Since the middle of the 20th century, good health has been associated with doctors, dentists and therapists. However, more modern Americans are viewing health in a much more holistic framework – a complex formula that includes every aspect of a person’s life. Camp RiseUp brings this to some of New York’s homeless families.
For The Floating Hospital, this “new” holistic approach is anything but. It has embraced that approach on the grounds of “relief” for over 15 decades.
Teens need good health too
Too often, teens are overlooked in the healthcare equation.
Old enough and healthy enough to avoid doctors’ appointments. Yet, still young enough to require basic health care, teens often slip through the cracks of traditional healthcare models.
Through these crucial formative years, they need attention. And The Floating Hospital has long recognized the importance of teaching this to tomorrow’s adults.
Consequently, it created Camp RiseUp. The camp is a part of The Floating Hospital’s Health Education program. And it’s an extension of its historic pledge to offer patients “more than health care.”
Kids in the shelter system face many factors that disrupt their access to education.
Curfews, sudden relocations from shelter to shelter, bullying and stigma from classmates.
And the emotional trauma that results from these circumstances often causes kids to miss school, underperform, fail to graduate and turn to drugs and alcohol or abusive relationships to fill the void.
Meghan Miller, The Floating Hospital’s Director of Health Education, piloted the program during the summer of 2018.
Then, it was an in-depth health intervention. It taught homeless teenagers about reproductive health, self-esteem and the dangers of substance abuse.
The day camp took place in New York City. It included field trips and other activities that introduced teens to empowering knowledge, positive experiences, and possibilities for their future.
It was hugely successful, and confirmed the need to reach more teens.
Camp RiseUp heads to upstate New York
This year, thanks to funding from an anonymous donor, The Floating Hospital expanded the camp. It became a week-long sleepaway program in Rhinebeck, New York.
Far from the bright lights of the Big City, none of the hospital’s new “campers” had experienced the utter silence and complete darkness of the “outdoors”.
Meghan and her team provided intensive personal wellness. It disrupted cycles of poverty, abuse, and poor health by immersing the group in a camp environment.
Beyond classroom lessons on consent, media literacy and sexual anatomy, the teens had a very unusual week. Among other things, they…
|•||Experienced pregnancy when they undertook an obstacle course; while wearing a prosthetic pregnancy belly and kept a water balloon baby alive for a day|
|•||Practiced trust and cooperation; they helped each other complete the Trust Walk, a balance beam suspended high above a net|
|•||Overcame fear by gliding through the air on a zipline|
|•||Picked up survival skills; with a nighttime hike and a variety of plants and animals|
Most importantly, they did this with other teens who live in temporary housing. This created a bonding experience, cementing lessons within a community. They built friendships while building character.
What’s next for the teens of Camp RiseUp
The campfire circle that brought the week to a close was a focal point for the group. Retreat Supervisor Joseph Palacio believes these “events are so important,” to reinforce the camp’s impact.
In his words, “the campfire really brought everyone together… because we had that special moment to actually talk about those things in a different way, in a different atmosphere… it really will stay with them through not only the next couple weeks but also the next couple years, and possibly the rest of their life, as well.”
Camp RiseUp had a profound effect on the teens who experienced it. Most were sad to leave the beautiful woods by the lake and the new friends they’d made.
However, some took solace in the upcoming Camp RiseUp reunion. Of course, more want to return next year, which will mean a new, more intense curriculum.
This will include basics on life skills like money management and job placement.
Several kids have asked to return next year as counselors and counselors-in-training. This will help new campers adjust to the program.
Also, in their own way, they’ll “give back” to their peers the values they took from their own camp experience.
It’s hoped that Camp RiseUp will reinstate the maritime tradition of taking children out of the noise and grime of the city.
To this end, they get fresh air and a change in view. And, they’re offered an opportunity to refocus, refresh, and work towards overall good health.