Camp Rise Up kids entering camp

Camp Is on the Horizon

For six years, The Floating Hospital’s Camp Rise Up has provided teens living in temporary housing a week of respite from the city and their often turbulent lives. Research shows that unhoused teens are at greater risk of unhealthy behaviors, and the camp, for ages 12 to 15, provides an opportunity to learn about themselves, test their capabilities and see hope in their future.

Set in Rhinebeck, New York, the 250-acre camp offers all the traditional activities and experiences associated with a week in the country, such as swimming, zip lines, campfires and evening hikes, interspersed with sexual health and social-emotional skills training designed to help campers navigate a complicated world. The curriculum includes bullying, financial literacy, emotion and behavior management, bias, contraception, consent and empathy.

The pilot program was a day camp rooted in Dr. Meghan Miller’s experience in the Peace Corps, where she helped organize camps and clubs for youth with a focus on life skills, family planning and sex education. It now spans six full days and is continuously evolving. The units on basic mental health counseling, financial literacy, leadership, bias and behavior management are recent additions to teach the camp’s counselors-in-training.

Isaiah, a previous camper, described what he learned at Camp Rise Up “as a backpack we can bring on our journeys. We have different things in our backpack we can now pull out because we’ve learned them, and have a better understanding. We’re not really by ourselves in this.”

Campfire at Camp Rise Up, surrounded by kids.

For the first time this year, Miller and her team have planned a formal outreach effort to recruit new campers. In the early years, the education department put up posters in the clinic and patients and their parents saw them and applied. Designed to access kids who may not have been to The Floating Hospital’s clinic but would greatly benefit from the camp, the outreach effort will be focused on 10 of the larger shelters. To attract attention, “we have a tabletop s’mores maker, and we’ll be bringing our trivia wheel, plus little campfire blowups and our fatal vision/alcohol impairment goggles,” she said. “The goal is always to expand.” Last year they had 80 campers, and an informal goal for this year is 100.

A new program called SOAR (Support Optimism Acceptance Resilience) will help prepare Spanish-speaking teenagers for Camp Rise Up. Many current patients and their families only speak Spanish, and the camp is conducted in English. Designed to function as a feeder to the original program, it will consist of the same material offered during the first year of Camp Rise Up but served in a day camp format with a fully translated camper manual and a companion teaching guide. “We’re hoping they’ll have that year one of camp through the day camp. Then, by the time next year rolls around, they’ll be fluent enough in English that they’ll be able to join Camp Rise Up as a year-two camper.”

Although sleep-away camp is the preferred model, the hospital has offered day camps before, including during the first year of Camp Rise Up in 2018 and in 2020 during the Covid shutdowns. “We’ll have the lessons in the morning in the clinic’s classroom or the community outreach center. In the afternoon, we will plan field trips around the city. We’ll do the flying trapeze, go to the beach and take the ferry down to Brooklyn Bridge Park for roller skating. We might go to one of the museums,” Miller said. They will choose the activities from destinations “that they either couldn’t afford or couldn’t access for some reason or another.”

“Camp Rise Up is a backpack we can bring on our journeys. We have different things in our backpack we can now pull out because we’ve learned them, and have a better understanding. We’re not really by ourselves in this.” Isaiah, Camper

The existing program will also be tuned up with some assistance from summer interns in health education, who are studying for their Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University. They will help the staff update the camp manuals, among other enriching and skill-building experiences that the hospital offers its interns.

Campers, who have so much fun and see the value of what they are learning, typically return for the next level of education, three years in all. After that, they can opt to become paid counselors-in-training, leading up to a counselor position at an even higher rate. Some counselors have gone on to become full-time employees of The Floating Hospital. During the year, the education department holds pizza parties and reunions so new friends can meet again before the next camp session.

Camp Rise Up will be held this year between August 25 and 30. Click on the buttons for more information and how you can help support this year’s campers.

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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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