“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” –Bishop Desmond Tutu
An aggressive third-grader disrupts her class, a 12-year-old experiments with drugs, a 14-year-old girl looks for love, and an angry young father has no impulse control.
Young lives can unravel when children witness domestic violence. It happens behind closed doors, but its tragic consequences weave their way into the fabric of our community.
At Family Safety Center, our mission is to create a community where domestic violence victims and their families can heal and thrive. The children must be part of the equation.
When someone is in an abusive situation, she may attempt to leave seven times before she succeeds. What happens until then? A lot.
By the time a victim walks through our doors, she has multiple scars, the deepest ones not visible. If she has children in tow, they carry the weight of their mother’s trauma on their narrow shoulders, invisible scars that last a long time.
Camp HOPE America in Memphis is in its second year of serving the children of Family Safety Center clients. Since one-third of children who witness abuse are likely to repeat the behavior or subject themselves to abusive relationships as adults, Camp HOPE is our community’s chance to break the insidious cycle of abuse.
The innovative six-day program uses a curriculum based on published research about the connection between hope and the capacity to succeed in life. Founded in California, the program is now in 11 states.
The camp is the only one in Tennessee. With activities including ropes courses, mindfulness exercises, and sessions on goal-setting, Camp HOPE packs plenty of skill-building into an otherwise standard, and fun, overnight camp experience.
Our campers exhibit twice as many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) as the average child. ACE’s, including divorce, domestic violence, incarceration, mental illness, or substance abuse, have been studied extensively by clinicians. It boils down to this: when a child suffers a traumatic event, the negative effects may surface later in a variety of ways.
Camp HOPE children have an ACE score of 4 or higher. A report from the Centers for Disease Control offers sobering statistics of what the future may hold for these children. Left untreated, ACE’s increase the likelihood of heavy drug use, chronic depression, domestic violence, and delinquent behavior.
It is possible to change this narrative. Last year, a nationwide study of HOPE campers revealed marked improvement in the kids’ resiliency and their ability to overcome negative situations. Locally, University of Memphis researchers evaluated campers before and after camp and found positive changes in several key indicators, including a post-camp self-esteem score of 4.7 on a scale of one to five.
Camp HOPE is a worthwhile investment in our community. Family Safety Center is grateful to the local individuals and businesses who have stepped up to support us.
At the end of each day at Camp HOPE, the question around the campfire is “Where did you see hope today?”
I see hope every time a Family Safety Center client turns from victim to survivor — thriving and healing. My wish is that through Camp HOPE America, the children get that chance as well.
Olliette Murry-Drobot is executive director of Family Safety Center in Memphis.