Let me just say that I have never had such a good time with the boys in our on-site Residential Treatment Program as I had when we went day camping. Many of our boys come from urban areas and have not had a lot of opportunity to go camping, or to just enjoy being out in a semi-wilderness area. So, over three weeks this summer, we took groups of boys from each of our residential units out to a campground.
Did we have some challenges, sure, but overall it went remarkably well. Honestly, it was better than that … it was amazing!
We got off to a rocky start, as the head of our Transitions Therapeutic School, a youth counselor and I drove out to Kettle Moraine South to scope it out, and we got lost. It all turned out OK in the end, but we did spend some time driving the same road –multiple times.
After that bump in the road, we just kept going joyfully forward. Let me share some of the stories. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did experiencing them.
Challenger Unit, our youngest children: One boy, who we’ll call Larry, never really stops moving … and talking. He also really does not like bugs. While he has come a long way, he hates them landing on him, his food or being near him. One of his coping strategies is to give the bugs choices and to name them. So visualize this: Larry was sitting at a picnic table coloring and making some art. A pesky little fly kept buzzing around, landing on him and his art projects.
Larry named the fly “Flighton” and proceeded to have a conversation with him. “Flighton, you are not allowed to land on my crayons; if you do not fly away, you are getting a time out. I’ve asked you nicely to leave me alone. If you don’t there are going to be CONSEQUENCES!”
Endeavor Unit: Ten hours of looking for agates and chasing deer. The day was filled with: “Is this an agate? Is that an agate? Oh, this one is definitely an agate!” The boys then developed a code for how fast they were walking, to let the group know an agate had been spotted. “I’m at a 1…. Wait, no at 2; this one is definitely an agate!” For those of you who are wondering as much as I was, an agate is regular looking stone but when you break it open it has crystals.
Towards the end of the day, we were at the campsite relaxing and roasting marshmallows for s’mores, when out of the woods walked a deer, right into our camp. EVERYTHING stopped, with the boys silently staring. Then all of a sudden, all four of the boys started running after the deer. But instead of taking off and disappearing, the deer ran about 100 feet down a path and stopped. When the boys got close, it ran past them and back up the path. This went on four times before the deer disappeared into the woods. How many people can say that played a game of tag with a wild deer?
Voyager Unit: Johnny has not been very engaged with the programming or with many staff at SaintA. However, during the camping trip, he made a commitment to fully experience being outdoors and camping. His favorite saying for the day was, “It’s part of the experience; let’s do it!”
He set up his own tent and even positioned it so he could experience both the campfire and the woods. For the whole day he was engaged! Staff who regularly interact with this boy could barely imagine him smiling, barefoot, with glow sticks around his ankles and a walking staff, strolling through a mist-covered field lit up by fireflies. Too good to be true and totally fictional? Nope; that really happened. And after the day was over, this boy said that he would like to live in the woods some day!
As I said, amazing? You bet. And touching. And most important, giving these boys experiences we hope might live with them their entire lives.
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