can be reached at (937) 569-4316 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at @skipweaver65.