“On top of his ‘inherited’ anxieties,” says Noble, “Steve had learning and attention difficulties. But he was a friendly kid with real potential, and he got me thinking.”
Noble recommended Steve for a week at Camp POSTCARD for the 2011 summer season. “He was nervous — even shaky,” she says. “But I drove him up with his older brother in the car (because of his mom’s phobias, she doesn’t drive), and he got really excited as he met the camp counselors and settled into his cabin.”
Noble reports that by the end of the week, when she and his brother went to pick him up again, Steve had changed dramatically. “He was a hundred percent different person,” she says with a smile. “He’d tried his first swimming lessons and enjoyed them — and was looking forward to more. He wanted to know if he and I could go on a canoe ride! And he tasted mangoes and discovered that he loved them.”
In addition to its traditional outdoor activities, Camp POSTCARD now offers Fit, Fed, and Fun for Life, a program that helps combat childhood obesity by promoting more active recreation and a healthier diet (in part by encouraging campers to try new foods — such as mangoes). Before-and-after questionnaires have shown measurable changes in campers’ attitudes toward diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.
“Interestingly,” adds Noble, “it was team spirit that helped do the trick for Steve: He tried the new foods because he wanted to help his cabin mates earn points for awards made at the end of the week. These gentle win-or-lose competitions are important for kids because they help develop authentic self-esteem.”
In 2012, as a sixth grader, Steve got to go to camp for a second year. “This time around, he really learned to swim by treading water, at least briefly, and had a ball all over again. And he learned to take more orderly care of his things (which is important for kids with ADHD). Also, in the past, he used to play a video game where you ‘shoot’ cops. But in going to camp and meeting actual law enforcement professionals, he made a lot of friendships with them — and has now talked about becoming a search-and-rescue specialist in the Coast Guard, thanks to the respect he developed for the uniform.”
Each year, Camp POSTCARD is staffed by 75 volunteer sheriffs, deputies, state troopers, and municipal police officers as well as other community volunteers and volunteer personnel from Volunteers of America. It is offered free of charge to campers.
“Camp POSTCARD was a great experience for Steve,” Noble concludes. “And I’m happy to say that his story’s not unique.”
Sherry, the grandmother of a boy we’ll call Ron, agrees. “Ron’s experience at camp was so positive and has made a huge difference in [his] life. He had experienced law officials in a negative manner due to his mother’s actions, so it was really nice to have him experience policemen as people and to see they are the good guys, not the bad guys. My grandson has had a tough go of things, and this camp really changed him from the inside out. He came home with a completely different outlook and attitude. If the camp’s goal is to make a difference in the lives of children, you have succeeded!”
In addition to Steve, Noble has referred youngsters to camp every year since then and has spoken with school guidance counselors and other social workers to suggest camp for children they work with who are the right age. “I wish that all these kids could go,” she says.
“Stories like Steve’s and Ron’s make me happy,” adds Michael Coon, camp director and Volunteers of America’s Vice President of IT and Administrative Services. “Keeping the camp up and running is a lot of hard work for all of us — practically year-round these days. But when I see those 150 kids running, laughing, and free-spirited, it’s worth it — and I know we’re doing something that changes lives for decades to come and helps make the world a little bit better. That’s why we do what we do!”
Flower Noble is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working with children in the Bath–Brunswick area for the past 10 years.
Camp POSTCARD (“Police Officers Striving to Create and Reinforce Dreams”) is a long-term partnership between the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, the Maine D.A.R.E.® Officers Association, the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, and Volunteers of America.
Help us send more kids like Ron and Steve to Camp POSTCARD, donate today.
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates about Camp POSTCARD and our other programs.