TAMPA, Fla. — Children who witness or experience domestic violence are often described as the hidden victims of abuse. However, researchers estimate upwards of 10,000,000 children are exposed to domestic violence each year.
Camp HOPE America is a national program launched in 2003 in San Diego. The model was the first of its kind in the country.
In August, building on the evidence-based camping and mentoring program, three local domestic violence shelters in the Tampa Bay Area and two in Orlando teamed up to hold their first camp.
“We are one of the first cohorts to come together to host this camp together. We are kind of a pilot for this in the country, which is really neat,” Christine Meister, the program coordinator with The Spring of Tampa Bay, said. “And so one of the really unique things about Camp HOPE is that the studies have shown that one week of camp is the equivalent to about three months of therapy.”
The children must have either suffered from abuse or witnessed domestic violence to qualify for the program. While it is sad to think that the camp’s age group aims to help our kids ages 7 to 11 years old, Meister said it happens to more children than anyone can imagine.
“And so knowing that some of these youth have been through that, and then seeing them shine, seeing them overcome and have these moments where they’re in front of everybody singing karaoke, or they go down that zip line, and challenged themselves and overcome,” Meister said. “It’s just one of the most heartwarming things that bring tears to your eyes, just seeing that youth are still so resilient and so capable of joy after having gone through something so horrible. So it’s, it’s amazing.”
Through a lens of hope, Meister said they could “break that cycle of generational violence. We know that children who grew up in homes where they either experienced the islands themselves or witnessed violence are more likely to repeat that cycle down the road, either becoming victims themselves or becoming perpetrators.”
We sat down with two brothers that attended the camp. We are not identifying them because they are survivors of domestic violence.
“Were you surprised to see so many kids just like you?” Paluska asked the oldest brother.
“I thought there would be a lot of people but not that many people because I didn’t expect that many people to have to go through what we went through,” the boy said.
“Camp gave me a better mindset about things and stuff. Like, whenever I would accomplish something, and whenever I would do something, I would feel like, like that was, like scary. I was saying, ‘oh God, what if it (zip line) snapped?’ I was like, I’m just going to have fun,” the youngest said.
The Sunrise of Pasco County camp coordinator told Paluska it was amazing to see the children having fun and taking risks.
“It’s especially rewarding because these are children,” Ashly Delaney said. “Being able to provide them an experience they might not be able to otherwise camp is incredibly expensive to send a child to summer camp and to be able to provide this for free for families.”
Delaney continued, “That is your regular summer camp experience. You can do all those things like rock climbing, canoeing, and everything. But it’s through that trauma-informed lens, which makes it unique compared to other summer camps.”
The coordinator for CASA Pinellas said the camp is a significant bridge between hope and healing.”At camp, it focused more on the positive and not so much on the negative with all of the activities they had going on,” Janell Nelson, a case manager at the Family Justice Center by Casa, said. “It didn’t give them much time to express, you know, what they were feeling. I think that the camp hope took away that for that week, it took away just as much as trauma they were going through.”
Source Credit: Michael Paluska, ABC Action News, Tampa, FL. See original article here.