Children who have strong social emotional skills are ready to learn, ready for school and ready for life. However, there are many children and families that need support to move forward in life. Right now, there is not enough capacity in the mental health system for children and their families, resulting in some children not being served and others receiving less than they need to get on a successful path. There is a body of evidence that shows that serving children in their natural environment plus partnering with their families can be the most beneficial approach.
Camp Be-a-Kid started 7 years ago as the brainchild of the Youth and Family Services division at United Counseling Services in Bennington. Staff of this division were discussing ways to meet the needs of children during the summer months when school is out. At that time, Michelle Burnham was the clinical director and Lorna Matten was the division director of Youth and Family Services. Now Lorna is the executive director for United Counseling, still supporting the organization in meeting the needs of this region creatively in all of the UCS divisions and programs.
For many summer is the time to ensure that there are fun activities that also meet children’s developmental needs. The question came down how to meet children’s needs creatively in an environment that is safe, therapeutic and ensures skill building. Thus, Camp Be-A- Kid was born. United Counseling worked to make sure that the funding streams were in place while the programming was developed.
A child’s well-being is tied directly to the quality of their environments, experiences and relationships. Improving these factors can affect mental health outcomes by:
- Promoting social emotional development in children
- Helping children develop positive relationships with adults and peers
- Addressing individual experiences and trauma through the practices of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-care
Using these premises, the UCS staff developed schedules and activities that promote these attributes. Camp Be-A-Kid functions like a typical camp, running a 5 week session 4 days a week for 4- to 12-year-olds. There is also an adventure camp for older children. The camp is held at Lake Paran in North Bennington, and transportation is available. Children are divided into teams by age group, and children stay in their teams for the summer.
Each day follows a predictable routine with both breakfast and lunch provided. After breakfast comes the morning meeting followed by team time. Clinicians develop syllabi, each based around a theme. Every group rotates through each of the themes during the 5 weeks, spending an entire week in a theme. Skills are taught through fun activities both during team time and throughout the day.
The team themes for the summer of 2019 were:
- Relationships through play and games
- Manners Bingo
The day continues after lunch with swimming then choice groups. Some examples of choice group are: fishing, whiffle ball and kick ball; Zumba, Legos, building, cooking, and arts and crafts. Fishing is the favorite activity. The skill building is reinforced during every activity. Skills must be learned over time and in many environments in order to become a part of the social emotion lexicon. The UCS staff is skillful in supporting this growth.
Like many camps, Camp Be-A-Kid has special activities. This year, the Southern Vermont Conservation group captivated the children with snakes and owls. Boat design and building was another special activity. A race was held to see which boat was the fastest and stayed afloat the longest.
The yearbook at the end of camp has pictures of children and staff. Both the headings and sayings show how the environment is supportive for all who come.
- Friends– someone who makes it easy to believe in yourself
- Camp- is about growth and accomplishment
- Mindfulness- live in the moment and make it beautiful
- Smiles- let your smile change the world
- Fishing- be patient and calm for no one can catch a fish in anger
- Cooking- no one is born a great cook, they learn by doing
- Building- creativity is intelligence having fun
- Zumba- to watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak
- Swimming-you’re only one swim away from a great day
When you read the headings and the supporting statements, you can only imagine how Camp Be-A Kid helps children to learn and grow in an environment that is fun as well as therapeutic. As a reader, it makes me smile.
For the staff, it is rewarding and fun to watch the children grow. The children seem to thrive. At the end of the summer, there are continued services at UCS and through the schools. There is an after-school program at UCS that children may attend. It has developed from a drop-in program to one requiring sign-up, ensuring that it is a certified therapeutic environment. Children are offered yoga and go-Zen to build social emotion skills.
Camp Be-A Kid is already being planned for the summer of 2020. Thus year, UCS will be working with payment reform and it impact on supporting the camp. Camp Be-A-Kid is an exciting adventure for all.