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.