Kristen Krichoff, family outreach clinician at UCS, leads yoga at Lake Paran during Camp Be A Kid Tuesday afternoon.
Kristen Krichoff, family outreach clinician at UCS, leads yoga at Lake Paran during Camp Be A Kid Tuesday afternoon. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner/photos.benningtonbanner.com )

NORTH BENNINGTON -- United Counseling Services of Bennington County began offering its six-week day camp for Youth and Family Services clients, "Camp be a Kid," in 2013. After returning this summer, counselors said kids have exhibited improvement and look forward to camp every day.

"Camp be a Kid" will continue to take place every summer, three days a week for six weeks. UCS offers the camp on its own dime, but is made affordable by having the grounds at Lake Paran offered for the camp's use.

Counselors and case managers refer the camp to kids 12 years old or younger and their families. The camp serves as a social and learning outlet that is unlike the home and school visits the counselors usually conduct.

With an attempt to maintain a 1 to 4 ratio of staff to kids, counselors are able to devote more attention to each kid's needs.

"Some of our kids are one among many," said Lorna Mattern, director of Youth and Family Services. "You really have to teach to the many and it's hard to take care of the few that are having problems Teachers aren't necessarily trained to deal with behavior, they are trained to teach. So, here people are trained to deal with behavior specifically and work where the kid is at."

Mattern said she thinks that what the students learn at camp helps the children throughout their school year. Through activities catered to UCS clients, kids learn to control their bodies and emotions.


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The camp schedule usually gives kids a couple choices, incorporating everything from yoga, paddle boarding and nature walks, to theater, art and sports, which Mattern said "really has a kind of a therapeutic bend to it; Being able to have kids learn how to play and be kids."

The camp is designed for kids enrolled in UCS services who might not be as successful in more traditional summer day camps.

Clients who enroll in the camp also take a couple pages out of the book of social responsibility, with counselors who encourage kids to be cordial and outgoing with their peers and elders.

"What they are learning is different ways to behave and different ways to handle problems We want them to be mindful of what it is they are doing and saying to others," Mattern said. "We had kids at the beginning of camp who were not very social and separated from the group, who are now participating and interacting in their environment at camp."

UCS Family Outreach Clinician Kristen Kirchoff said the most significant thing the staff teaches the kids at camp is "mindfulness," which comes across in some of the camp's hands-on activities.

"Mindfulness is to stay in the present moment without going into the past or into the future; without worrying about something that will happen or is going to happen," Kirchoff said.

With the use of paddle boards and Vew-Do balance boards, kids are motivated to think in the moment and concentrate, to prevent themselves from falling into the water of Lake Paran. Children are challenged to compare the activity to their own "mindfulness."

Kirchoff specified one child, "Logan," who demonstrated much improvement between his two years at camp. Logan's real name has been withheld for privacy constraints on UCS client/counselor privilege.

"When I met (Logan), he was never able to identify an emotion, what he felt or really what the word meant. Now he can identify his own emotions and practice verbalizing what he feels."

Some UCS clients of Youth and Family Services over the age of 12 undergo training to work as mentors for kids during the camp. Logan's interest piqued to become a mentor even though he was not of age, and was allowed to become a junior mentor.

Logan was challenged to go outside his comfort zone to approach elders he wasn't familiar with to seek out the channels it would take to become a junior mentor and shadow teenagers with whom he also wasn't familiar.

"By seeking out his (mentorship), he was able to put it into practice and now he knows the difference between what it felt like to have no confidence and having confidence now," Kirchoff said.

Mattern said that whether or not UCS allocates the funding for the camp in the future, she will find a way to fundraise to continue to make it available.

"I think this has been an amazing (success), and we will make sure this happens year after year. I think the experiences that we've witnessed with kids here make it really hard work," Mattern said. "The staff here are as tired as the kids at the end of the day and it's well worth it."

The camp is only offered for children enrolled in UCS programs. The camp may grow in the future to involve more of Youth and Family Services' over 400 clients.

To find more about UCS, Youth and Family Services, or how to enroll in services, visit UCS online at http://www.ucsvt.org/.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg