‘We want to make sure that we’re creating a safe and supportive environment’
By Steven Hoffman
For children like Katrina Miller and Tyson Taylor and Brandon Selby, the favorite part about Camp Dreamcatcher is the summer camp aspect of it—the swimming, the volleyball, the games, the visits with friends. But the therapeutic aspect of the camp is just as important because that's what will help them throughout the year.
John Farley is a village chief at Camp Dreamcatcher, and he works closely with the counselors to make sure that the children have the best experience possible when they are at camp.
This year, Farley said, the staff provided additional diversity training to the counselors to make sure that everyone is working toward making Camp Dreamcatcher completely inclusive.
“We want to make sure that we’re creating a safe and supportive environment for the children,” explained Farley. “We want the kids to be in an environment where they can be who they are.”
As part of the effort to help the children identify themselves in a positive light, the camp counselors established four themes—warrior, hero, friend, and leader—and children who exhibited these qualities are recognized by the counselors.
Farley first became involved with Camp Dreamcatcher after his fraternity at West Chester University held a fundraiser for the organization. He looks forward to the week-long summer camp each year, and, like so many of the counselors at Camp Dreamcatcher, has an easy rapport with many of the children at Camp Dreamcatcher.
James Hall, one of the 15-year-olds at this year’s camp, said that Farley helps him a lot, even after the camp is over.
While Camp Dreamcatcher started as a one-week camp program for children between the ages of 5 and 14, there have been many new programs added to meet the changing needs of the children. These include weekend retreats, a mentoring program, and leadership-in-training seminars that take place throughout the year.
Camp Dreamcatcher officials are always looking for new programs that will be beneficial to youngsters. At this year’s camp Jordan Burnham, a mental health advocate and public speaker for Ardmore, Pa.-based Minding Your Mind, made a presentation to the youngsters. He discussed how he survived a suicide attempt during his senior year in high school, and how he has fought depression to find recovery.
Burnham said that youngsters face many challenges today and situations like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, having a difficult time in school, or dealing with parents who are in poor health can all cause mental health issues.
Even youngsters who are fortunate enough to avoid some of these major causes of mental health issues can still find themselves at risk because of academic pressures or sleep deprivation.
“All mental health issues need to be dealt with in the best way possible,” Burnham said.
When Burnham talks to youngsters—and he usually has between seven and ten public speaking engagements a month—he encourages anyone who is struggling to be open and honest about what they are feeling. As a rule, youngsters in the U.S. are not apt to be open with their feelings.
“This isn’t a culture of talking about feelings and emotions,” Burnham explained. “No one wants to show that they are struggling.”
Camp Dreamcatcher executive director Patty Hillkirk said that Burnham’s talk really made an impact on the youngsters, many of whom find it difficult to be open about their feelings.
“I think many of the kids can relate to his experiences,” Hillkirk said.
Hillkirk added that Camp Dreamcatcher is always looking for ways to provide addition services and programs to the youngsters.
“Our dream is to have our own site—a camp and a retreat center,” Hillkirk said, explaining that a permanent home would allow Camp Dreamcatcher to offer several week-long camps a year and have more weekend retreats and mentoring opportunities for the children.
“Our mission,” said Hillkirk, “is always serving the kids. We always want to take care of all the kids. We want to provide as many programs throughout the year as we can for them. For now, our goal is to keep expanding those programs in a thoughtful way.”