” When you work as much as Camp Compass with children in the outdoors, you come across products you can’t just do without. Very simply, our program would not be the same without the support and use of the Heat Factory warmer products.
The number of uses we have found for the various products you develop keeps growing. From duck hunts, to deer hunts, to ice fishing and even in cold classrooms where our students may be required to take tests, we have found that we can always count on your products. Thanks for such great products and for supporting our kids in their outdoor rewards.
Just recently we had 12 of our students preparing for their state safety exam. They are required to spend 14 hours (multi-day) in a classroom situation learning about the various aspects of hunting. Needless to say the heat went out in the building the day of testing. The students prior to the test had to spend seven hours in that cold classroom and course were not prepared for the heat to not be working. We were able to give all of the students warmers that morning and they stayed warm all day long. One of my girls said that if she didn’t have the warmers she didn’t think she would have made it- I agree. This is an atypical situation and I can give you many more Heat Factory success stories. Heat Factory has saved the day many times. ” – John F. Annoni, CEO
Camp Compass Academy is a program started by John Annoni with an effort to introduce urban, middle and high school students to various outdoor activities. John’s ultimate goal is for the children of his program to get the help they deserve through a structured program fostering self-esteem, providing role models and influencing positive choices. John Annoni is in his twenty-sixth year with the Allentown School District. When he’s not at his school teaching, John is taking children under his wing as part of Camp Compass Academy. To learn more about John Annoni, please visit his website. Heat Factory has always enjoyed doing work with John, for his pleasant demeanor and the outstanding work he has done with the children in his program. Recently, Caroline Mayou interviewed John about the beginning of his program and what his outlook of the future resembles.
When did you start ‘Camp Compass Academy‘ and what was the community’s initial reaction?
Camp Compass Academy was started in 1994. To be brutally honest (chuckles), I was removed from the school district. I believe that firearm education and conservation education is important. Now if I just taught kids about fishing, things would have been okay. But teaching kids how to use firearms and how to kill animals… it just didn’t fly. So they asked me to get rid of the program. We’re a really tight organization because we realize that the weight of the world is on our shoulders. What I mean by that is if we make a mistake it has the potential to jeopardize the future of future participants all across the nation. We’re very fast at helping kids as a whole but slow when it comes to making decisions about our organizations practices for that exact reason.
What made you start Camp Compass Academy?
The program derived from what I felt was lacking in my life as a kid. The continual structure and the opportunities that we offer are something I never had simply because of where I lived and the way I was raised. I wrote two books and the first book “From the Hood to the Woods” discusses the way I discovered nature as a way to escape abuse. I found that Mother Nature was pretty comforting and non-judgmental. Long story short, I decided that if it worked for me, why wouldn’t it work for other children. To give a kid the opportunity to grow outside of the box that they’re put in from birth; you can’t ask for anything more. We’re not the largest charity but we’ve done some good over the past 2 decades.
To break it down we have a really strong academic and social focus. And once they’ve mastered that focus, the reward is set in the outdoor activities. The program has funneled itself as a continuing education program. We focus primarily on fishing and hunting as our outdoor activities. Fishing has become an activity we partake in to supplement the hunting. We found that the kids have such a strong desire to go hunting- it’s really cornered us. They love it.
I’ve noticed that these newer generations are more interested in their cellphones than they are in nature. I like that your program plays a huge role in changing that mindset. Tell me more about that.
I write about that in my second book Beyond One Day. You see, it’s not just about serving your community once and walking away and giving yourself a pat on the back (I see a lot of organizations do that). Why are gangs so successful? Because they offer the warm feeling of having a family to belong to. They’re there to give you the “support” (even if it’s bad) that you need as an individual. Well, we offer that same feeling of belonging to kids. Our foundation is built on the 5 E’s I developed. Exposure allows a kid to know that something exists. There are tons of ways to de-stress, you can go the gym and that’s fine. But they have to know that something exists. Then comes exploration which is the phase of experiencing something. Even if it’s just once. But like I said, once just isn’t enough. That should be the true beginning. So I created extension which is the process of holding onto these kids over time. You have to build something for these children to hold on to. A pyramid type of rewards that has room for growth. We have effective application which comes in once the kids have learned the basics and proved that they’re here to stay. That’s when they get to ‘squeeze triggers’, receive taxidermy, and overall eat the buffet of love that they’ve been working on and preparing for, for so long. And finally we have example mentoring. A lot of our kids come back to visit the program and talk to the new generation about the level of integrity they’re developing. They’re the ones who are able to convey the message that if these kids keep working hard, great things will manifest (happen) for them. It’s an exposure level that makes it all real. The philosophy is cyclic and has proven it works
You talk about helping dis-advantaged kids on your website. What does that word mean to you? What’s your average student like?
When I say disadvantaged I mean never having the opportunity to experience things outside of their neighborhood’s concrete. We work with bubble kids which in today’s world is the average kid. We don’t work with the ‘straight-A kids’. We don’t work with kids that are involved with the justice system already. We work with every-day teens and pre-teens who are already good but have the potential to be great with just a little extra support. The kid that could be on the fence and could go either way. I don’t dig into it on my website, but we also work with kids that have disabilities whether they be learning or physical. Just last turkey season I had a kid out hunting with us. He’s blind and we were successful on turkey!
Is there a cost to your Camp Compass Academy?
No. Absolutely not. I do everything I can to find financial supporters of the mission. A lot of urban parents have difficulty in seeing the value involved with the outdoors. It’s not something they would invest in. If I were to put a price tag on this opportunity and force parents to pay, we would our own shot at changing a child’s and driving them towards success. The outdoors just can’t afford to let that happen right now. So we choose to charge the kids by having them work hard towards personal success.
How do you find students?
They find us now. When we first started, I had kids in class and I would talk to them and their parents to do things during off times of the school year. Going into this year, we have a big waiting list. We’ll be looking at over 300 kids and we have only about three-six scholarships available. We keep about 300 kids a year between those five ‘levels’ we discussed- the 5 E’s. We keep 60 kids on our hunting roster. We want to make sure that we distinguish the levels of help. You have programs out there that’ll say they served 1,000 children over the weekend. We want to serve them for a lifetime. Right now it’s safe to say we’re doing 30 2.5 hour academies and 19 trips a year. With more adults willing to volunteer we’re getting more effective application. But we want to make sure that the adults get re-trained too. We don’t care if you’ve hunted 100 deer with 100 presidents. You have to be ready to work with these kids in a different mindset and give them everything you have. We’re running a pro-gun and pro-hunting program in the middle of the city (chuckles). It’s not easy!
How did you learn about hunting yourself?
I would run to the woods to get away from abuse. If you watch a squirrel, you’ll want to chase it. And then you’ll want to catch it. We as humans are natural predators. And going back to our born to state, is a great way to keep your mind away from every-day problems and pressures.
I understand that some people are anti-hunting. They don’t understand the conversation that stands behind it. How has the community’s initial reaction changed since you started the program?
The most important critters on the face of the Earth are the children. And if I can save one by letting him or her (we have more girls than boys enrolled) chase a turkey up a mountain then that should be good enough to convince that child’s parent that the pursuit (hunting) is healthy for their children. We can’t convince everyone but the ones that listen see tremendous growth in their children.
We do a lot with local shelters. I’d say we’ve contributed anywhere from 8,000-10,000 meals over the years. As of late, the kids want to take the meat home. Traditionally, we would find families to go hunting with and to thank them for giving us access to their land, we would give them the meat. But now, the kids really go crazy over bringing their trophies home. Just last Christmas we hunted quite a lot of ducks and they told us how much their families loved it. They’ll always ask if they’ll be able to take it home and that’s where we’ve turned a corner regarding having to share. We used to just give. Now we’re sharing more with our own immediate community.
Are you getting help from the community now?
Savage Firearms just gave us two new guns. We just received a 3 year scholarship commitment from Firearms Legal Protection out of Texas. Our steady partners at Mossy Oak, Under Armour and Leupold continue to see our mission’s worth. The school district has been more supportive and just allowed me speak before the House of Representatives regarding the “SHARE Act” on behalf of our children. We are also working with Cornell University on their urban birding program. After 20 years of hard work, the message is spreading and people are beginning to understand how important applying the philosophy of Camp Compass Academy is to their programs and community. The sustainability of out outdoor heritage and its new faces need a new perspective now more than ever. Check out John Annnoni’s recent interview with the NRA!