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APA Achievement Awards   |    
Significant Achievement AwardsA Summer Camp for Children and Adolescents With Severe Emotional and Behavioral Problems—Project Discovery, Moundbuilders Guidance Center, Inc., Newark, Ohio
Psychiatric Services 1998; doi:
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Project Discovery, an innovative four-week summer day camp, combines outdoor fun with therapeutic activities for young people with severe emotional or behavioral problems who would not otherwise have access to mainstream summer recreational activities. The day camp is a project of Moundbuilders Guidance Center, a comprehensive private nonprofit community mental health center in East Central Ohio, near the capital of Columbus. Project Discovery is located in Licking County, which has about 135,000 citizens, many of whom live in rural areas.

The local Community Mental Health and Recovery Board has estimated that 5 percent of Licking County's adolescent population have severe behavioral or emotional difficulties. In 1989 the mental health board formed a task force to identify gaps in the local continuum of care for children and adolescents. Parents, school representatives, advocacy groups, and the local juvenile court all identified the need for a summer program for youth with serious emotional disturbance that would provide structure, appropriate activities, and an alternative to out-of-community care.

Project Discovery was established in 1990 to fill this need. It serves 20 youngsters and their families each year. The program coordinator for the past eight years is Linda Price, a teacher with extensive training in providing programming for children with serious behavioral or emotional disturbance. The program is staffed by five therapists from Moundbuilders Guidance Center and seven camp counselors with backgrounds in education, psychology, and social work.

The population served by Project Discovery consists of boys and girls age 12 to 18 who are at risk of out-of-home placement during the summer months; who are transitioning back to their own homes from detention facilities, psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment, or foster care; or who have received services from multiple systems. All youngsters who participate in Project Discovery have been designated as having a serious emotional disturbance or a serious behavioral handicap. They have a wide range of diagnoses, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, major depression, Tourette's syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effect, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder.

Children can be referred to the project by any child-serving agency in Licking County. Each participant has a case manager in the mental health, juvenile court, or human services systems who coordinates services with those systems. Many of the campers and their families also use the wide range of traditional mental health services and community support programming offered to clients of Moundbuilders Guidance Center. They include psychotherapy, psychiatric services, psychological services, case management, home-based services, housing, and vocational training. The center serves about 15,000 clients annually.

Project Discovery is a collaborative effort between Moundbuilders Guidance Center and the Boy Scouts of America, the local Mental Health Association, the Licking County juvenile court, and the department of human services, the private sector, service groups, and religious organizations. The Boy Scouts offered the use of 420-acre Camp Falling Rock, a Boy Scout facility situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Licking County. The camp encompasses woods, cliffs, ponds, waterfalls, and a swimming pool. Staff of Boy Scouts of America maintain the camp and provide assistance with special activities for Project Discovery campers, such as mountain biking and rappelling.

All campers receive free daily door-to-door transportation, a critical element in ensuring attendance. Each of the program's two vans is assigned a counselor. The ride to and from the camp provides an opportunity to teach skills such as proper language, safety habits, and socialization. From the first step on the bus until the last step off, the day is highly structured. The 20 campers are assigned to smaller groups, a structure that allows easy organization of activities and encourages campers to make friends.

Activity sessions are generally 45 minutes long, and a low-energy session, such as crafts, alternates with a high-energy session, such as swimming or another sport. All program activities are intended to encourage campers to have fun and to provide opportunities for campers to enhance self-awareness, build trusting relationships, and promote group cooperation. The program philosophy is that no child is expelled, each child deserves to have fun, and each day is viewed as a fresh start.

Program activities include nature-based crafts and education, art and theater workshops, photography, cooking, camping skills, noncompetitive games, and conservation awareness. Outdoor activities such as rappelling, swimming, and fishing are offered. Participants set a daily goal, such as "finish an activity" or "smile at staff members," which is evaluated hourly and rewarded weekly with a day trip or other special activity. Therapy is woven into these activities and is also more directly addressed in group therapy sessions, a workshop on prevention of child assault, health-related educational sessions, and life skill development sessions that are interspersed with the more traditional camp activities.

An innovative therapy tool is the use of a daily journal. Each camper is given a journal that can be addressed to a specific counselor, or just turned in and distributed to a staff member whom the project director judges a good match. The staff member writes back each evening. Staff feedback is geared to provide the camper with a positive interaction with an adult.

Each camper is evaluated before and after participating in the camp using the Devereaux Child Behavior Checklist. Participants' daily behavior is carefully monitored and described in charts maintained by the program therapists. Participants, parents, and staff members all complete evaluations after every summer term. After the summer camp is over, Moundbuilders Guidance Center offers ongoing group meetings for participants and their families, which help maintain the relationships developed during the summer and facilitate continuity of care and supportive services.

James Claggett, M.S.W., L.I.S.W., is director of Moundbuilders Guidance Center, which is the fiscal agent for Project Discovery and recruits and hires program staff members. The center's child and adolescent coordinator is Lynn Agapi-Gilligan, M.S.S.W., L.I.S.W. Assistant program coordinator for Project Discovery is Brent Bloomster, Ph.D. In addition, the psychiatrists, nurses, therapists, case managers, respite staff, and home-based team affiliated with the center serve as auxiliary providers for the camp project. Numerous volunteer staff participate in camp activities. Each year all camp staff receive a two-day training course that covers their responsibilities, conflict resolution and crisis management skills, use of rating scales, and other topics relevant to the needs of specific groups of campers.

In 1997 Project Discovery received the bulk of its $21,000 funding from Moundbuilders Guidance Center and the local community mental health and recovery board. The project also received private donations from individuals and from community and religious groups. In addition, numerous community businesses and other groups have generously donated items for use in camp activities.

For more information, contact Lynn Agapi-Gilligan, M.S.S.W, L.I.S.W., child and adolescent coordinator, Moundbuilders Guidance Center, Inc., 65 Messimer Drive, Newark, Ohio 43055; phone, 740-522-8477; fax, 740-522-2941.

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