The boys who are part of the Trailblazer group at Cameron Boys Camp are always quick to entertain visitors with stories about their life in the woods. They are proud to show the campsite they built, the open-air stove where they prepare meals, and the tent that is their classroom when the lessons don’t take them out on rambles to identify flora and fauna. But their anticipation is heightened when their families visit.
Thirteen-year-old Brandon stands and his smile widens when his mom and grandmother enter the large gathering room. Families are pouring in for a day with their sons, grandsons and brothers.
He hugs his mom as two-year-old Addie comes running into the growing crowd. She jumps. Her big brother grabs her in the air and she climbs comfortably onto his shoulders. They become inseparable for the next few hours.
It’s been a year since Brandon came to Camp. Big for his age, he used the advantage to bully other children at school. He admits that he “hates” fights and avoided them, but nonetheless he gained a reputation of being a tough guy.
Brandon was angry. The anger grew after his grandpaw died. “I shut down,” he remembers. “I wouldn’t listen to my mom – to not a word she said.”
School was difficult for Brandon. The pace was too fast and he fell behind. His anger worsened and soon the bullying that had been reserved for school came home. Brandon turned on his younger siblings, especially his sister.
Fearful for her son and for Brandon’s eight-year-old brother and eleven-year-old sister, Brandon’s mom turned to Camp.
The first three weeks, Brandon recalls “it was pretty darn hot.” He was out of shape and found himself gasping for breath as the boys walked every place they went.
“I thought I was in pretty good shape,” he says. “It was all a little overwhelming. I felt alone and kept silent. I couldn’t trust anyone.”
It was hard, but Brandon hoped that someone could help him. He hoped that Camp would be “good” for him. He hoped the anger would stop. “I hoped things would change,” he confesses.
Today, Brandon will tell you that there are times when he is less than successful, but his mom says he is a “different boy.”
13-year-old Brandon, center is surrounded by his supportive family - his mom, grandmother, her husband, and his three siblings. Families like Brandon's visit regularly to learn about Camp and to encourage their sons, grandsons and brothers. Campers are more apt to succeed when they return home with the help of families.
“It is amazing to see my son turn into such a caring person,” she says. The proud mother says her son has worked hard to turn things around. She also credits the other boys and Brandon’s Chiefs and case manager for helping her family. “It is amazing to watch him grow into a young man.”
Brandon agrees that things are different. He is open to the Chiefs and the other boys. He now trusts them. Brandon says he has always been good at making friends, but he is learning how to keep friends.
“You have to be a friend first,” he says. “If you treat someone like they ought to be treated, you both win.”
Brandon is trusting God, too. “Chief told me that you don’t just say your saved,” he says, “you have to give your life to Him and trust Him to show you the way.”
Brandon says he felt different in his heart –something changed. “It was a big step for me – a good step.”
Brandon credits “the Lord” with helping him focus – focus on helping others and what he can learn at Camp.
“If you don’t watch out,” he warns, “you can lose step and the devil will try to get a foothold.”
When Brandon goes home for visits, he says his mom works with him to be successful. He says they don’t yell at each other any more – “they have conversations.” He does chores and even spends time with his sister talking and doing things. Brandon is looking to the future when he will complete the Camp program and return home. He is confident that with his family’s help, he will be successful.
“Camp doesn’t work without families pulling together and making it work,” Cameron Boys
Camp director Stephen Ashton says. He says days when the families visit are important to the Campers. It is important for the families to see how they learn, what they do, and how they work together. Families need to become aware of the emotional tools the boys will use when they return home.”
Brandon says some of the boys never get used to living outside. But he says that will be the thing he will miss most.
“I love living outside,” he says. “I love the woods. I feel more at ease and I can talk to God under these trees.”