Nature tends to have a calming effect.
That’s why Lifeline Connections is partnering with national nonprofit Eluna Network to host camps for kids ages 9 through 12 who have been affected by the substance use of a loved one.
Camp Mariposa, as it’s called, will offer year-round recreational opportunities to participants. Six weekends a year, kids will get to camp at Lewis River Campground in Yacolt from Friday afternoon to Sunday after lunch. The first camp will be in September. The capacity is 36 kids, and kids can attend up to four years of camp if they are age eligible.
In the six months when kids don’t camp, the program will still offer a daytime group outing such as going to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, or visiting the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Parents can attend these daytime activities.
“The idea is to get these kids in a setting with other kids who have had similar experiences,” said Jared Sanford, the executive director for Lifeline. “We want to get these kids in the outdoors, to get these kids in front of therapists who are at the camp, and other staff to get them to work through challenges they’ve dealt with.”
Trista Wolles, the program supervisor for Camp Mariposa, explained there will be counselors at Lewis River Campground, and the staff can refer kids to more therapy outside of camp if needed. She said the goal is to have one volunteer mentor for every two campers. Volunteers will receive training before camp starts. Kids will have to undergo an application process before being accepted for the camp.
Wolles is an art therapist and plans to incorporate that into the program. She also said kids will get to hike, do nature photography, learn about plant and nature identification and try archery.
“Caring for the environment and being out in the wilderness is inherently therapeutic, but activities such as learning about nature helps them develop a sense of caring for something outside of themselves, which in turn will let them care about themselves intrinsically,” Wolles explained. “It’s also teaching them really healthy coping skills, and giving them physical activity and an opportunity to bond with adults outside of their own family.”
In the future, Wolles said, Camp Mariposa would like to add junior mentors ages 13 through 17, who have been through the program. Jerri Mortimore, the development director at Lifeline, said the Washington State Recreation & Conservation Office, Premera Blue Cross and Clark County’s Mental Health Sales Tax fund have helped pay for Camp Mariposa, which has its next closest location in the Everett area.
Mortimore said Camp Mariposa will include an educational component, so kids can learn more about the reality of the disease of addiction their loved one is dealing with.
“That’s kind of exciting to give that to a 9-year-old, 10-year-old mind that is struggling to figure out the world,” Mortimore said.
Wolles said parents or caretakers shouldn’t be concerned about themselves, or their kid getting in trouble for things they talk about at camp. The goal of the camp is to set kids up for the future they want.
“Yes, we are mandated reporters, but what is generally said at camps stays at camp within our guidelines of being mandatory reporters,” Wolles said. “We’re there to help the youth develop healthy coping skills and let them know they can overcome the cycle of addiction and let their dreams come true, so they don’t have to follow the same path as their loved one.”