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Safe Futures summer camp to help kids exposed to domestic violence

New London — Kids who are exposed to domestic violence will be able to find hope and support at a new summer camp program.

Safe Futures, the area agency that provides services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, has been awarded funding to open a regional location of Camp Hope America. The camp program is operated by a national alliance of providers who work with children and adults who have witnessed and been impacted by family violence.  

Starting in 2020, Safe Futures will partner with an existing camp in eastern Connecticut to serve up to 25 children each summer, according to Katherine Verano, executive director of Safe Futures.

This summer, six campers and two trained staff members will attend Camp HI Rock in the Berkshires. Week-long sessions in July and August are scheduled for 7- to 10-year-olds and 11- to 17-year-olds.

Activities will be geared toward helping them realize it's OK to talk about their home lives, that they are not responsible for what is happening at home and that they can grow up to have healthy relationships and live in violence-free homes.

Most kids who stay at Safe Futures' shelter and particpate in its programs test high for adverse childhood experiences, according to Verano. The Center for Disase Controls indicates kids who test high on ACEs, a scale used to measure the adverse experiences, are at risk for substance abuse, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death.

The Camp Hope staff are committed to helping the kids have better outcomes.

"Children are extremely resilient," said Christine Foster, child advocate for Safe Futures and a trained, certified staff member in the Camp Hope America program. "If they connect and come to know and realize they are cared about and loved, they will talk about it. It just takes time for them to make the connection, to realize there are adults that know that violence is wrong and what is happening is not OK."

Verano, Foster and Nicole Broadus, program coordinator for prevention and parenting programs at Safe Futures, recently traveled to San Diego for training and certification in the Camp Hope America program.

Broadus said the experience will give youths the opportuity to be young people, since kids who lives in homes with domestic violence often assume caretaker roles. Broadus said she grew up in such a home and wants to talk about it with young people so that they know they aren't alone.

"For the longest time, you feel ashamed you have to go through it, and you don't talk about it," she said. "I want to share my story and let young people know there is hope."

One activity she has already tried out with children living at the Safe Futures shelter involved asking them to paint what hope means to them.

"We're starting to get them to understand you can have hope no matter what your situation is," she said.

Funding sources include Camp Hope America, Dominion Energy, Verizon, the Bridgeport Family Justice Center and Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

k.florin@theday.com

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