William Beaumont Army Medical Center's Child, Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Services welcomed 17 school-age children to a weeklong camp designed to discuss experiences in a safe and supportive environment at Fort Bliss, Texas, June 18-22.
The summer camp, dubbed "Camp Wonder," included four half-day sessions comprised of three counselor-led sessions targeting self-esteem, empowerment, depression, anxiety, behaviors, coping skills and social skills. Children completing kindergarten through fifth grades from Milam, Bliss and Colin L Powell Elementary Schools, were divided into age-appropriate groups to encourage interaction and uniform progression with peers.
"This is a great program for my son to participate in dealing with emotional and socioemotional feelings," said Ebonie Sanchez, a military spouse at Fort Bliss and mother of three. "I thought it would be really good for him because he is young, so any aspect that can help him with his maturity level and growth, I'm all about it."
In collaboration with Army Community Services, the camp also engaged parents with workshops addressing behavioral reward systems, medication management, family strengthening, and special education services available at Fort Bliss schools. During the camp, children were introduced to a reward system, earning small prizes for accomplishing daily goals. Parents were encouraged to continue the reward system at home, utilizing leisure activities such as video games and cell phone usage as rewards.
"Since he first found out he was going to the camp he asked question after question," said Sanchez. "After coming home that first day he was ecstatic, he had so much fun he showed me a reward system they implemented and that gave him motivation to do more positive things to gain rewards."
"Because school behavioral health is embedded within schools, during the summer they don't have any children (assigned to programs) so they host camps and groups," said Lashonda Bogan, outreach coordinator, Child, Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Services, Department of Behavioral Health, WBAMC. "(The workshops) incorporate parenting classes into what the kids are learning, so (parents could continue to engage at home)."
According to Bogan, the short groups and camps offered during the summer allow eligible children to participate in programs before committing to services during the school year. Programs are aimed at increasing understanding and awareness of special-needs children to better prepare military families for challenges such as deployment of service-members, adding to unit readiness.
The program introduced Sanchez' six-year-old son, DeAaron, to social settings outside of school while also addressing feelings, bullying and respecting others and themselves.
"It might be their first time being around other kids they could identify with," said Bogan. "Knowing everyone in the camp (is unique), made campers more comfortable being themselves."
"(DeAaron) has (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) so sometimes sitting down and calming down to get all the instructions (at school) is difficult for him," said Sanchez. "He is learning about being courteous and those life skills parents want them to have to be successful."
The camp wrapped up with a closed performance for parents featuring children singing as a choir about bullying and respect and swimming at the Fort Bliss Aquatics Training Center.
When asked what he enjoyed about the camp, DeAaron answered "the song," while also adding he had fun during the camp.
"I've seen changes," said Ebonie Sanchez. "I'm very involved in every aspect of his life, as much as I can be. (Camp coordinators) did have a mandatory meeting for the parents where bullying and coping with certain emotions were discussed, which I felt was a really great aspect of the camp."
For the soon-to-be first grader, DeAaron says he'll take what he learned and apply it to school, a goal Sanchez yearns.
"I feel like this was a positive camp that allowed children to work in an environment they felt was fun but also gained the skills of cooperating with others, showing respect and learning about bullying," said Sanchez. "I look forward to him continuing using the skills he learned here and help him be successful in the next grade level."
"All of us have our own things that make us different, but we shouldn't treat anyone differently," said Bogan.