Extreme Summer

Camps around town are coming to an end and the same is true for Community Living’s Summer Camp and Extreme Teen.

What? Extreme Teen? Nine weeks ago, Community Living started a pilot program called Extreme Teen. The program was designed for more independent teens and focuses on employment and individual living. Staff invited individuals to be a part of the pilot.

Last year, A.J., a summer camper, went into Kristen Paez’s, Community Living’s Director of Family Services, office and asked for a paintball field trip. “I told him it was not a safe sport,” Kristen said. “He then explained to me for 30 minutes how a paintball gun was much safer than a traditional gun. He went into full debate mode. After he left my office the Extreme Teen idea really sparked.” The idea for this type of camp was in talks for over two years. “I knew at that moment some of our teens had a lot more independence,” she said.

Extreme Teen is still part of Social Opportunities and Recreation’s Summer Camp but has some differences. The camp is smaller in size, with 20 teens, the staffing ratio is one to five, and the calendar is planned by the Extreme Teens, a nickname coined by the campers. “It was a huge group effort,” Kristen said. “They had meetings with staff to plan their nine-week calendar.” Of course the camps are similar, too. They attend the same nine-week period, the week themes are the same and there is staff to provide oversight.

Although Extreme Teen doesn’t have its own site (their site location is at the Family Center), they have a Site Specialist, Joe Hallemeier, and a Lead Staff, Brittany Heavner, as theother site locations have. But, having a site isn’t a huge necessity since they are out in the community for the majority of the day. “This program has a lot more physical activity and the Extreme Teens are coming home tired,” Joe said.

Some of the fun activities included rock climbing, zip lining, disc golf and yes, even paintball. “Extreme Teen has given them an opportunity to do things they’ve never done before,” Brittany said. With all new experiences, there is apprehension at times. “Some of them will say, ‘I can’t do this,’” Joe said. “But, we always go back to our motto — ‘every accomplishment starts with a decision to try,’ — and before long they are asking to do it again or they are telling their parents they want to go back.”

Activities that focused on independence were fishing, gardening, cooking and field trips to Sammy Soaps and Safety House in West County. “At Safety House, the fire department sets mock fires in a house-like setting,” Joe said. “This field trip fits with our focus of individual living, because the campers were taught a real-life experience of how to put a fire out.”

Every week there is a breakfast activity. The staff takes the teens shopping with them and they chose the necessary items, and then they pay for the items. When Kristen visited the Extreme Campers one morning, she walked in on them making breakfast. “Everyone had their own part,” Kristen said. “They all waited until everyone was done preparing their part to eat together. It was so neat to see. They were patient, respectful and enhancing those team work skills.”

Joe and Brittany have seen changes in the teens. “There is more communication,” Brittany said. “They can voice their opinions and when they are having a conflict they know to come to a staff member or they try to solve it with the other person. There’s a lot of growing up taking place.” With the weather, either too much rain or heat advisories, the schedule had to be flexible. “If we couldn’t do an activity because of the weather or even if the teens decided they wanted to do something else, they would work together to make a decision,” Joe said.

For a pilot season, it went extremely well. “It was such a huge success this year,” Kristen said. “The Extreme Teens have proven that this innovative program is something Community Living really needed to incorporate into the Summer Camp program. The initial vision we had for this camp exceeded our expectations. The Extreme Teens have shown a significant increase in independence, communication and team work.”