Camp Discovery – named by putting the words Disaster and Recovery together – served families affected by Harvey and participating in counseling services through our Harvey Case Management Program. It was a wonderful weekend retreat! The families participated in typical camp activities like archery, horseback riding, nature, and a ropes course, as well as “team huddles” – mental health-focused break-out sessions for parents, teens, big kids, and little kids.
Camp Discovery was just one mental health support service made possible by the grants from Americares, Save the Children, and the Houston Harvey Relief Fund. Through these grants, our team of case managers, mental health clinicians, financial stability coaches, and technology experts – impacted over 3000 families affected by Hurricane Harvey.
In late October a team of Easter Seals staff and volunteers hosted and facilitated a camp for families impacted by Hurricane Harvey at Camp For All. Since then we have continued to serve people with disabilities and veterans through Harvey recovery and are proud to be a recipient of continued funding from The Mayor’s Fund and Enterprise / Heart so that we can continue in our efforts through housing assistance now. The experiences and memories made were more than words can describe. I will try my best to express what I witnessed and the successes I saw. Most of the families that attended our Camp Discovery shared that this was their first time having an experience like this, all together as a family unit, away from electronics, and in tune with the elements. Many shared that they were able to try things that they had never done before such as fishing, canoeing, zip-lining, horseback riding, and being able to interact and learn about new animals.
There was awe and surprise from the very beginning. When one family saw the retreat that would be their home for the weekend, one boy said, “This is the nicest place we’ve ever stayed!” And the shyness of the families with each other dissipated very quickly. By the close of the first night, just hours after having met, they were dancing together and enjoying s’mores around the campfire.
We had several little ones try out the tall rock climbing wall to later zip-line down. Two of our participants got “stuck” near the top of their goal and were ready to give up. Tears were shed and panic set in a bit as the goal to reach the top seemed unachievable and scary so high up from the ground. One mother became concerned but with support from the mental health team was able to turn her panic into words of encouragement. The mother, alongside the other campers, cheered on Jeffery and provided guidance on stabilizing his footing so that he could pull himself up to the ledge. Jeffery was successful and enthusiastically moved on to the next challenge- zip-lining back down.
One of our younger campers also struggled near the top of his rock wall experience, but he had climbed the wall alongside his mother and she was able to provide one on one support in the moment. The support staff watched in amazement at this mother’s immediate instinct to provide reassurance and support to our brave camper while also allowing him to do all the work to get himself up.
Most of the weekend, I heard parents express how amazed they were about their children and their brave efforts to try out new things and face some of their fears.
The families shared how they surprised themselves with courage and willingness to try new things.
Many of the mothers commented that a win and success for the weekend was not having to cook while also enjoying all the activities with the family.
One mom, whose house had to be totally gutted, said that they had not put up any pictures yet. She said the frames of family photos given at camp were going to be the very first frames they put up.
Another family reminded us that the camp experience brought back similar experiences from Harvey such as staying in a different place, eating food that was not “our own”, and adjusting to a different routine, but that camp opened the space to rewrite that story and make new fun memories with the family.
Erica Toskovich, LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Mental Health Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston