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Alek, now 17-years-old, recalls times when his mother was attacked by his father in their home.  The violence eventually led to his parents getting divorced.  He and his mom got help at the San Diego Family Justice Center.  There he learned about the first camp in the country for children impacted by domestic violence. He first came to Camp HOPE America – California in the summer of 2013 as a very quiet and introverted teen who mostly kept to himself. Alek could easily have ended up in jail or juvenile hall as so many boys do growing up with violence and abuse. But coming to camp year after year helped Alek process the domestic violence he was exposed and understand his emotions and challenges. Then, he joined the Pathways to HOPE Project, a year-round mentoring program for teens in San Diego and Imperial County, and gained confidence and self-esteem. This year, Alek became a counselor for younger campers and a role model for other boys struggling with violence in their homes. Alek bonded quickly with his cabin and offered encouragement to the six boys he guided. Alek enrolled in Grossmont Community College this fall and receiving a $1,500 college stipend from the Verizon Foundation. Alek is getting straight A’s and plans on becoming a psychologist. His confidence and determination to overcome the abuse he was exposed to now serves as an inspiration to others.

The Pathways to HOPE project focused on providing year-round mentoring and camping activities to 100 children and teens from San Diego and Imperial County.  All the children have experienced domestic violence and/or child abuse. The project also measured Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in all the participating children at the beginning and then provided monthly activities focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) along with a week of Camp HOPE America in the summer time.

The Alliance partnered with the University of Oklahoma’s Center of Applied Research for Non-Profit Organizations to evaluate the effectiveness of the camping and year-round mentoring program.  The results, the first ever published on the power of camping and mentoring with children exposed to domestic violence, show that Camp HOPE produces statistically significant increases in hope and resilience. The evaluation report released by the University of Oklahoma stated, “The results of this evaluation support a growing body of evidence for the power of Camp HOPE America to change the lives of children exposed to domestic violence. The Pathways to HOPE Project can help sustain Hope and Resilience year-round among children and teens who are exposed to domestic violence.”

The founder of Camp HOPE America, Casey Gwinn, says “In America, we raise our criminals at home.  You can love trauma-exposed children when they are 11 or you can lock them up when they are 18 and say you are tough on crime.  Rising hope changes the destinies of trauma exposed kids.”  Gwinn continues, “Hope is measurable and now it is clear that rising hope scores change the destinies of traumatized children.”

The University of Oklahoma report concluded that an increase in children’s hope was associated with increases in the child’s belief in self, others and their dreams, psychological resilience, and positive attitude toward academics. Similarly, higher resilience is positively associated with academic self-perception, academic goals, and motivation and self-regulation.

According to published reports, hope represents a positive psychological strength that promotes adaptive behaviors, healthy development, and both psychological and social well-being. Additionally, higher hope is associated with better coping skills and better health and health-related practices.

Yesenia Aceves, the Director of The Pathways to HOPE Project, has worked closely with Alek and his mother since 2016. “It’s an immense privilege to walk alongside the teenagers in our program as they navigate their own way forward.  Alek is a shining example of the power of hope,” said Aceves.

Camp HOPE America and the Pathways to HOPE Project are evidence-based interventions that have changed the lives of San Diego and Imperial County youth.  Funding for the year-round Pathways Program came from SDG&E, Verizon, Price Charities, the Zable Foundation, Sundance Stagelines, the Schnurmacher Foundation, the Donner Foundation, and individual donors.

More information can be found at www.camphopeamerica.org.

Photos and video are also available by contacting Camp HOPE America Director, Michael Burke, at Michael@allianceforhope.com or by calling (619) 573-4345.