Junior Nathan Clem gives outdoor experience to Chicago kids


Jacob Carpenter

Sitting atop the viewing tower fence, junior Nathan Clem celebrates making it to the summit of the Porcupine Mountains. Clem and his friend Jacob Carpenter led a week-long expedition in the mountain range that included a trip to the summit.

This past summer, junior Nathan Clem spent his time off backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains in Wisconsin, where he worked as a camp counselor.

The camp is called Camp Jorn, a subsidiary of the YMCA, which is located in Vilas County, Wisconsin. Nathan has been going there ever since he was five.

“I’ve been going to the camp since early elementary school, and when I got old enough to work there I jumped at the opportunity because it’s always been the best part of summer and the opportunity to work there was irresistible,” Nathan said.

Nathan spent a total of 11 weeks at the camp, but says the highlight of his camp was hiking through the porcupine mountains in the Michigan Peninsula.

“There were five kids from Chicago’s inner city who came up to the camp, and me and some of the other counselors took them on a week-long trip in northern Michigan in the Porcupine Mountains,” Nathan said. “I’m familiar with the terrain so it wasn’t as physically tough for me, but it was definitely strenuous for the kids.”

The trip was a 52-mile excursion which provided an opportunity for the kids who may not get to take trips like this where they lived.

“The experience really opened my eyes to kids of different backgrounds,” Nathan said. “One day, a kid was having a really hard time during his hike, and I asked him what the matter was. He opened up to me about how all of his family had passed away, and he was bouncing around multiple foster homes while trying to focus on school. It was a very eye-opening experience.”

Part of the challenges of Nathan’s journey included an unexpected 12-mile detour in order to get the water necessary to cook the food for the nightly meal.

“We really only had freeze-dried food to eat, so we needed water to cook it,” Nathan said. “So me and my friend Jacob Carpenter had to walk six miles down the mountain in a thunderstorm to the nearest refilling station to get it. By the time we made the six-mile journey back up the mountain, it was 10:30 p.m. and everyone was so relieved to see us because they were all so hungry. We didn’t get to bed until after midnight that night.”

Youth and adults came from all over the country to attend the camp as both participants and counselors. Arizona native Jacob Carpenter, Nathan’s friend and fellow counselor,  remembers the activities and experiences.

“Nathan and I have been friends since we were little and we have grown up together at the camp.” Carpenter said. “The camp was very hectic and it was up to us to manage the kids and make sure they stayed safe. One day we got lost on a canoe trip with the kids, and it was very foggy and hard to see, but we made it out with a little help from Google Maps. Working in a situation like that really bonds people.”

Nathan plans to return to the camp this summer and continue his work as a counselor.

“It was an extremely positive experience, as it is every summer,” Nathan said. “I spent the summer impacting kids lives and changing their life for the better. I plan to go back this summer and work there as long as I can.”