Camp Rise Up 2021

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Back in 2018, The Floating Hospital’s Director of Health Education, Meghan Miller, created what she thought would be a one-off summer program, with the dual purpose of getting children experiencing homelessness outside in the fresh air and learning vital health and life skills in a fun but fundamental way. Four years later, popular Camp Rise Up has not only outlasted that initial vision, but has grown ever more important, especially in the shadow of Covid-19.

“I think that the pandemic has been especially hard for people living in a shelter situation, or doubled up, for a lot of reasons. One is that their living situation is very small and cramped. The kids not only had a year that was very difficult, but they’re very bored!” says Miller, who learned first-hand the powerful, positive results of camp for at-need children when she worked with the Child Care and Youth Empowerment Foundation while in the Peace Corps in Uganda. “It’s a great outlet for them. It will teach lessons they need, but also allow them to socialize again in a more normal way.”

Taking place at Camp Ramapo, a 250-acre respite in Rhinebeck, which specializes in working with children who have social, emotional, and learning challenges, Camp Rise Up packs a lot into a week for underserved children, ages 12-15, many of whom are recruited for camp right from The Floating Hospital’s own waiting room. Away from the pressures of shelter living, they develop life and leadership skills through lessons, discussions, break-out groups, fun outdoor activities, and healthy physical, intellectual, and emotional challenges. And, of course, bonding with each other.

For these children, who follow their families from shelter to shelter, the challenges they face are daunting and vast—from basic health habits to social and emotional skills to the ability and opportunity to make friends and create lasting connections. Camp Rise Up provides kids with the basic tools to tackle each of these challenges. Each camper is also provided with a brand-new backpack camp kit—for most, it’s the first time they’ve owned their own basic gear. Miller has also established monthly mentorship and reconnecting opportunities throughout the year, so the lessons learned and friendships made in this short but intense week are not lost.

Camp Rise Up packs a lot into a week for underserved children, ages 12-15, many of whom are recruited for camp right from The Floating Hospital’s own waiting room.

Miller says according to data from a New York City study on youth risk behavior, children experiencing homelessness are at double and higher the risk of having sex before the age of 14, of having more than one sexual partner, of being involved in abusive relationships, of being bullied, and of abusing drugs and alcohol. “That’s why I thought it was important to do these special lessons and camp, not only to learn sex education and social-emotional skills, but also to be with other kids in same situation and lean on each other as support in the future.”

Other lessons will include financial literacy, inter-personal and communication skills and social-media best practices, and social justice.

camp rise up body image

Camp Rise Up 2021 camper’s manual, camper enjoying high rope activity (top), classroom lesson (bottom), counselor and campers (top), first hike in the woods (bottom)

A new element for Camp Rise Up in 2021 will be ramping up counselor-in-training skills. “My big overarching dream for Camp Rise Up is never to need to have outside counselors; the kids who’ve attended over the years will always come back and feed into Counselor in Training roles,” says Miller. At age 15, Camp Rise Up kids can begin learning the leadership skills necessary to become paid camp counselors themselves once they turn 18. Lessons for interested kids this year will focus on facilitation skills such as how to run ice-breaking and leisure activities, how to lead discussion groups and do a de-briefing after a lesson, behavioral management, empathy and bias training, and other basic counseling skills.

Miller likes that they’re learning and remembering important skills. But, really, she says, the most lasting and important part isn’t about that. “They like the learning, but they make special bonds with people at camp. They have their own little camp group they can lean on because they have the same living situation,” she says.

“It’s also the opportunity of going away. These kids have not been outside the city very much, or experienced the feeling of being out in the wild and the woods. It’s different for them and out of the ordinary, and they look forward to it! And that makes the impact.”

— Amy Zavatto

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

The Floating Hospital will move into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City in 2021 and continue to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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