Tulsa World: Camp provides hope for at-risk children

By Mike Averill
Published: June 6, 2017

Anthony, 9, of Moore, jumps into the pool Tuesday during Camp Hope at Camp Takatoka along Fort Gibson Lake. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

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The first time 11-year-old Josiel attended Camp Hope, it was at the behest of his mother.

That was three years ago when Josiel had never spent a week away from home at a summer camp.

Now he’s the one who insists he take the annual trip to YMCA Tulsa’s Camp Takatoka on Fort Gibson Lake.

“With all this extra space I can do stuff I never get to do at home, like jump rope anywhere I want,” Josiel said.

He is one of 100 kids who are participating in Camp Hope, a weeklong camp designed to be most beneficial for children who are witnesses to or victims of family violence, sexual assault or emotional abuse. 

The kids will spend the week swimming, canoeing, fishing, learning how to start a campfire, working on arts and crafts, and getting a feel for shooting a bow and arrow.

“Camp is magical. You’re able to bring kids out of their daily routines and give them a new look and a fresh start,” said Kyle Wilkes, vice president of mission advancement with YMCA Tulsa. “They’re able to meet new friends and get support from adult role models and councilors that help them see a side of life that they not only deserve but enhances what they do.”

Camp Hope started three years ago with 30 campers from the Tulsa area. This year it has grown to 100 from across the state.

One of the key components of the camp is the idea of hope.

The campers each take a survey 30 days before camp, the final day of camp and 30 days following camp to measure their level of hope.

“I think hope is an intangible skill that can dictate the path of your entire life,” Wilkes said. “Their ability to have a high level of hope can ultimately change their life and change their perspective they have when faced with easy or difficult decisions.”

The camp is a partnership between the Family Safety Center and YMCA Tulsa, which operates the camp.

The participants are nominated by the social service agencies that assist their families, and there is no charge to them for the experience.

The local camp is part of Camp Hope America, a national program with more than 1,000 kids in 20 weeklong camps in 11 states. The camps use a curriculum designed by the agency focusing on hope theory.

“If you believe in yourself and believe you can make it through and have a path to guide you, we know kids can succeed,” said Michael Burke, interim director of Camp Hope America.

At the camp, hope is defined as the belief in yourself, belief in each other and belief in your dreams.

James, 12, of Tulsa, said that to him hope means finding ways to not give up.

“If you want to get through something you have to have hope that it will happen, and if it’s out of your control you have to hope that it will be fixed,” he said.