One of the biggest concerns that domestic violence victims face is how to make sure their children are going to be OK. There’s nothing a parent wants more than a safe, loving environment for their child. This summer, several domestic violence centers around the Tampa and central Florida area are collaborating to help children who are victims of domestic violence have the summer camp experience that they deserve with Camp HOPE.
Giving Children HOPE
Camp HOPE America is a trauma-informed sleepaway camp program for kids who have witnessed or experienced domestic violence. The organization began in California and now takes place across the states nationwide. The week-long camp is provided free of charge to kids between the ages of 7 and 11. “Kids are able to start a healing process from what they’ve experienced,” said Amanda Markiewicz, Chief Programs Officer for Sunrise Domestic and Sexual Violence Center in Pasco County. “It’s a great opportunity for the centers to work together to be able to bring children together and support youth who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence and just engage them through the camp itself.”
For safety reasons, the camp takes place at an undisclosed location. Staff members are trained in trauma-informed advocacy skills to help support the kids while they’re there. The structure of the camp is a values-based program called “Challenge by Choice.” Children are praised for developing character traits during their time at camp. “Challenge by Choice” refers to challenging children to try new activities, some with perceived danger or risk while allowing them to opt out of those activities if it creates unmanageable stress or fear.
Campers build self-awareness by acknowledging whether they are in their comfort, challenge, or panic zone during an activity. This allows them to build confidence in being able to overcome challenges. They’re also able to set boundaries when they choose to step outside their comfort zone and step beyond their challenge zone and into their panic zone.
Each year, the camp boasts a new theme and features stories of four Hope Heroes and coinciding Truth Statements which are discussed throughout the week. Hope, at all campsites and in all program activities, is defined as three things: believing in yourself, believing in others, and believing in your dreams. “After camp, there are a lot of activities throughout the year in the hopes of re-engaging them in camp again,” said Markiewicz.
The Reason Behind the Camp
Getting out of an abusive situation is a scary situation, especially if there are children involved. Unfortunately, domestic violence is much more common than you think. The need for a safe haven for victims is imperative, which is why places like Sunrise Domestic and Sexual Violence Center exists. “We’re the only certified center for both domestic and sexual violence within Pasco County,” said Markiewicz. They are a 40-bed shelter for women and children who are coming out of situations of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
The shelter provides clothing, food, hygiene products, and helps with documentation that they may not have access to after leaving home. “We can help access driver’s licenses, social security cards, birth certificates, and things like that.” Services are provided to the victims, such as case management, advocacy, and counseling. There are also programs such as economic empowerment to help adults build resumes, find jobs, and help with taxes. For those afraid to leave their pets behind, Sunrise partners with Pasco County Animal Services to ensure that their pets have a safe place to go if they choose to bring them along.
How You Can Help
With the camp being free of charge, the centers depend on the community to help. “Camps are expensive so this is something that’s free to attend,” said Markiewicz, “For a lot of our parents, sending a child to a week-long camp is just something that they can’t do so this is a great opportunity to be able to do this for them.” The centers fundraise to help with the costs, but donations are greatly needed by the community. Camp HOPE is set to take place the first week of August, and donations are still needed for this year. Currently, the camp needs sleeping bags, towels, snacks (peanut-free), bug spray, and sunscreen. They also need Walmart and Target gift cards to purchase water shoes for the campers. Financial and physical donations can be made directly to one of the five participating centers:
Sunrise of Pasco
What to Do When Help is Needed
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can contact one of the shelters for immediate assistance. All sites have a “quick escape” button to immediately exit the site without it showing up on your browser history. The shelters work with local law enforcement to ensure a safe transition and shelter locations are undisclosed for security reasons. All shelters have a 24-hour hotline for anyone seeking services or who need to speak to an advocate.