by Kristen Whiteman, Research Intern
Many youth experience traumatic events as they grow up. Some live in extreme poverty, some witness acts of violence in their homes or communities, while others may endure physical, emotional or even sexual abuse. These are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. Research on ACEs indicates that these experiences can cause many health risks in adults such as obesity and alcoholism, and also delinquent and promiscuous behavior in adolescents. One known strategy for mitigating negative effects like these is fostering resilience. This is why nurturing resilience in the youth we serve is one of our primary goals at Camp Colley.
In understanding how we nurture resilience, it is important to first understand what resilience is. Resilience is a character quality that helps an individual cope with stress or trauma like those listed above. It is a strength that comes from working through challenges while gaining perspective and confidence in the process. Resilience is really problem-solving that is triggered by either danger or opportunities that can lead to personal growth (Brendtro & Strother, 2007). When a child engages in a challenging activity in a reassuring, trusted environment, the risk and stress that is associated with the challenge can be managed, allowing for the growth of resilience in an optimal setting. This is the type of environment and activities we provide at Camp Colley.
The first step in becoming resilient is to increase self-esteem. Studies show that attendance at a summer camp can provide this growth. One study (Merryman, Mezei, Bush & Weinstein, 2012) found that youth attending summer camps increase in positive identity and social competence, with these gains still evident six months after camp. This study shows that summer camps can foster resilience by helping to establish a foundation of growth. This happens as youth experience activities that they may not normally engage in, such as horseback riding or archery. These activities can be challenging and can be viewed as having a certain amount of risk. As youth participate in these activities and realize that they can master the challenge by working hard, they become more confident in their abilities and gain self-esteem. Self-esteem continues to increase as a camper engages in more activities, which also nurtures resilience in the process.
Robbie Gilligan (2000) commenting on adversity and resilience stated, “a small change within a child’s profile or functioning may have an important wider ripple effect generating momentum possibly for a virtuous spiral of change and development.” Camp Colley can be that small change for one child. We can provide an experience that can be the beginning of a more positive outlook for a youth; a start to becoming stronger and more resilient. Our goal is for all youth, but especially those who struggle with ACES, to learn how to problem-solve and become more confident in their ability to face adversity, to become resilient.
1. Brendtro, L. K., & Strother, M. A. (2007). Back to Basics Through Challenge and Adventure. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 16(1), 2-6.
2. Cooper, N., Estes, C. A., & Allen, L. (2004). Bouncing Back. Parks & Recreation, 39(4), 28-35.
3. Gilligan, R. (2000). Adversity, resilience and young people: the protective value of positive school and spare time experiences. Children & Society, 14(1), 37-47.
4. Merryman, MaryBeth; Mezei, Amanda; Bush, Jill A.; and Weinstein, Marcie (2012) “The Effects of a Summer Camp Experience on Factors of Resilience in At-Risk Youth, “The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 3. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.1016