Big Tent workshop addresses healing from school-based violence and chronic trauma
PC(USA) camps seek to offer places of restoration for victims
On March 24, 1998, two middle school students, 11 and 13 years old respectively, pulled a fire alarm and waited outside, intending to shoot their classmates as they filed out of school. Five were killed, including one teacher, and 10 more were injured. Sadly, the Westside Middle School shootings near Jonesboro, Ark., set a precedent for similar acts of school violence in the years to come. At this week’s Big Tent conference in Knoxville, Tenn., representatives from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) led a workshop titled Camps as Places for Helping Youth Affected by Disaster & Trauma. Leaders discussed the successful model used by Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center, a PC(USA)-affliated camp and retreat facility sitting on 1,200 acres just outside Little Rock, Ark. Ferncliff, which focuses on hospitality, sustainability and outreach, has partnered with PDA to host numerous healing camps for children and youth affected by school gun violence since 1998. They were the first to develop a therapeutic camp model, spurred primarily by a mindset felt by executive director David Gill, camp employees and others in the community that “we have to do something” in the aftermath of the tragic shooting that rocked the small community of Jonesboro. “Ferncliff started from the place that we have camps which speak to this situation,” says PDA coordinator Laurie Krauss. “Camps have physical activity, bonding with other children, mentoring and guidance, space for spiritual nurturing, creation, beauty and exercise are all ingredients for trauma healing. Their service to the church in helping youth build community and resiliency is invaluable. We're excited to partner with them. "
- Including a camp leader who has already run a healing camp in the planning, executing and evaluative stages;
- Partnering with a local pastor or caregiver who knows the kids and the area and can serve as a local liaison;
- Having a commitment to hold camps for campers through their high school graduation, if they are interested;
- Having a nurse and therapist on grounds 24/7 during the camp;
- Protecting campers from press whenever possible; and
- Specific training for staff and volunteers working with campers to include, but not limited to, age group characteristics and guiding them in what to expect in campers’ behavior and mental state.