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Some children have never had the opportunity to swim in a lake before, some have never been to sleepaway camp, and some have never had the opportunity to simply enjoy their childhood.
The children and teens who attend Camp HOPE America-Connecticut all come from different backgrounds but share the common thread of being exposed to trauma as the primary or secondary victim, whether through domestic or sexual violence or child abuse.
Camp HOPE America-Connecticut is run through the Center For Family Justice, located in Bridgeport with satellite offices throughout the state, whose mission is to provide free, confidential, and bilingual crisis services to those in need. Their goal is to help restore victim’s lives and educate communities on preventing future abuse. Its comprehensive services and resources can be accessed all under one roof.
Center For Family Justice President and CEO Debra A. Greenwood says that Camp HOPE America-Connecticut launched in 2017 and was inspired by its national parent program, Camp HOPE America, that started 14 years ago in California.
“We’re very excited to serve Connecticut now with this program,” Ms Greenwood said. “We were chosen as one of 16 locations across the country, a-year-and-a-half ago, to start up a Camp Hope, and that was provided to us by the Verizon Foundation, which supports Camp HOPE America.”
Camp HOPE America-Connecticut takes place in late July and early August; Camp Tepee in Monroe is the day camp for young children from 5 to 9 years old and Camp Hi-Rock in the Berkshire Mountains is the sleepaway camp for children and teens 7 to 17 years old.
Prior to Ms Greenwood’s nearly decade-long career with the Center For Family Justice, she worked for YMCAs in Connecticut for almost 30 years and was familiar with Camp Tepee and Camp Hi-Rock, both American Camping Association accredited locations.
As a result, the YMCA has partnered with Camp HOPE America-Connecticut to provide a safe environment for campers where they can enjoy the outdoors and be surrounded by skilled counselors.
“The YMCA has been absolutely incredible,” Ms Greenwood said. “They have been great partners, and they train our staff on their rules and regulations for their camps. Then we train their staff on how to work with children affected by severe trauma and abuse.”
The staff members at Camp HOPE America-Connecticut are specially selected because of their backgrounds in clinical and social work, experience working with children, and having received training in California through Camp HOPE America.
Each child and teen that seeks to attend a Camp HOPE America is evaluated using the Accelerated Children’s Evaluation (ACE) model, which asks ten questions regarding the types of traumatic experiences they have been impacted by.
Questions range from if they have come from a family where there has been either domestic or sexual violence, if there was incarceration of one of the parents, if there was abuse that trickled down to them, if a parent was divorced, if a sibling or parent passed away, etc, and asks how those painful situations affected them.
Most children who attended Camp HOPE America-Connecticut last year experienced five or more of the traumas, with one young girl having experienced a nine out of ten.
“These are kids that come from homes where they never get to be a child,” Ms Greenwood said. “These kids are not just from inner cities, they’re from suburban towns, as well.”
Not only does the Center For Family Justice evaluate the children and teens before attending Camp HOPE America-Connecticut, but they work with them all year round, including having a special follow-up 30 days after camp.
Ms Greenwood said that they use an evidence-based measure called “Hope Scales” to compare about how the children and teens felt before and after attending camp.
What they have found is that before camp the children share immense feelings of hopelessness, but after Camp HOPE they become more hopeful for the future.
By providing these young people such a positive experience, Center For Family Justice hopes to help them through the trauma to where they have tools to avoid possible abuse and to never become an abuser.
“Camp HOPE is what breaks the intergenerational cycle of abuse,” Ms Greenwood said.
She hopes one day the children who attend Camp HOPE America-Connecticut will be able to come back as camp counselors and let the younger generation know that it can get better.
What Campers Can Look Forward To
In addition to a week of enjoying arts and crafts, swimming, peer bonding, campfires, and outdoor activities, Camp HOPE America-Connecticut follows Camp HOPE America’s special curriculum to give its campers social and emotional support.
Every day at camp, there are two Hope Circles where everyone can gather to talk about how they are feeling and how they found hope that day. It is an opportunity for campers to feel supported by one another and become more comfortable opening up.
Ms Greenwood said that just last summer she saw some children progress from barely speaking two words at the beginning of camp to ending up performing in talent shows and feeling confident in themselves.
There will be an open house for guardians and the children at the Center for Family Justice to view videos about what each camp looks like and what makes Camp HOPE America-Connecticut different than any other camp out there.
How To Support A Camper
The Center For Family Justice strives to never turn away a child or teen in need and ensure that campers who attend Camp HOPE America-Connecticut do so free of charge.
With costs of about $1,000 for one camper for a full week at Camp HOPE America-Connecticut’s sleepaway camp and $500 for one camper for a full week at day camp, the Verizon Foundation has helped give grants to many towns in need.
However, the Center For Family Justice is still in need of finding funding to support its campers, as its hopes to expand its Camp HOPE America-Connecticut experience to help twice as many children as last year.
That is why the Center For Family Justice will be having the “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” fundraiser to help raise money for Camp HOPE America-Connecticut. The walk takes place in downtown Fairfield on Saturday, April 28, at 8:30 am.
Those unable to attend can also donate through the Center For Family Justice website to help Camp HOPE America-Connecticut by visiting centerforfamilyjustice.org or by calling 203-334-6154.