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Restoring hope through Camp Hope
By Serena Williams
Sep 4, 2018 - 2:10:23 PM

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Class picture for Camp Hope attendees!

Nassau, Bahamas - “Camp Hope” summer camp was founded this year for children and teenagers known to have suffered from some form of life trauma.

The objective of the camp counsellors was to restore hope to children who’d lost loved ones to acts of violence or illness, or who’d experienced some other form of damaging personal trauma.

Piloted this year by the “Stories of Hope” nonprofit organization, with sponsorship from CIBC FirstCaribbean, “Camp Hope” gave kids the chance to be kids, as well as work through their negative life experiences. Dr. Giavana Jones, cofounder of “Stories of Hope,” said, “The thing about being a kid is having fun and being able to play, and often if there’s a negative life experience you don’t get to do that because you have to be ‘serious’ and ‘strong’ – ‘mommy’s big girl’ or ‘daddy’s big boy.’ So “Camp Hope” is supposed to be where you can just sort of ‘wild out’ and be a kid.”

Beth’s beautiful vision board full of fashion and colors, held by Camp Hope counsellor Nikita Woodside.

Camp Hope mixes fun with therapeutic theory and relationship building to provide a “safe space” for its attendees. School psychologist and camp volunteer Nikita Woodside said, “What I’m seeing is that there’s a lot of hurt, anger, and not understanding. But you can see that the kids are actually gravitating towards the activities and trying to understand how to cope, so that’s a great thing about them – that they’re strong and they want the help.”

Activities kicked off with positive affirmations every morning. “‘I am hopeful. I am beautiful. I am handsome.’ Even if they don’t say it, they are told it,” Nikita said.

“We also painted ‘inspiration rocks,’ something tangible they can hold in their hand, with words like ‘love,’ ‘hope,’ ‘resilience,’ ‘gratitude,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘dreams’ painted on them. So whenever they’re feeling lost or alone they pick up their rock.

“They made vision boards and road maps as well, talking about their past, present, and future: where they see themselves, where they want to go, how the class is affecting them. There was also a chalk activity where we wrote some fears and washed them away with water balloons – and they enjoyed throwing those balloons. So it’s not all seriousness – they’re not sitting here crying all day.

“There’s definitely progress,” Nikita continued. “The first day of positive affirmations, there were none, and now the children will come up to me and say, ‘I am beautiful.’ ‘I am smart.’ They’re recognizing their strengths, as small as they may be. One of my kids always draws an angel, because that’s his source of strength. And another one drew a white sword, representing his father.”

Summer camp attendees show their love for “Camp Hope.”

CIBC FirstCaribbean Managing Director (Bahamas & TCI) Marie Rodland-Allen said the bank was happy to be Camp Hope’s pilot sponsor. “This is something that’s both different and noteworthy, so we’re delighted to help “Stories of Hope” get Camp Hope off the ground and see it make an impact in the individual lives of these children, as well as the way we as a society address mental and emotional health in The Bahamas on the whole.”

Dr. Jones agreed. “My co-founder Amanda and I wanted to change the conversation about mental health in The Bahamas. “Stories of Hope’s” mission is centered on bringing greater awareness of emotional wellness, fostering hope and promoting resilience among all we encounter.”

Co-founder Amanda Marray added, “This is a very taboo kind of space in The Bahamas, the talk about mental health, so we call it ‘emotional wellness.’ The tag ‘mental health’ was thrown out the window when we started talking about what we were going to be doing and how we would craft that message, so people understand that you or your child have an issue, and you somehow need some kind of help for that issue, but you are not crazy. And you’re not broken, and you’re not devalued, or any other stigma that goes along with it.

“I think the overall goal is that people see going to a psychologist the same way you see going to your general doctor. The same way you need a doctor for your body, you sometimes need a doctor for your mind and to help you process your emotions. That is our long-term goal; hopefully that is achievable in some generation, if not this one.”

Camp Hope vision boards display the hopes and dreams of its attendees.

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