“When I came here four years ago, I was a quiet little girl. Now, I am strong. Yes, I will be leaving camp today but not forever. I will come back and share my story with kids who come to Camp Mariposa. Until that day comes, please know that I am safe. I’m going to spread my wings and fly.”
- Lindsay, 13, Camp Mariposa Alumnus
September is a time of transition when the days get shorter, the air gets colder and children return to school. September also recognizes both National Recovery and Suicide Prevention Months.
Addiction is the most pressing public health issue in the United States. It is now the third leading cause of death, with 135,000 Americans dying each year from this disease. It is estimated that the financial costs of addiction in the U.S. alone exceed $400 billion a year.
These statistics only tell a part of the story. People can, and do, recover from this disease. During the month of September, we celebrated the millions of people in the United States who are living a healthy and productive life in recovery.
There are presently more than 23 million individuals in recovery living in the United States
These 23 million individuals have mothers and fathers, siblings, spouses, children and friends. Too often, however, families and children are left out of the stories about both addiction and recovery. We were excited that the theme of this year’s Recovery Month was 'Our Families, Our Stories and Our Recoveries’ because it offered an opportunity for all of us who have been impacted by this disease to share our own and our family’s stories of successful recovery.
For almost a decade, Eluna has been providing hope and healing to children whose lives have been impacted by the substance use of someone close to them, most often a parent. Beginning with one location in Seattle in 2007, Camp Mariposa has grown into a national addiction prevention and mentoring program, with 11 locations across the country. For too many kids, addiction is an uninvited member of the family.
For children who attend Camp Mariposa, some have parents who are still active in their addiction or are presently incarcerated because of their addiction. A smaller percentage have family members in various stages of recovery. Regardless of their loved one’s recovery status, children at Camp Mariposa are able to connect with other kids facing similar life circumstances.
Camp Mariposa has served nearly 1,000 children over the past nine years. Several times a year, we ask the children who attend the weekend camp programs for feedback about their experience in the program. Below are four of the core lessons we have learned:
CHILDREN BENEFIT FROM POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEERS AND TRUSTED ADULTS
Positive and nurturing relationships are at the heart of the Camp Mariposa program. The overwhelming majority of children that attend initially do not know any other children living in similar circumstances. By the end of their Camp Mariposa experience, campers say that the mentors and new friends from camp have become their second family. One alumnus recently wrote that “being at camp has helped me to trust and taught me a new definition of love and family. Everyone here has given me strength to trust and move forward. Above all, camp has given me the best family I could ever ask for.”
Last year, 97% of the children said they made friends at Camp Mariposa
The overwhelmingly positive number of children who make friends at Camp Mariposa is critical as many kids enter the program feeling lonely and isolated. The children who attend are also able to connect with trained and caring mentors. Because both the mentors and campers attend camp and activities multiple times a year, they develop a strong bond with each other. Many of the campers and Junior Counselors (campers who have aged out and return as counselors) talk about the impact of having supportive mentors and the significance of their willingness to listen without judging them or their families.
100% of the campers said there are adults who they listen to and trust at Camp Mariposa
An inspiring statistic given that many of our kids start out with limited positive connections with adults in their daily lives.
CHILDREN BENEFIT WHEN THEY LEARN COPING SKILLS THEY CAN USE IN THEIR DAILY LIVES
Another key component of the program are the coping skills that the kids acquire during the program. Many children identify anger, sadness and loneliness as emotions they have experienced on a regular basis and struggle to find positive ways to express these challenging emotions. One camper recently reflected, “when I was angry, I would just be mad and take it out on everyone. I used to think that was the only way to calm down. Camp Mariposa has taught me other ways.” During most camp weekends, there is one session dedicated to mindfulness where kids learn practical ways to cope with difficult experiences and emotions.
96% of kids said that mindfulness helped them feel better about themselves
CHILDREN BENEFIT WHEN UNDERLYING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE IDENTIFIED AND ADDRESSED
Children who grow up with an addicted family are at a higher risk for suicide and depression throughout their life. For this reason, Eluna added Signs of Suicide (SOS), an evidence-based suicide prevention program, to the Camp Mariposa curriculum. All of the children are screened for depression and suicidal thoughts as part of the SOS program.
25% of our 9-12 year-old campers score high for depression and suicidal thoughts
SOS teaches children and teens how to identify symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts, and self-injury in themselves and their peers. The program uses a simple acronym, ACT® (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) to teach campers the steps to take if they need to seek help from a trusted adult. One camper recently shared that she was able to help a friend in school who was being bullied. The camper recognized that her friend needed help and found a teacher to speak with at their school. The camper said she would not have done this if it wasn’t for the SOS training at camp.
CHILDREN BENEFIT FROM EXPERIENCES THAT CHALLENGE THEM TO TAKE HEALTHY RISKS
Outdoor activities are a core component of the Camp Mariposa program. Each weekend, campers have the opportunity to try new things. Recently, a camper was walking on a rope anchored between two very tall trees many feet above ground. After climbing up to the starting point, the camper became very scared. His fellow campers and mentors cheered him on from below and the camper was able to very cautiously walk between the trees. He had a smile on his face the rest of the day and credited the other campers and mentors for their support. It is these activities that have the power to change children’s lives.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Camp Mariposa is transforming lives and there are lots of ways that you can help.
Tell your own story
If you are one of the tens of millions of people who are in recovery or have been impacted by a loved one’s substance use disorder, consider sharing your story. The more we share our stories, the more we lower the stigma surrounding substance use disorders.
Refer families to Camp Mariposa and Eluna Resource Center
If you live in one of the 11 communities served by Camp Mariposa, you can refer children and families to your local Camp Mariposa. If you do not live near a Camp Mariposa and know of a family who has been impacted by a substance use disorder, you can encourage them to visit Eluna Resource Center, our newest support initiative.
All children benefit from positive relationships with trusted adults. Consider sharing your talent with Eluna or any other youth-focused organization in your community. Research shows that children’s lives are often changed by just one caring adult in their life! Contact us to get connected.
Contact your elected officials and advocate for increased funding specifically for children impacted by the substance use disorder of a family member.
Camp Mariposa is offered at no cost to the children and families we serve. Eluna relies on the generosity of giving communities nationwide to make our mission possible and keep our programs free of charge. Every dollar makes a difference - donate today!
Together, we can bring hope; Together, we can change lives; Together, we can help children recover!
Brian J. Maus, MA, LMFT
Director of Addiction Prevention and Mentoring Programs, ElunaLearn more about Camp Mariposa