Alek, now 17-years-old, recalls times when his mother was attacked by his father in their home. The violence eventually led to his parents getting divorced. He and his mom got help at the San Diego Family Justice Center. There he learned about thefirst camp in the country for children impacted by domestic violence. He first came to Camp HOPE America – California in the summer of 2013 as a very quiet and introverted teen who mostly kept to himself. Alek could easily have ended up in jail or juvenile hall as so many boys do growing up with violence and abuse. But coming to camp year after year helped Alek process the domestic violence he was exposed to and understand his emotions and challenges. Then, he joined the Pathways to HOPE Project, a year-round mentoring program for teens in San Diego and Imperial Counties, and gained confidence and self-esteem. This year, Alek became a counselor for younger campers and a role model for other boys struggling with violence in their homes. Alek bonded quickly with his cabin and offered encouragement to the six boys he guided. Alek enrolled in Grossmont Community College this fall and received a $1,500 college stipend from Verizon. Alek is getting straight A’s and plans on becoming a psychologist. His confidence and determination to overcome the abuse he was exposed to now serves as an inspiration to others. So many children growing up with violence and abuse end up in the juvenile justice system, jail, or prison. Alek isn’t going to prison. He’s going to college.
Camp HOPE America is the first camping and mentoring program in the country focused on children impacted by domestic violence. Camp HOPE America started as a camping program in San Diego, CA but it has now moved on across the country with support from the Verizon Foundation and many other corporate and private donors. In 2017, Camp HOPE America operated in 11 states with more than 22 weeks of camp in the summer as well as year-round activities.
The University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Hope Research Center, under the leadership of Director Dr. Chan Hellman, has been evaluating the effectiveness of the Camp HOPE America camping and year-round mentoring program for four years. The new results,just released, show that Camp HOPE America produces statistically significant increases in hope and resilience in the lives of children with extreme trauma from childhood. “Hope is the best predictor of long-term well-being in children exposed to trauma,” says Dr. Chan Hellman. “Hope is measureable and malleable,” says Camp HOPE America founder, Casey Gwinn. “We can measure hope and we can increase it in the lives of abused children. Once we increase hope, we can change the trajectories of their lives.” The evaluation report released by the OU Hope Research Center this week stated, “The results of this evaluation support a growing body of evidence for the power of Camp HOPE America to change the lives of children exposed to domestic violence. The Pathways to HOPE Project can help sustain Hope and Resilience year-round among children and teens who are exposed to domestic violence.”
Casey Gwinn says, “In America, we raise our criminals at home. You can love trauma-exposed children when they are 11 or you can lock them up when they are 18 and say you are tough on crime. Rising hope changes the destinies of trauma-exposed kids.” Gwinn continues, “Hope is measurable and now it is clear that rising Hope Scores change the destinies of traumatized children.”
The OU report concluded that an increase in children’s hope was associated with increases in the child’s belief in self, others and their dreams; psychological resilience; and positive attitude toward academics. Similarly, higher resilience is positively associated with academic self-perception, academic goals, and motivation and self-regulation.
According to more than 2,000 published pieces of research now, hope represents a positive psychological strength that promotes adaptive behaviors, healthy development, and both psychological and social well-being. Higher hope is associated with better coping skills and better health and health-related practices.
Casey Gwinn hailed the investment of Verizon and many other funders. “If we as a nation invested the money and time necessary, as Verizon and other funders have, to give every trauma-exposed child a cheerleader and an opportunity like Camp HOPE America, we would empty our prisons and mental health facilities within two generations. We would dramatically reduce intimate partner violence and see stunning drops in crime rates across all categories.”
The complete story of Camp HOPE America can be found at www.camphopeamerica.org.