Camp is a place where all are welcome, included, and impacted. Camp Appalachia is a camp located in Teays Valley, West Virginia on 157 acres of land. It is home to ten resident cabins, a mess hall, multipurpose activity building, rock wall, pool, lake, trails, and many other activity areas. This camp is located in the center of two heavily populated cities where drug abuse and crime run rampant. The purpose of Camp Appalachia is to teach kids how to adapt to the challenging and confusing world that surrounds them.
At Camp Appalachia we believe it is our responsibility to provide positive role models to the campers by hiring dynamic and passionate staff and by sharing with them our core values of Integrity, courage, responsibility, friendship, and love. Our target camper is a child between the ages 7-17 who are at a high risk for destructive life choices. We are providing a little to no cost resident camp experience to kids who are directly affected by the opiod epidemic, kids in the foster care system, and kids who have one or more parents incarcerated.
During the course of their stay with us, campers will be exposed to many new activities, ideas, and opportunities. Each camper will get the chance to try new skills such as archery, swimming, hiking, and fishing. One major goal of camp is to increase self-awareness and self-esteem in each individual camper through outdoor education and nature activities. Often, a young person will have the desire and ability to perform a new skill but will not attempt it due to fear: fear of imperfection, fear of embarrassment, and fear of ridicule.
According to "The Effects of a Summer Camp Experience on Factors of Resiliency in At-Risk Youth," a study done by Towson University, summer camp is a useful and effective tool to help at risk youth develop resiliency. Occupational therapists have suggested that a shift needs to occur from a problem-based model to a strength based model. A problem-based model focuses solely on fixing the child's problem, so the problem is always most prominent, while with a strength-based model, a child's resiliency and ability to adapt and overcome these problems and issues is highlighted. In their research, they noted that Positive Youth Development (PYD) is founded on the belief that successful development does not occur from the absence of risky behavior, but from the presence of positive attributes that enable youth to reach their full potential (Lerner & Benson, 2003).
The very nature of camp fosters this strength-based model. When campers arrive on their first day, they are placed in their respective groups. These groups are together at most times throughout the day and will participate in group activities that make all campers work toward a common goal. This could be anything from a simple scavenger hunt to group projects or presentations. The camp is programed to build a strong “camp family” bond early on. Once these bonds are formed, activities move from being group based to individually based. At this point, the camper is more comfortable and feels part of a camp community; therefore, it can be easier to try new things. If they are initially unsuccessful, staff and other campers offer support and encouragement until a particular activity is mastered. This builds self-confidence by showing the camper that although a task is hard or intimidating at first, it is possible to master. This change in thought process can be taken away from camp and applied to all areas of life and build resiliency and confidence for them to pursue other activities in school, at home, and in their respective communities.
Campers will be given time every day to participate in fun academic activities to help combat typical summer learning loss and the achievement gap. Research done by The Wallace Foundation, a national philanthropy based in New York City that seeks to foster improvements in learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and the vitality of the arts for everyone, shows that students from low income households are at a greater risk for summer learning loss. This is caused by a combination of factors. For instance, during the school year, kids are set up for success. Their days are organized and structured, they are given food, and they are challenged academically. For many students, as soon as summer starts, these things are taken away.
Summer camp is a great tool to help fight these downward trends. No two people learn the same, and camp provides a variety of learning opportunities for all learning styles. Camp by its own nature brings campers of diverse ages, backgrounds, and achievement levels together. Campers are given hands-on teaching that aids in their understanding of subjects. Often times, campers with higher achievement levels take on a mentoring role to help the campers who struggle, which helps reinforce their own learning. Camp activities like arts and crafts, soccer, or even chess teach kids to use strategic reasoning, mathematics, and problem-solving skills. Every day during their stay at camp, they will do math, reading, or science activities to stimulate their brains and keep them sharp. We will also be sending campers home with educational packets that are designed to continue their learning once at home. We have partnered with local teachers who come in and volunteer to tutor, and we provide resources for kids to take home and continue their learning. We also have an outdoor education and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for the campers to participate in. By the end of their stay they will be taught about our local ecosystem, how to identify various trees, plants, animals, and insects.
Academic learning will not be the only type of training our campers will receive. In today’s culture and climate, youth are inundated with information. It is easy for a camper to hear negative news stories about a particular group of people and just believe it. This is why character education will also take place. This will include being taught by adults from many different occupations, cultural groups, and education backgrounds. One focus will be on having a healthy view of law enforcement and emergency medical service personnel. Many youth in foster care have a negative view of these professions. If an incident occurs at that child’s home where these individuals were called to respond, they may have been the people that “took” that child's parent. It is important to have LE and EMS present and interacting with the campers to change these views. Law enforcement and EMS visit and talk to the campers in groups and have question and answer sessions, as well as do team building activities. This can mean an officer doing the ropes course with a group of campers, or a paramedic learning to stand up paddleboard alongside our campers. We have relationship building activities that are designed to foster relationships and build trust.
Camp Appalachia is a place where all are welcome, all can be successful, and a place where no one leaves the same as they came in. We can not change every kids situation, but we can help them change their outlook within their situation and teach them the skills necessary to develop resiliency and be exposed to life outside of poverty, substance abuse, and destructive life choices.