Camp Kamaji is the Place Where Grit and Perseverance Blooms

Four short weeks at Camp Kamaji this summer will help girls discover their true selves. Find out why that matters.

Parents are under constant pressure to help their kids be “the best,” and that means finding the best schools, the best tutors and the best extracurriculars while clearing any obstacles that might stand in the way. But how is all that pressure helping kids really build the grit and perseverance they’ll need the rest of their lives?

The truth is, while we’re always doing our best as parents, we might be missing the opportunity to let kids, particularly our girls, build a foundation upon which to discover who they are. That’s where Camp Kamaji, an overnight summer camp for girls ages 7-16 in Cass Lake, Minnesota, works its magic.

For four weeks, the girls unplug and uncover their true selves, all under the watchful eye of Camp Owner/Director Kat Martin Nelson, who started at the camp as a camper herself 25 years ago and has thrown all of her passion into creating a safe and special space for girls ever since.

“I really just want my campers to come to camp and be able to feel welcomed in a place where they can have fun and be silly and make great friends and also learn skills. I think that learning new things helps empower them and I want them to feel empowered and rewarded for this brave choice they are making to go away to sleepaway camp for four weeks,” she says.

A parent herself now, Martin Nelson understands how hard parents work to give their kids opportunities that matter. We tapped into her tips for building grit and perseverance and how Camp Kamaji, a place girls consider their “happy place,” makes that happen.

How to build grit and perseverance

Martin Nelson knows this pandemic has been hard for kids thrust into a situation in which they had no control. So the buzzwords of grit, perseverance and resilience have taken on bigger importance. And what parents do to help build those things plays a huge role. Here are a few steps to try:

1 Build a foundation.

“Do all the things you think are right for your kids but also give them experiences that help build the foundation of who they are at their core,” she suggests.

To do that, let them figure out who they are apart from their family. “It’s going to be your instinct to take care of them, but they need to figure out how to do things on their own,” she says. Give your daughters opportunities to do that.

“I see my responsibility as very big in helping let children discover who they are,” says Martin Nelson, who is the girls’ biggest cheerleader while also holding them accountable when they want to quit an activity at camp that they think is too hard. “That type of situation is building that foundation of self for these girls. Hopefully in the fairy tale part of this, the reward she gets to see is that she made progress.”

2 Create character-building opportunities.

“As parents we have to help our children find those opportunities to make decisions and a chance for them to really gain their independence and build their autonomy. When they know they can make decisions on their own, their worth and the way they feel about themselves is not based only on the choices that their parents make,” Martin Nelson says.

At Camp Kamaji, they learn how to create a support system on their own among the staff and peers and discover that they can make their own decisions without mom and dad doing it for them, she says.

Equally important is being in an environment where they can be with people from different cultures, ethnicities and religions to recognize similarities and honor differences, she says. That, too, helps girls figure out who they are.

3 Let them navigate disappointment.

“If we are constantly trying to fix it, that’s how they are going to be conditioned. That’s how children feel deregulated. If their parent’s not there or something isn’t fixed, that’s where the real resilience and grit comes in. How do I believe in myself and know that it’s either going to work out or I’m going to help it work out or maybe it won’t work out and I’ll be OK on the other side of it?”

Camp Kamaji is filled with girls who have amazing talents or are elite athletes, but at camp, amid all the fun, they discover another part of their personality they never got the chance to explore before, she says. “If, heaven forbid, something happens that they can’t play their sport, they don’t feel a loss of self. Of course they will be disappointed, but they know there is more to them, there’s more to their core, their foundation, than that thing that other people define them by.”

4 Let them make mistakes.

Camp is a place that allows them to make mistakes and fix them in a supportive environment, she says. “They can feel capable and they can be out there and know that they are able to ‘succeed’ in these situations,” she says.

Giving kids ‘the best’

Parents always want what’s best for their kids and that includes giving them opportunities to grow, she says.

“These types of opportunities are there, whether it is a sleepaway camp like Camp Kamaji or other types of camps or volunteer opportunities. I hope that parents can see that there’s so much value in these types of opportunities and places for kids to build on themselves and it’s just as important as it is to get the great SAT scores,” Martin Nelson says.

“The child that knows that they can be away from their parents or problem solve a situation or know how to get in an argument with somebody and recover and be closer afterward, these are life skills that will help them succeed.”

Discover more about Camp Kamaji’s summer camp for girls 7-15 and leadership training for 16-year-old girls at

Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Since 1984, the Chicago Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for Chicagoland families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.


  1. My daughter spent her first summer at Camp Kamaji last summer. She could not have loved her experience more – she made so many wonderful friends from all I’ve the country and all different ages and backgrounds. She learned new skills (waterskiing, rock climbing, paddle boarding, etc). She spent a summer away from screens – developing courage, confidence, and a sense of silliness and fun. What a special and incredible place. As a Kamaji alumni myself I could not be happier that she loved this place as much as I did!!


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