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Camp Duncan girls sing of new hope and healing

February 1, 2014

By Jim Edminson, Editor

Along the trail that leads to Camp Duncan, the sound of wind whistles through the pines as bare branches of oaks and maples jostle in an unmeasured beat. A bubbling creek and the crunch of fallen leaves mingle in the chorus. Bird calls punctuate the melody – one expected in the late fall at this 700-acre scenic wilderness camp near Aberdeen.

Nearing the Pioneers campsite, a new sound is heard faintly, but grows with each step taken. Nature’s melody recedes and the voices of girls singing are given center stage. It is unexpected, but also seems as natural as the setting.

The six girls and their chiefs sing as they focus on the day’s tasks. For the girls, the melody they have found in the woods is a stark contrast to the discord and pain they knew in their lives before coming to Baptist Children’s Homes’ (BCH) therapeutic camp program for girls.

“I had become self-destructive,” 15-year-old Jessie remembers. “I had closed off the world pushing everyone that loved me away.”

Jessie has been at camp for 17 months. She laughs softly when she thinks about living outdoors. “I used to be a princess and never went outside. My mom would tell me to go outside and I would go and five minutes later be back inside reading a book.”

It may seem odd, but she has loved being at Camp Duncan from the first day. But as great as it was, she says it wasn’t easy to open up and share.

“Reaching out to others and letting them get close is hard,” she says. “It didn’t work at the beginning, but I didn’t give up – everyone here didn’t give up on me.”

Seventeen-year-old Natalee says she was a hoodlum in her neighborhood back home. She says she was the kid that everyone blamed.

“No one knew just how much I was hurting inside,” she confides. “I lived with my grandparents because my parents cared more about drugs and alcohol than they cared about me.”

Natalee’s inward pain has subsided even though she admits there are still emotional scars. “It’s not easy to make something better, but Camp has helped. My relationship with my grandparents is better. Everything is more hopeful.”

Natalee says learning how to deal with her problems was key to restoring relationships. BCH’s wilderness camping experience is built around a group dynamic in which the girls work toward mutual goals, plan activities as a group, and tackle problem solving together.

“It’s cool to be with a group of girls who have gone through similar things,” Natalee says. “We all help each other. We talk things out.”

Natalee says that trying to hide your problems doesn’t work. “I lost a lot of time sitting on the outside and just watching.”

Girls at Camp Duncan learn a process to solve problems built on three things: identifying the problem, coming up with a solution, and setting things in place that help prevent the problem from occurring again. PSP – problem, solution, prevention – is an acronym heard often.

“I’m now working to bring home what I’ve learned at Camp,” Jessie says. “I know the tools. I talk more with my mom and family. We work at listening to each other and not just talking at each other. And we hug – hugs work and they are great.”

BCH’s wilderness camps are alternative, licensed non-public schools and all the chiefs are college graduates. Because of the problems the girls were experiencing before coming to Camp, many were struggling to keep up their grades.

Twenty-two-year-old Chief Gwen says that learning is interwoven into everything the girls do at Camp. “The girls focus on planning, doing, evaluating, and, finally, writing about their experiences.”

The motivation for a girl is personal, but they achieve success as a group. Camp fosters learning through everyday group activities.

“The girls work hard and the group is there for accountability,” Chief Gwen says. “They become friends and aren’t afraid to call each other out to help the other succeed.”

You can help make hope possible for children like Natalee and Jessie by making a gift to Baptist Children's Homes. Please give online at www.bchfamily.org/givenow to help immediately.