Field trip: Camp Joy's foster care camp aims to teach youth life skills

Camp: Camp Joy's Fostering Success program
Where: Clarksville, Ohio
Ages: 9 - 16

CLARKSVILLE, Ohio -- Foster care youths recently kicked off a new year of a program designed to help them be successful in foster care and beyond. The 2014-2015 year of the Fostering Success program began the week of July 7 at Camp Joy.

It's one of many ways Camp Joy’s staff members strive to achieve their mission of “helping people grow and succeed through lifelong, experience-based learning.”

Founded in 1937 by St. Barnabus Episcopal Church, Camp Joy is a nonprofit organization in Clarksville, Ohio.

“Our goal is helping them (campers) to that transformation and to go back to their communities and make changes in their communities as well,” said Sales and Marketing Director Kevin Hackman.

Designed for children ages 9 to 16 in foster care, Fostering Success is one of several camp programs for underserved youths and families. Others include camps for low-income youths and families, those with medical conditions and grieving children and families.

Fostering Success kicks off each summer with a weeklong, residential camp. The program continues through May of the following year, with youths visiting Camp Joy one weekend every month.

Campers have “choice times” that allow them to participate in traditional camp activities such as archery, canoeing, fishing and creative arts.

“I like doing the ropes courses and lots of arts and crafts. We make lots of bracelets; our arms are covered in them,” said 14-year-old Kalynne Adams.

Makayla Smith, 12, said she mostly does arts and crafts and sports during choice times. “I really like to do drawings and make bracelets,” she said.

Learning to cope in foster care

Youths who take part in Fostering Success gain more from the opportunity than a fun camp experience. They also learn life skills, which help them deal with living in foster care.

“From my perspective, it’s about teaching you to deal with all the things going on around you. A lot of times no one thinks about the fact that some of these kids are really young, and they’re living in a stranger’s house,” said camp counselor Nadia Goforth.

She speaks from experience - before becoming a counselor, she was a camper in the Fostering Success program.

In addition to incorporating lessons in life skills, counselors focus on specific topics during each weekend session. Some of the subjects covered include coping skills and positive behaviors.

“It has helped me manage my emotions, and it’s taught me a lot of things,” Adams said.

According to Smith, the camp has helped her improve her attitude and taught her how to control her anger.

Building relationships

One of the most important life skills campers learn is how to build relationships.

“Camp was the only thing that was consistent for me in the four years I was a camper there,” Goforth said. Through the experience, she made lasting friendships. “I’m still friends with some people I met my first summer (at Camp Joy),” she said.

She also kept in touch with her camp counselor, who is now her boss.

The relationships she developed and the lessons she learned played a big role in becoming comfortable in foster care and building her character.

Smith, who has been in the program three years, said her favorite thing about the camp is the opportunity to be a leader to youths who are there for the first time.

A continually growing camp

Camp Joy serves about 2,500 individuals every summer. About 30 to 35 participate in the Fostering Success program. While enrollment changes from year to year, the goal is to have no more than 55 youths in the program, said Resident Camp Manager Jermaine Isaac.

In recent years, Camp Joy has received recognition and awards, including the 2012 Warren County Foundation Community Service Organization of the Year, 2013 Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber Excellence Award as Nonprofit of the Year and the 2014 Lebanon Chamber of Commerce Community Service Organization of the Year Award.

There have also been challenges, though. Creating innovative programs that are attractive to funders can be difficult, especially with the recent down trend in the economy, Hackman said. Paired with that is the struggle to maintain growth.

“Our biggest challenge is that we continue to have growth, to be able to have our facility grow with demands,” Isaac said.

Got a tip for us about an awesome K-12 school, summer program or summer camp? Email Community Editor Holly Edgell: holly.edgell@wcpo.com.

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