Campers Focus on Brighter Tomorrows

The odds are against children who have witnessed domestic violence at home. Research indicates that one-third of these children will grow up to mimic the abusive behavior in their own relationships, and one-third will end up being the victim in an abusive relationship.

“Camp HOPE allows us to intervene in these kids’ lives while they are still young and learning how to make sense of the turmoil they find themselves in,” says Olliette Murry-Drobot, executive director of Family Safety Center. “We let them know they are not alone and that the trauma they have experienced does not have to define their futures. We help them learn tools for coping. If we intervene early enough, maybe we can steer them toward making good choices later in life,” she says, adding that FSC’s partnership with the University of Memphis Psychology Department is a crucial component of the Camp HOPE effort.

Camp Director Kelbert Fagan agrees. This summer they had 30 counselors to 45 campers. Approximately half of the counselors were Doctoral, Master’s, and undergraduate students from the University of Memphis Psychology Department. Rising seniors from area high school students assisted as Jr. Counselors.  All counselors received extensive training in the Camp HOPE curriculum. Fagan says he wants to keep this low camper to counselor ratio next year. If the camp expands, he says, it will grow the number of older campers. This year’s campers ranged in age from seven to 11, Fagan would like to see more campers ages 12 to 18.

“Growth of the program will likely come from serving the older campers. As far as quality of the program, we need to cap it around 55 or 60, just because of the nature of the traumas the kids have been through,” says Fagan. “We had a lot of kids who needed help de-escalating because of their situation and also being away from home…with this type of camp you have to make sure you have the resources to provide quality services because each child needs a lot attention. We had kids who shut-down, and we had to tend to them.”

In addition to the University of Memphis, Camp HOPE relies on Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Memphis Grizzlies and the Exchange Club of Memphis. Several local businesses provided cash or in-kind donations for the Camp, including Aardvark Memphis, Gant Systems, and OR Nurses. Verizon is a national sponsor of Camp HOPE America. Local campers enjoyed an interactive learning lab that Verizon brought to the site. At the first camp reunion, Verizon will provide each camper with a free tablet.

FSC brings campers together throughout the year to keep up the positive momentum of the Camp HOPE experience. University of Memphis researchers use evidence-based surveys to measure how “hopeful” campers are.

“Hope scores are typically higher after camp than before camp, but the farther away they get from camp, the score begins to decline. The reunions keep the hope scores up,” says Fagan.

Katie Howell, PhD, the University of Memphis assistant professor who oversees the Camp HOPE evaluation, explains that hope has been proven to be an indicator of future success.

“Hope is a protective factor against many forms of mental illness, such as depression and posttraumatic stress, so by focusing on increasing hopefulness we can improve the health and well-being of youth exposed to violence,” explains Howell.

A less scientific measure of the camp’s success is the fact that some campers did not want to leave, and some parents said their kids had been looking forward to camp for weeks. For many, camp was a positive refuge from the situation at home. Fagan says many of the campers are in transition, moving from house to house as their parent attempts to get a fresh start. One girl returned to the YWCA shelter after her week at camp.

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