Our Approach

How We Help Youth Grow
Research backed and proven strategies

Thousands of alumni have experienced Trail Blazers’ impact in helping young people become more engaged and productive citizens/adults. What we know to be true through anecdote after anecdote, research now confirms: our program approach, developed of the course of 130 years, works to develop the types of skills and values that truly contribute to a thriving and productive life. We build values for life.

We believe that the skills and values that matter most are best developed through outdoor experiences, and we believe that being in small groups and being deeply involved in your own experience is the best way to learn and grow. We facilitate this process by using the outdoor environment. Our 1000 acres of beautiful land and lake in Sussex County, NJ remove the distractions of modern life, allowing opportunities to connect with both the natural world and oneself. Our NYC-based programs take young people into parks, playgrounds and community gardens, teaching them that the environment is everywhere and we all live under one sky.

Learning and personal growth is further developed through non-competitive activities, group-oriented focus, and the individual’s voice in creating their own experience. Finally, we add challenges that put acquired skills to the test. This approach results in broad based personal development in ways unique to each participant, effectively engages youth and fosters development along 6 dimensions of growth.

Self Growth

Personal Development and 21st Century Skills

Being a Friend

Social Skills to Relate to Others

Being a Steward

Environmental Skills and Affinity

Learn to Learn

Skills for Academic Performance

Being Healthy

Physical Skills and Awareness

Learn to Survive

Survival and Outdoor Skills

Select a topic for more information:
Strategies - Skills - Success

Research tells us that certain strategies are more likely to produce desired outcomes than others. For 130 years, the Trail Blazers approach has delivered successful programs that help young people ‘Build Values for Life’. Now research confirms what we see every summer and throughout the school year in our programs – our approach works.

A healthy development in 6 social emotional learning areas is necessary for and predictive of positive long-term outcomes that lead to thriving and healthy young adults

The 6 social emotional areas we strive to develop in our children are:

  • Positive Identity – by promoting a strong sense of self-worth, the ability to self-motivate, self-efficacy and the intentional exploration of image and identity.
  • Self-Management – emphasizing the ability to make responsible choices from multiple paths, encourage taking positive risks and demonstrate persistence through challenges.
  • Contribution – encouraging a positive sense of self purpose by actively making contributions towards the self, family, community and the society we live in.
  • Social Skills – developing a sense of perspective, showing empathy for others implemented through caring action.
  • Social Capital – building positive bonds with both people and institutions, encouraging the ability to seek out and request support.
  • Academic Self-Efficacy – empowering a motivation to achieve and to gain a perceived mastery of school performance and grow a confidence in their ability to succeed academically.
Strategies that Work

At the heart of each one of our programs are the following principles:

SMALL GROUP EXPERIENCES – we believe that learning is a social experience – at Trail Blazers all activity happens in and with the “small camp”, groups of around 10 children led by the same 2 caring adults. Trust is established, genuine encouragement follows and close bonds are formed.

THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT – the group experience takes place in the right environment. This is ideally a natural environment, but it is also a warm, caring and friendly environment where you are safe to try new behaviors, reflect thoughtfully and step out of your comfort zone.

A VOICE AND A CHOICE – decentralized programming, where groups participate in the design of their programs, creates buy-in and increases the sense of ownership over the program and the experience. Daily personal goals are pursued, and accomplishments celebrated together.

CHALLENGES – Vagabond trail expeditions at overnight camp, long-term project planning in after school and group problems for day campers to solve – challenges solidify group bonds, tests skills learned and encourage growth through overcoming obstacles and pushing through boundaries.

The Value Catcher

The skills and values we target have been shown to affect long term outcomes in youth, helping youth thrive as young adults and into adulthood. At Trail Blazers, we call these our Six Values, research validated constructs closely linked to long term developmental outcomes.

The Value Catcher functions as a tangible representation of this development; it helps our young people acknowledge and identify the skills and values they are growing and it enhances their experience of our program.

While participating in a Trail Blazers program, each child chooses the value he or she will work on – his or her own “Value in Progress.” Each Value has specific behaviors and qualities that demonstrate growth, the achievement of which earns a bead for their Value Catcher©. We can see in the pride with which campers carry and display their Value Catchers© that they gained confidence in their own ability to learn, to grow, to achieve, and to be successful.

Our Results

Nearly 90% of youth participating in our programs make statistically significant progress in their development and are more equipped to face the challenges and opportunities of life (and nearly 100% have a blast!)

Visit our Results page for more details on what we deliver.