For over 30 years, PEAKS Adventure Camp has provided an opportunity for teens in foster care to have a traditional camp experience, learning to overcome challenges and build partnerships with adults as they prepare to enter adulthood. This year, a last-minute budget shortfall threatened to keep TNOYS from hosting PEAKS Camp, but thanks to a generous donation from BCFS Health and Human Services, camp was able to be held for the 33rd year.
A mostly volunteer staff of 20 led by new camp director Shannon Bloesch (formerly Executive Director of Parks Youth Ranch) provided the camp experience to 25 adult sponsors and 50 youth campers . For five days over Spring Break, the group participated in activities together including tie dye, drumming, a ropes course, and an upcycle fashion show, all in the beautiful setting of Camp Young Judaea in Wimberley.
“Kids came in from across the state who have never really been able to experience these types of activities and each really embraced the challenge, succeeded, and were excited about their success,” said Bloesch. “These kids don’t really get the chance to be kids so it’s inspiring to see that the transformation in action. It’s a great opportunity for normalcy for them.”
Working through challenging activities like the ropes course didn’t just benefit the youth, though – another important aspect of PEAKS Camp is having the adult sponsors participate as equal campers in activities with youth. This allows them to experience first-hand the value of engaging with youth as equals and helping them elevate their voice and chart their own path. Each of the 25 adult sponsors at the camp works within youth services and will be able to take the youth engagement experiences back to their daily work.
An important component of PEAKS Camp is journaling – each evening, both youth and adults participants are given journal prompts that allow them to reflect on the day’s activities and how they relate to goals for their lives. A considerable amount of team building and support occurs within the PEAKS experience. Based on survey responses received at the conclusion of the camp, the youth benefited most from the opportunity to overcome challenges and build authentic relationships with their peers and adult sponsors.
Campers shared that words from adult staffers and experiences with activities such as the rock wall had taught them “to never give up” and “push my limits to achieve greater things.” Other campers cited the biggest challenges of the week being “opening up to people, trusting and letting people catch me” and “getting out of my shell.” Once camper wrote that “My biggest challenge was trying not to get too attached. I failed but in a good way.”
As Bloesch said, “It was amazing to see the total transformation many of the campers underwent, particularly those that seemed the most resistant to the experience when they arrived. I was very impressed to have witnessed the magic of PEAKS first hand.”
In addition to the donation from BCFS that made this year’s camp possible, TNOYS is grateful to DFPS for its ongoing support of the event, including sending volunteer staff and caseworkers to participate this year. We look forward to continuing to offer this valuable learning opportunity for both youth in foster care and youth services providers for many years in the future, and will continue to look for opportunities to expand the model beyond the spring break experience.