Camper collage

Camp Rise Up: A summer experience that lasts a lifetime

Camper collage

When teens come to The Floating Hospital, they are often facing life issues that can derail their futures: homelessness, substance use, unplanned pregnancies, unhealthy relationships, and violent situations.

Which is why Camp Rise Up, The Floating Hospital’s week-long overnight camp for 12–15-year-olds who are living in temporary housing in New York City, has become an integral part of what we offer our community.

What began as an afterschool project has evolved into a six-day sleepaway camp filled with life changing courses and experiences to help teens living in poverty make healthy living choices. Meghan Miller, EdD, director of health education created Camp Rise Up as an interactive way to teach topics critical to these teens’ futures. During an immersive, health-focused, learning experience they develop life skills through lessons, collaborative discussion, invigorating outdoor activities, and healthy, physical, intellectual, and emotional challenges. They learn about contraception, consent, managing emotions, bullying, empathy and compassion—all while being in a safe and nurturing environment. Financial literacy, leadership, bias training and behavior management are recent additions to the camp curricula.

“I learned new things every day that you wouldn’t regularly learn,” said Andrew, one of the campers. “I learned how dangerous drugs and alcohol are and how not to give in to peer pressure,” said Kanish, another camper.

The core elements of the camp are the lessons and health workshops. “The classes here are so helpful because I learned so much about my body, and managing my emotions,” said camper Noely. “Now, before anything happens, I can stay mindful of the consequences that can happen.”

The camp has a balance of both classroom work and outdoor activities. “We want to keep them engaged,” said Jerreth Smith, health educator. The camp’s outdoor setting—bucolic 250-acre Camp Ramapo in Rhinebeck, New York—is an important part of the experience. “I think that’s why our retention rate is so high,’ Smith explains. The camp “relaxes their minds and their bodies…they learn that there’s more to life than what they see on a day-to-day basis.”

During this week away from their often tumultuous lives—and hectic city life in general—campers sleep in rustic cabins and participate in outdoor activities including zip-lining, boating, fishing, hiking and team building activities. “It’s an educational experience under the guise of a fun getaway,” said Dr. Miller. “And the camp has far-reaching impact, something that we hoped for when we first created it.” added Lys Hanlon, camp instructor and health education specialist.

While the teens who attend the camp are often faced with decisions that could affect their lives negatively, Camp Rise Up has become an experience where they can learn to change their lives positively.

“The camp really gives them the space to be true to who they are,” said Lys Hanlon, Health Education Specialist.

Camp Rise Up has a 3-tiered curriculum: the lessons offered during the first year are built upon in a camper’s second year, with a deeper (and more mature) exploration of topics. In the third year, the focus is on advanced life and leadership, skills campers can use if they decide to return to camp the following year as paid camp counselors—many do.

The program doesn’t end on the last day of camp. Bi-annual reunions and monthly get-togethers keep everyone motivated and on-track.

“After five years of running the camp, it’s become obvious that it’s had a positive effect,” said Dr. Miller. “Not only have the campers become a part of our family here at The Floating Hospital, they’re expanding their vision of what their life could be. Some weren’t thinking about college and now they’re filling out applications. Some have been offered their first jobs with us.”

As Isaiah, one of the campers, said when asked how the camp lessons will help with life: “I guess you can look at it as a backpack that we can bring with us on our journeys. We have different things in our backpack we can now pull out because we’ve learned them, and we have a better understanding. We’re not really by ourselves in this, you know?”

—Tracey Ceurvels

This post featured in our monthly newsletter from October 2022.

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The Floating Hospital provides high-quality healthcare to anyone who needs it regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, immigration or insurance status, or the ability to pay. By providing unrestricted medical care in tandem with health education and social support to vulnerable New York City families, The Floating Hospital aims to ensure those most in need have the ability to thrive, not just survive.


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