June 1st, 2016

Summer camp provides emotional support

A residential summer camp in Vermont supports children with a range of social, behavioral and emotional needs.

Camp Daybreak, offered to boys and girls 8-11 for one week in August at a Vermont campsite, was founded in 1961. The camp is now a direct service program of the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery and operates as a strengths-based experience focused on meeting the needs of the young people who attend.

Dan Osman, Camp Daybreak director, said the young campers have a range of needs. “In mental health, there’s no cookie-cutter answer; no one fits a specific mold,” he said. “We have campers who need social support or help making friends; we have campers on the autism spectrum; others come from a traumatic home environment. It really runs the range. We’re seeing more and more campers who have family members suffering from addiction or recovery.”

“Our goal is to really provide a counter-argument to that and provide them with a really successful experience that can counteract the negative experience they have in their lives,” Osman said.

Camp Daybreak serves about 35 campers each summer. Each camper is paired with a high school or college aged volunteer, who serves as a friend and support system for the camper. Volunteers come from throughout the country and even internationally. “I started myself as a high school volunteer,” Osman said.

There is also a professional staff, which includes a licensed clinician and a behavioral interventionist. There is no formal clinical setting at the camp, but the clinical staff are there to assist in any situation that arises and also, are relied upon heavily to do the pre-planning, as well, Osman said.

“Everything from schedules to meal times to activities are created and evolved over time to meet the needs of our campers,” he said. “The schedule is designed with real intention. A lot of the clinical work is done on the front end of it, including training the staff and building the relationships. Even things like our language – how we talk about the things we are doing – all of that is done very intentionally.”

Some of the campers are referred to the camp from a clinical setting. “In Vermont, we have a number of designated agencies we work with,” Osman said. Others are referred by family or friends. The application process is thorough and examines certain triggers a child might have. “We really want to have a good picture of the campers before they come to camp so that we provide the best sup
port possible,” Osman said.

But once the child is at camp – the goal is to make the experience a traditional one – filled with activities like arts and crafts, swimming and fishing. “Many of these campers couldn’t go to a traditional camp because of the high level of support they need. That’s where we come in.”

“The campers are able to be themselves and have a wonderful time,” he said.

The camp uses a strength-based model. “We believe in highlighting the success of people. Positive reinforcement is a very strong tool. Our overall infrastructure is designed to create a positive environment. Even our games – we don’t play games that are competitive; we play team-building games where everybody can participate and feel they are involved in a positive way.

“Our hope is that the support and love they receive in camp is carried on to them in school and home and other areas of their life where they are not experiencing that success,” he said.

By Pamela Berard

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