'Camp Obama' Trains Campaign Volunteers No sing-a-longs or crafts at this summer camp. Instead, it's Politics 101, as volunteers from around the country come to Chicago for intense training sessions. From there, they return home or are dispatched to key states, where they work the precincts for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential bid.
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'Camp Obama' Trains Campaign Volunteers

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'Camp Obama' Trains Campaign Volunteers

'Camp Obama' Trains Campaign Volunteers

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You think summer camp, you think, yeah, Wyoming, not Chicago. Nonetheless, that's where a group of adults is going. They're attending Camp Obama. Yes, as in a certain presidential candidate.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: There's no campfire sing-alongs, roasting marshmallows or swimming in the lake. Instead of tall pine trees, this camp is surrounded by tall skyscrapers. And campers here don't walk across a sandy beach or stay in knotty-walled log cabins. They're inside a drab office building with beige carpeting and walls adorned with maps of early primary and caucus states - Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. This camp is for people serious about volunteering for a campaign.

Mr. HANS RIEMER (Obama Campaign): Barack Obama is inspiring a new generation of people to come in, and a lot of people have not been involved in the political process before.

SCHAPER: Hans Riemer is national youth vote director for the Obama campaign.

Mr. RIEMER: So we are training them, teaching them how to be effective, showing them what their role is in our strategy to win the elections, and that's what's happening here, is we're taking people from raw enthusiasm to, you know, capable organizers.

SCHAPER: All campaigns rely heavily on volunteers to carry the candidate's message and do much of the campaign grunt work. And all spend some time training volunteers to be more effective. But Riemer says the Obama campaign is trying something different. The key is to avoid the mistakes of some past campaigns, like that of Howard Dean, which got plenty of enthusiastic young volunteers, but disappointing results because of their inexperience and lack of training.

Camp Obama director Jocelyn Woodards says her job is to teach novices the nuts and bolts of campaigning.

Ms. JOCELYN WOODARDS (Director, Camp Obama): We go through everything from canvassing, phone banking, volunteer recruitment, our campaign message, how to develop an organization locally.

SCHAPER: These training sessions last four days for about 50 volunteers each week. Twenty-one-year-old University of Iowa student Andrew Wiess, an intern in Obama's Iowa City office, says he wants to become more of an asset to the campaign.

Mr. ANDREW WIESS (Intern): You know, go back to Iowa City or wherever you're from and just be able to make more of an impact and kind of really know what you're doing and maximize your potential that way.

SCHAPER: Nineteen-year-old Tia Upchurch-Freelove, another University of Iowa student, says even though she's lived in Iowa her entire life, she came to Camp Obama to learn more about how her state's caucuses work.

Ms. TIA UPCHURCH-FREELOVE (Student, University of Iowa): It's really funny, because it seems like a lot of people would know about the caucuses, but for young people especially, they're not taught about the caucuses nearly as much as they should.

SCHAPER: But Camp Obama isn't completely unlike summer camp. Twenty-seven-year-old Simone Simpson of Las Vegas says she hasn't felt this kind of camaraderie in years.

Ms. SIMONE SIMPSON (Resident, Las Vegas): It's just bonds that I really feel will last a lifetime.

SCHAPER: Did you ever go to summer camp as a kid?

Ms. SIMPSON: Absolutely. At Camp Cedar Point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIMPSON: Absolutely, I loved summer camp, and this is a little bit like that. I mean, just as far as something new that I didn't know what to expect, and then the friendships that are formed and then the fun as well. So it's kind of a camp for Obama.

SCHAPER: And like she did as a girl at Camp Cedar Point, Simpson is having everyone attending the camp sign a book. Not a camp scrap book, mind you, but her copy of Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope."

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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