Camp challenges youth with rustic camping experience

Campers prepare to depart to the Robert M. Pyles Boys Camp. Matt Fernandez/The Signal
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The R. M. Pyles Boys Camp in Santa Clarita sent about 100 boys and 35 counselor staff up to the Sequoia National Forest for a 12-day session of wilderness adventure, part of the camp’s annual summer tradition.


Pyles Camp was founded in 1949 by oil executive Robert M. Pyles as a place for young boys to experience nature

Today, Pyles Camp is provided for free to young boys, especially those from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds, beginning at age 12. Camper activities include archery, arts and crafts, a ropes course and hiking.

After a camper completes the first year of the program, with a positive counselor recommendation, the camper may progress through the other programs, including the Lioneer and Voyager programs, which include extensive hiking and community service projects, and the Worker program, where campers take up jobs with the camp and earn pay for their work. Though the main camp office is located in Santa Clarita, Pyles serves families throughout Southern California.

In 1942, Pyles was recognized as one of George H. W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light,” and the president actually made a visit to the site. In 2019, the American Camp Association awarded Pyles with the Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence, given to programs that innovatively address the needs of people and society through camping.

Pyles prides itself on instilling its campers with life lessons, leadership skills and positive father figures or male role models, and the camp motto is “daring boys to become men.”

Samuel Tempel, who has been part of Pyles as a camper and staff for 16 years, and is assistant director for this year’s fourth camp session, said that a big part of camp is reconciling the idea of manhood with changing social norms.

“We take an old-school concept and modify it to be more palatable to the new generation because you always have to adapt,” Tempel said. “What we teach can benefit anyone from all walks of life and apply to all sorts of social issues, from kids who are struggling with coming out to someone who is economically unstable or people who are struggling with their parents’ divorce. We provide a place for them to be themselves and grow, and we don’t just go away after the two weeks (of camp).”

Second-year counselor Jason Ryan Devorce was a former Pyles camper who credits the camp for showing him how to be successful despite having a learning disability.

“When I was younger, it was harder for me to focus in class, and I was disruptive in school and the class clown — then I was diagnosed with ADHD,” Devorce said. “Everything changed after I went to Pyles, and they taught me life skills and showed me that just because I have a learning disability doesn’t mean I can’t be successful. I had a 3.8 (grade-point average) in high school and got into San Jose State University on a scholarship because of Pyles, and I come back as a counselor to give back to the next generation.”

Michael Naaman, a second-year camper and 15-year-old Valencia resident, went up to camp for his second session of the year.

“It was tougher this year because there was more hiking, and I think we did about 40 miles altogether last session, and it’s probably going to be 80 miles or more this session with the Voyager program,” Naaman said. “Meeting new people is my favorite part of camp, and I’m really looking forward to the hiking and seeing new places.”

Naaman’s parents, Diane and Robert, discovered the camp through Michael’s counselor at Rio Norte Junior High, and said they appreciate the opportunity for their son to take a break from technology and modern life and to experience the wilderness.

“Santa Clarita is a very family-oriented community, and a lot of families have both parents working to make ends meet, so this is an opportunity to develop a sense of camaraderie and get out into the woods that those kids would likely otherwise miss,” Robert said. “It’s a very hard-core camp, but that’s good because it forces kids to learn responsibility and develops a sense of accomplishment.”

Pyles Executive Director Adam Bell believes the organization is set apart from others because they actively seek out underserved children, and receive testimonials from campers about how their experience has changed their perspectives and, ultimately, saved their lives.

Though Pyles does not currently have a program for girls and does not have the infrastructure to immediately support one, Bell said that one of his goals is to begin to lay the groundwork for one in the next five years. In the immediate future, he wants to focus on expanding the organization’s partnerships and finding more sources of fundraising. Bell said he already fundraises about $1 million each year to keep the camp running, and the costs keep increasing.

“They’re fun, and they work,” Bell said, regarding why the camps have grown and thrived over the years. 

“Our culture hasn’t really done a good job of raising boys into men, and has instead raised boys into bros or into bigger boys,” Bell said. “When we say we want to dare boys to become men, it’s about dignity, respect and being part of something greater than oneself.”

To learn more about R. M. Pyles Boys Camp, visit pylescamp.org.

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