TNOYS’ Program Coordinator, Elizabeth Flint, was excited to play a part this year in one of TNOYS’ longest-running and most successful youth engagement programs – PEAKS Adventure Camp. 150 DFPS foster care youth and adult partners from across Texas traveled to Wimberley over Spring Break to participate in the camp, which focuses on developing youth leadership skills and helping adult partners value youth contributions.
The goal of the camp is to give teens in foster care the chance to build their self-esteem and establish leadership skills, in order to prepare them to lead healthy adult lives when they age out of care. PEAKS Camp holds special significance for Elizabeth, whose mother was one of the original founders of the camp and who was inspired by PEAKS to work in the area of youth engagement. “As I got older and tried to figure out what to do with my life, I realized the impact this camp had on people, and it’s what made me get into social work.”
At this year’s camp, Elizabeth planned a different activity each night that allowed the teens to learn about leadership and life skills. The activities included “rhythm power,” a drumming circle exercise with lessons about team building and collaboration; the “Game of Life,” which had the teens role play handling adult responsibilities like finding a job, housing, and transportation; and Write Away Live, a talent show to help them be more open and comfortable in their own skin.
During the day, the campers enjoyed the beautiful setting at Camp Young Judaea in Wimberley and engaged in traditional camp activities like archery, canoeing, tie dye, and a ropes course. For many teens, it was their first opportunity to get a camp experience.
A daily journaling exercise ensured that even the fun daytime activities held life lessons for the campers – every night, the youth and adult participants answered a journal prompt about their day, which group leaders responded to by pointing out a quality or achievement they saw in the camper. “The purpose of the journals is to give the teens something to remember their accomplishments and take back to their real life to hopefully use to tackle some of their challenges when they age out of care,” Elizabeth explained.
But the youth aren’t the only ones who benefit from the camp – adult participants are also a key focus. In each of the two four-day camp sessions this year, 25 adults, most of whom are employed full-time as CPS caseworkers, volunteered to attend camp alongside the youth. They participated as equals with the 50 teens in each session, taking part in outdoor activities, leadership-building sessions, and nightly journaling. “Youth and adult campers participate in the same activities and work on an even playing field, not just to help build their relationship but also to help train the adult sponsors that youth are important and are capable of making their own decisions,” said Elizabeth.
This was the 31st year of PEAKS Camp and it is exciting to see how the program has evolved over time, while still holding on to some tried and true best practices. PEAKS continues to be run primarily by professionals in the youth services field who volunteer their time – this year, the program benefited from the input of some new faces as well as the PEAKS Committee made up of veterans who have participated in the camp over the years. For Elizabeth, who grew up seeing the camp in action, it was fulfilling to play a part in keeping this long-standing program running.