Unusual summer camps can open up unexpected life paths and challenge kids in new ways.

Firefighter Andréa Speranza runs Camp Courage. The Dartmouth-based camp offers girls ages 15 to 19 intense, hands-on training as paramedics, officers and firefighters.

“It’s a life-changing experience for them,” Speranza says. “It increases their confidence and empowers them like nothing else.”

Campers climb 100-foot ladders, cut up cars with the Jaws of Life, test out real fire fighting gear, shoot a gun, use batons, rappel, handle staged medical emergencies and talk with real families who have been affected by the work of first responders.

The camp is free, too. To get in, teens write a letter describing a good deed they would do to improve the world — and then go out and do it.

For Alex DeLorey, eight, Neptune Theatre’s Broadway Bound camp proved to be just what he was looking for after much searching.

“He gets to express himself -- singing, dancing and acting -- while getting lots of physical activity,” says his mom, Liz. “And it's always fun to see the performance on the last day. The kids are so proud to show off their new skills.”