From the Hood to the Woods
by Jim Shepherd , The Outdoor Wire
posted August 14, 2009
I’m fortunate enough to have enjoyed what I’d have to call an average childhood. A loving family, a good home, and the presence of friends and neighbors who believed in – and practiced – the golden rule. We weren’t the Ward Cleaver family, but we enjoyed our lives – and each other. It was a childhood that taught the values I’ve taken with me most of my adult life.
It never ceases to amaze me when I meet someone who is a great example for everyone around them because they lacked most of those things growing up.
For some, it is the determination to change childhood for kids like them that makes them truly unique.
My friend John Annoni is one of those people.
Growing up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he had anything but an idyllic childhood. Living with grandparents, he never interacted with his father, only saw his mom on the weekends, and watched her struggle in an abusive relationship.
He could have become just another street kid and moved down that path to become just another street mutt. Instead, Annoni discovered the outdoors, and that discovery changed his life. It has also led Annoni to change the lives of inner city kids through his Camp Compass Academy.
Annoni’s written a book telling the story of his life – and Camp Compass. It’s called, appropriately enough “From the Hood to the Woods” and it tells that story. It certainly doesn’t begin like the story of a sixth grade teacher who began a camp to give city kids a chance to enjoy the outdoors. But it is a story that will resonate inside you if you’ve ever doubted yourself, been called names, or felt as if you really didn’t fit anywhere. But John Annoni didn’t give in to the temptations around him, he found his solace -and salvation – in the outdoors.
The difference that discovery made in his life changed him. And the lack of a father made him determined to be a father to the fatherless. That dedication led John to found Camp Compass Academy, a youth mentoring program run by Allentown School District teachers – outside of normal school hours. It teaches fishing, shooting and basic outdoor skills to kids in a structured, safe and still nurturing environment. The other lessons the kids take away are equally valuable – improved self-esteem, the ability to interact with adults, and the importance of positive choices.
It’s John Annoni’s world, and it revolves around kids. “People always want to know what kind of kid I was and what kind of kids I work with,” Annoni writes, “When they come into my classroom, they have a wide array of strengths and weaknesses, just like adults. It’s my job, as a teacher, to say ‘Here are your strengths; let’s make them even better. Here are your weaknesses, let’s make them sronger.”
And Annoni, perhaps as much as anyone I know (and I come from a long line of teachers) realizes it’s not easy in the best of circumstances. “When I talk to kids about the problems they have, everything from drugs to sex to peer pressure to gangs, I realize kids today are faced with many more challenges than I ever was. I’ve been through a lot myself, but to think about what some of these kids are faced with, it’s sometimes disheartening.
But Annoni has run toward the challenge with the same determination to save lives that makes firemen rush into burning buildings. And his determination to make a difference has led everyone from Allentown teachers and civic leaders to PGA TOUR golfer Boo Weekley to get involved.
Today, John Annoni’s a respected guy who’s recognized by Outdoor Life as one of the 25 most influential people in the outdoors, and his story’s being repeated across the country. But reading “From the Hood to the Woods” will make you realize that today, John’s not all that different from any of us who love the outdoors.
Where he’s different is his recognition that the outdoors can make a difference to kids who haven’t yet discovered them – and his dedication to giving city kids the chance to learn what’s great about the “great outdoors” in a safe, structured, yet loving experience.
If you think one person can’t make a difference, you need to read John’s book.
You can learn more about John Annoni and Camp Compass at: www.campcompass.org. While you’re there, you can order a copy of John’s book and learn his story for yourself.
If you want to know more about Camp Compass, you can also view a recent report on John and Camp Compass that ran on NBC Nightly News. It’s probably the most positive story about the outdoors, guns and fishing you’ve seen in quite some time on mainstream media.
Seems John is a positive influence on everyone.
You can see the NBC feature on John Annoni and Camp Compass Academy at: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/32336707#32336707
Seems we could all make a difference- and we should start today.