Camp HOPE — A Reality

by Mickey Stone

"Maybe this won't seem important to you, but for the first time in my life, I got to go to camp! I left (camp) feeling hopeful. For the first time, I didn't feel so bad about myself, like a ‘total loser' because I couldn't fix the trouble in my family," says Jake, a nine-year-old Camp HOPE camper.

Camp HOPE is the vision of the San Diego Family Justice Center, a one-stop shop located in downtown San Diego for victims of domestic violence. The Family Justice Center, a community initiative spearheaded by former City Attorney Casey Gwinn and former San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano, consolidated domestic violence services in San Diego by housing over 120 domestic violence professionals under one roof in August 2002. In developing the vision for the Family Justice Center, community planners began to ask two very important questions: where does the healing from family violence occur, and where is the HOPE for victims and their children? In an inspired moment, Gwinn arrived at the answer—Camp HOPE—a camp designed especially for victims of family violence and child abuse.

Children age seven to thirteen come to the camp through the Family Justice Center's programs and with the recommendation of social workers and partnering agencies that work with victims of domestic violence and child abuse. Though Camp HOPE is not a program geared to therapy — the therapy comes in the form of play. Play is essential. These children need to let go and to just be!

Time devoted to sharing stories and life experiences also helps the children understand they are not alone, that there are other children that have felt their pain, and that there is HOPE in the joy of camp and caring adults who serve as counselors. A healing process occurs at this camp because the campers have time to be together to share their stories. Hearing others talk about what they have been through is a reminder that they are not alone in their pain nor are they alone in their ability to heal. Key staff members have degrees in psychology and counseling to help out where needed. Health care is provided by a registered nurse. Ongoing counseling and support from the Center outside of the camp help the children to remain connected and cared for throughout the year.

HOPE Continues . . .

Jake is one of two hundred campers who attended Camp HOPE during the summers of 2003-2004. The dream continues in 2005 as fifteen campers a week make the journey to the foothills of Lake Sutherland, twenty-five miles east of San Diego near Ramona, California, for a camp experience. Campers live in teepees with a wonderful view of the lake, surrounding mountains, and blue sky. During their five days at camp the healing process begins and self-esteem is restored as new skills are acquired through kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding, water-skiing, riding horses, learning outdoor living skills, crafting, playing, and making new friends. The magic of the camp community provides campers and staff with the opportunity to share their stories, to cry, and to laugh with one another.

The teepees will remain in place as additional camp facilities are constructed on 12.5 acres of land at Lake Sutherland beginning in September of 2005. The San Diego Family Justice Center Foundation has raised over five million dollars toward the creation of a 6,600' lodge for dining and meeting, five 2,200' cabins, a swimming hole, ropes challenge courses, an amphitheater, and more. Funding has come through in-kind and financial gifts, and grants. In addition, a five-million-dollar endowment will be in place to ensure that families will have an annual opportunity to enjoy the benefits of Camp HOPE in perpetuity.

"Camp HOPE is where kids like me — with lots of trouble — can go every summer and feel like other kids. There is lots to do and good food to eat, and all the adults really care about us. I'm not used to that cause in my home and neighborhood, people get real upset and angry a lot, and sometimes, even kids get hurt real bad. The camp people told me that it really didn't cost very much to open the camp last summer. They even picked me up and brought me home in a cool, new van. They told me any kid from a family where there's violence could stay for four nights and five days; enjoy all that good camp cooking, wakeboarding, and water-skiing; talk to counselors who help them feel better about themselves; and play sports for about $400. That sure seems like a huge amount to me, cause I'm just nine years old. But maybe, when you think about what I got out of camp, it won't seem like so much to you. I can see why they call it Camp HOPE — cause that's just what you get if you're a kid and you go there — lots of hope," says Jake.

Mickey Stone has extensive experience in program and administration of camp programs, as well as working with foster children, campers with developmental challenges, and children and youth in school and church settings. She has also been active in the American Camp Association as a section board member, delegate to national conferences, presenter at local and national conferences and Standards Visitor. For more information about Camp HOPE, call 619-533-3509 or by visiting

Originally published in the 2005 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.