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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 hour of sports. During the summer, about eighty children between the ages of 5 and 11 take part.
Regarding my background, I had the privilege of working on the Olympics every two years and other sporting events and received memories and sponsorship memorabilia.
Two years ago, at the end of summer camp, I felt compelled to present an award. In front of the other campers, I read a speech and gave an Athens Olympic watch to our:
Your attention and kindness are greatly appreciated. The kind words you have
spoken to your camp companions and monitors did not go unnoticed. Your efforts and sportsmanship have been Olympian. To honor you, Camp Med would like to give you a special watch that celebrates the Olympic Games and names you our Honor
This created a lot of excitement among the kids, so much so that the following summer they kept asking me if I was going to give away another watch. I did, along with eight other awards. I also gave out prizes at random times throughout the summer. That’s what I learned in the process.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
As a child, half of the awards I received were generic in nature. These awards meant little to me, even though some of them were great marble trophies. The most exciting award I received was a little blue ribbon in second grade that said “Most Improved”. I liked the award because it was genuine and true.
One of the most personal prizes of the summer was given to a boy whose math team won regional, then state, then western states, then national and who has a wonderfully neutral character, similar to that of Mr. Spock:
The Pythagoras 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 Medium 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 they can show their parents. Speeches are usually short, kids are eager to see what the prize is (the prize is always wrapped or covered) and who gets it. So, in a few words, strive to communicate an essence:
I recognized your kindness from day one. It is always a pleasure to have you with us at Camp Med.
Children also like rewards that sound good. This one caught their attention:
ninja soccer girl
You are like a ninja in the field, calm, graceful, very efficient and determined. It’s a joy to see you on the field with a soccer ball.
I wanted to suggest to this modest boy that he is fully capable NOW of doing special things on the football field:
king of soccer
You improved steadily throughout 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 a certain poetry in your game. You know when to pass, where to position yourself, when to accelerate, how to curve the ball and how to lead on the field.
During the summer, my wife and I cleaned out our garage. She discovered a pretty brooch with small jewels on it. She didn’t want it anymore, but I saw it as an opportunity, one of our best footballers at camp was also a very stylish dresser.
Camp Med soccer girl
There was a day in the middle of summer when you pretty much had a perfect game. You were in a zone. Defensively, you took the ball away from everyone who came your way and then either threw the ball down the field or made a great pass. You did this for 45 minutes straight. It was so exciting to watch.
I had worked at the 1994 World Cup and received a limited edition silk scarf celebrating the event. Where do you find a happy home for such an object?
Most Improved Girl Award
This summer, you not only started shooting, you started scoring goals.
It was a pleasure getting to know you better. You bring a sparkle and an elegant presence to Camp Med.
I remember this young woman very gracefully taking the large scarf out of its little box and then folding it back peacefully and meticulously. From the caring way she handled the scarf, I could tell she enjoyed it.
As I set my intention that summer on giving awards, I discovered that there was an interesting dynamic at work. In the case of the footballer, I knew I wanted to give her an award, and then the award arrived. In the case of the scarf, the price appeared, then the ideal recipient was revealed. This intuitive process continued throughout the summer. With each new revelation, I had the impression of deciphering a code. I never thought there would be nine prices, maybe three peaks. Strangely, it seemed like I wasn’t responsible, I just listened, cooperated, and went with the flow.
IT HAS NOT 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. It just made the kids laugh and they all wanted to receive it. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. The kids taught me that prices can also be silly.
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
During this time at home, we also searched through our Christmas decorations that filled our garage. I thought, well, if the kids wanted the rubber end of a hockey stick, they’d probably like Christmas items, and I announced that for a week (when it was over 90 degrees in Southern California), it would be Christmas in July and I would be awarding Christmas items throughout the week. Every day I brought a brown bag with a Christmas item inside and the kids couldn’t wait for the awards show to see what was inside.
During the week a young boy came up to me and said he wanted a prize. I asked him what he wanted and he replied without hesitation: “I want a Santa Claus. All the children wanted an award, but with this boy there was an added 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 Claus, he was so impatient and excited. At the end of the sports hour, I gave him the brown bag and told him that he received this award for being very soft inside. He opened it and took out Santa Claus. The children clapped and applauded him. He just stood there, awestruck with his Santa Claus, vulnerable, wide-eyed, absorbing all the support. Later, he tenderly told me that he felt “a little embarrassed”. It was one of the most beautiful moments of the summer.
This is an example of how by taking a positive action step (planning for Christmas in July), sometimes an opening magically occurs for something even greater to arise.
Not everyone has an overflowing garage. There is a wonderful free organization called freecycle that is dedicated to reducing landfill waste. Members essentially play give and take, asking for what they want and posting what they have to give. You can send an e-mail to the group asking for anything you want, for example: old trophies and jewellery, children’s toys in good condition, etc. You will probably receive some very interesting items, all for free.
GIVE A WATCH
A watch turns out to be a perfect reward. They can be fashionable, colorful and fun. It is convenient. You can take her to school. It’s with you all day. It is special. Kids love them. Here is the speech of the recipient of this year’s watch:
The MVS Award for Most Valuable Support
After only a few days of summer camp, I knew from your actions of support that you were destined for a prize. Turns out what I found for you, however, was totally sold out in Southern California, Oregon, and Minnesota. I finally found a store in Chicago, Illinois that had one last.
You have helped me so, so much. I appreciate you so much, words can’t even say it.
This award goes to someone who has been my right arm and has been wonderful and supportive throughout summer camp.
This month of November, Sixty Minutes did a piece on Millennials whose childhood they said was “filled with trophies and adulation”. The paradigm represented here is the complete opposite: a sincere recognition and thanks to the children who, by their mere presence, give much more than they receive.
As a child, I wondered, “Am I worth it?” “Who am I?” “What am I good at? In a powerful way, certain rewards gave me 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. An award can go a long way in supporting a child’s self-esteem.
As an adult, I have found the award process to be a powerful, multi-dimensional way to connect with a young person. This can be done through humor, drama or warmth. It’s a very real and direct way of saying, “I like you.
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