A camp for kids is working to break the cycle of domestic abuse in Oklahoma City.
Palomar, the family justice center, hosted its second annual Camp HOPE this month for trauma-exposed children, showing that just one week can make a world of difference in their lives.
Each of the 49 young campers has experienced the worst traumas imaginable, from sexual assault to witnessing one parent murder another. They are smiling now, though, with hope for the future.
“I’ve worked in social work for 15 years and, to me, this is the first time I’ve seen a difference in breaking generational cycles of violence,” said Palomar Executive Director Kim Garrett.
Garrett said domestic abuse can actually stunt a child's brain development, leading only to more unproductive members of society. Camp HOPE, however, challenges them to build friendships and important life skills.
It also shows them another side of law enforcement. Sarah Foster was the first Oklahoma City Police Officer to join the camp as a mentor.
She said, “We have some kids that, the only time they interact with police officers is when we take their mom and dad to jail, and I think that’s really helped us connect with kids differently.”
Foster’s mission is also personal. Growing up, her dad and stepmom patrolled the streets as police officers, but she watched her mom battle substance abuse until her death when Sarah was just 16.
“I was at a crossroads in my life where I could have gone down a really bad path and gone into substance abuse or I could have been a stronger person, and that’s where I wanted to go with my life,” she said.
A survey of the kids at the end of the camp shows they, too, are striving to steer themselves in the right direction. On a scale of 1-6 measuring hope, their responses increased by .5 over the course of one week.
“There is so much hope for these kids, for these families,” said Garrett, “for changing how their story ends.”
Palomar is always in need of donations and volunteer services. To find out how you can help, click here.