Habiba Alcindor, a Floating Hospital program coordinator and first-time camp counselor said she got to know the kids better through interviews and short smartphone videos.
“You just can’t judge these kids by what they say or how they say it initially; it might not reflect how they feel,” she said. “One of these kids was a little tough at first—very cocky—but when I talked to him, he said the thing he liked about camp is that people cared so much about the kids. It was so revealing.”
Miller also experienced a number of reveals. “I think we learned a few things. In particular, we all saw how hard Covid was for a lot of these kids,” she said . “A lot were struggling with depression, anxiety about going back to school, worry about going to camp and making friends. But, they were needing that social outlet that they’d been missing for the last year and half.”
“It was exciting for them to meet new people and spend time with people outside their houses—especially when some of them are sharing a single hotel room with their mother. It’s scary for them to start returning and doing things with other people and they were happy to have that opportunity to get out.”
Miller says in the past year she and her team saw a marked increase in mental-health issues among the youth TFH serves. “Just in general, this is a population already under stress. One kid said he lives in a shelter, has no friends and is just really lonely.” So, this year for the first time, a behavioral-health provider was available to the campers. “She came with us and was available to talk to the kids when they needed it, and that was cool,” says Miller.
According to a Covid-related study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year there was a 24% rise in emergency mental-health visits for children ages 5-11. Add to that the 2020 national poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan, which found nearly 50% of parents reporting signs of worrisome mental-health issues in their teenagers, both new and worsened existing ones. Fear, confusion, isolation and just the general disruption of normal home and school life affected innumerable children the world over, but for the population of kids already living in the unsure space that is homelessness, the anxiety was incalculable. This year, Camp Rise Up was even more of a lifeline than ever.
“Because of Covid, we can’t hug. But with fist bumps and elbow to elbow, they know the love is there,” says Nilsa Mena, a third-year camp counselor and the clinic’s childcare attendant for the last 15 years. Over her years, she’s observed that while the kids are absorbing important lessons on sex and health education, peer pressure, conflict resolution and self-esteem to name a few, they’re also teaching important human lessons to each other and to the people caring for them.
“If you respect them, they respect you. If you listen to them, they listen to you. You have to give what they want to get it in return,” Mena says. “These kids came in so hard and on guard. By the second day, they’re so delicate. It’s a very cool experience. And I’m so happy they see things other than what they’re used to.”
— Amy Zavatto