Summer learning is significant in a child’s development. It’s a place where they can try new activities, make lifelong friends, and soak up the outdoors during their time away from home and school. For children and teens impacted by domestic violence, the opportunities should be the same.
Camp HOPE America has created a different type of program for children; one that encourages them, helps them heal, and shows them a path forward to a more hope-filled life. They use evidence-based research and the science of hope to create a year-round camping and mentoring program that maximizes the therapeutic power of a natural setting.
“It is a summer experience in a community working with and encouraging each other,” explains John Hamilton, national director of Camp HOPE America. “It’s about kids being able to look across a cabin or a campfire to see that, ‘I’m not alone.’”
Alongside Camp HOPE America’s co-founder Casey Gwinn, Dr. Chan Hellman from the University of Oklahoma’s Hope Research Center, the book Hope Rising: How the Science of HOPE Can Change Your Life was published. Dr. Hellman’s work explains how people who have experienced trauma can create healthier outcomes for their life through goals, plans, and motivation. Working together in this research based manner is one of the things that make Camp HOPE America unique.
But what is hope for children? As John highlights, “Scientifically, hope is the belief that your future can be brighter than your past and you have the power to make it so. We simplify this programmatically to believing in yourself, in others, and in your dreams. Our kids have had hope robbed from them. We have the responsibility to help them find it.”
Many of the campers find a safe space at Camp HOPE America sites around the country. On top of the healthy relationships and self-respect they forge, they also work through a “Challenge by Choice” philosophy. The children learn goal-setting and pathway-setting skills at camp, but, perhaps most importantly, they learn how to regain control of their decisions. They rediscover self-determination, something they lost through domestic violence-related trauma. A key part of this path is challenging the campers to try new activities with perceived danger or risk, but allowing them the choice to opt out of those activities.
A favorite activity for many campers is the rock-climbing wall. However, the counselors at this camp don’t push the campers to scale it. If a camper looks to its summit and feels uneasy, the camp counselors just remind them that they have control of their feelings and decisions. Each activity and each day of the week is designed with intentionality for the camper. Camp HOPE America works to see the generational cycle of violence mitigated while helping children dream of a brighter future by creating new pathways to reach their goals.
All this planning and curriculum is done at the national level and delivered to 41 organizations in 20 states. This standardizes programming but each community unique. The local sites raise funds for their centers, but still need support from higher sources. As a nonprofit, Camp HOPE America must find revenue sources to build its evidence-based program.
To do this, Camp HOPE America has forged a longstanding relationship with FairTrade Caravans and their fundraising program. FairTrade Caravans keeps a fundraising shop open on our website so supporters of Camp HOPE America can give to the program while also finding something for themselves. This way, we help provide a stream of donations into the program throughout the year.
But more than just money, Camp HOPE America sees a shared vision between themselves and FairTrade Caravans. “We are both helping kids believe they have a hand in creating a brighter future for the world. That they will make it better,” said John. “It’s about breaking generational cycles and creating pathways forward.”
Just as the program helps children see the choices they make can lead to brighter futures; fair trade ensures no child labor so children all over the world have the ability to get an education and see a different future for themselves. Both Camp HOPE America and the fair-trade movement empower youth to build these new pathways and work toward a more fulfilled life.
When John sees a FairTrade Caravan donation come in, he is grateful for two things. “I’m thankful for awareness of our work that creates a brighter future for children and, financially, it gives us hope that somebody believes in us and what we do.”
Handmade, creator-sourced goods aren’t new to Camp HOPE America. John states, “Spreading awareness around good people doing good work empowers others.” And now, he can personally use the FairTrade Caravans’ shop to buy holiday gifts for loved ones and encourage his network to do the same. You can purchase a gift that will provide multiple layers of support to children around the world.
Overall, this Evergreen fundraiser contributes to Camp HOPE America, serving the more than 4,000 enrolled children. Because Camp HOPE America is free to the children and their families, these funds help to pay for camp fees, curriculum booklets and other supplies, training, and more. This summer, especially, it helped pay for COVID-19 tests so campers could have a safe experience. “Every little bit helps,” John details, and each sale truly helps a child recover from their trauma.