Since 1961, KidSpirit has provided youth ages 2-18 with intentional, high-quality, equitable learning and out-of-school time activities and camps. As part of the Oregon State University Extension and Engagement, KidSpirit is a positive youth development program to improve health and wellness as physical, emotional, and artistic development. We help youth develop "thriving" characteristics through non-competitive, recreational, and educational activities.


KidSpirit Mission: empowering lifelong thriving 

KidSpirit provides youth with intentional, high-quality, and equitable out-of-school time learning activities and camps, empowering youth for lifelong thriving.

KidSpirit offers staff and volunteers the opportunity to develop essential skills such as adaptability, problem-solving, teamwork, communication, tech proficiency, empathy, initiative, resilience, self-awareness, and cultural sensitivity. This prepares them to emerge as leaders, ready to drive positive change in their communities and beyond


KidSpirit Philosophy

At KidSpirit, we believe every moment holds the potential for learning and growth. We strive to provide a fun, open learning atmosphere where participants and staff are encouraged to challenge themselves daily. KidSpirit instructors cater to a wide variety of learning styles by creating engaging and individualized lessons to ensure that every participant has the opportunity to increase their skills and confidence. 


Aims & Objectives

  • Be a leader in the community in Positive Youth Development and building relationships with youth
  • Enhance the mental, physical, and artistic competence of the participants and staff through various activities
  • Improve and support community health and well-being
  • Serve as a functional social network and maintain relationships between community youth and adults
  • Build confidence and self-esteem of participants and staff through fun, age appropriate, and innovative activities
  • Cultivate an atmosphere focused on developing the character and life-skills of staff and participants
  • Establish an environment that is safe and caring for the participants and staff

The KidSpirit staff strive to provide a fun, educational, and caring atmosphere for children to achieve personal success while enhancing opportunities for social interaction in a supervised and positive environment. 

KidSpirit History

Before "KidSpirit"

Oregon State University began its first summer sports program during the summer of 1961. The program was severely limited, offering only boy's baseball. For 10 years the program remained relatively small in size.

In 1971 the program grew substantially when directors Don Martin and Dow Poling decided to offer more activities. In addition to baseball, they offered swimming and soccer. Although these activities had existed at OSU since 1968, this was the first time they were offered in a summer program. Continual requests from parents introduced the Girls Summer Youth Program.

Summer Camp Expansion

In 1989, the boys and girls camps combined to become the Oregon State University youth summer sports program. The new program was a six-week camp for ages 8-14, and offered new activities such as aerobic dance, soccer, and basketball for both girls and boys. In 1995 the camp began offering a full day option which consisted of four two-week sessions. Under the direction of current camp director, Karen Swanger, the camp expanded in 1999 to provide five two-week sessions. Enrollments grew to 400 campers per one-week session, increasing camp hours to provide care from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM. The vast amount of growth also added an 11th week to camp. 

KidSpirit Today

Since 1961, the OSU summer sports program has evolved by leaps and bounds. The program, now "Kidspirit," offers sports, arts, science, gymnastics, cooking, and so many other activities as part of our Summer Day Camp. Gymnastics and No-School Day ACES Day camps are offered all year long! KidSpirit continues to expand to this day, constantly innovating and creating new programs to best serve the youth of the community. 

KidSpirit is directed by Karen Swanger. Karen has an MS in Exercise Sport Science and Minor in Conflict resolution from Oregon State University. She has over 30 years experience in recruiting, training, evaluating, and managing large groups (200+) of staff and volunteers as the Membership Director for Maui Girl Scouts and the director of Maui Special Olympics. Karen is assisted at KidSpirit by over 120 annual student workers, with position including Camp Counselors, Head Instructors, Office Assistants, Marketing/Special Projects Staff, and Program Leadership Staff. Individual programs are directed by student leadership staff, providing them a formative experience in youth programming and leadership. 

A Word from our Director:

Our goal at KidSpirit is to provide a safe, fun space for children from all backgrounds and ability levels -- KidSpirit staff are the biggest assets in making this happen. We take pride in our program and our employees, and are passionate about your personal and professional development.

-- Karen Swanger a.k.a. Big Mama K --