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These boys go to the woods, rather than to the woodshed

CAMERON, N.C. (BP)–Instead of going to the woodshed for punishment, these boys go to the woods for a year to 18 months of camping and activities in a structured environment at Cameron Boys Camp, operated by the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina.
A certified alternative school, the therapeutic wilderness camp admits boys as young as 10 and as old as 15, most of whom are dealing with behavioral problems, family issues or trouble at school. There are no classrooms or textbooks, but boys learn by doing as they plan menus, work within budgets for adventure trips and design new camp structures. Camp director Paul Daley reports boys who come in a year or two behind in their schoolwork often go back to school on grade level.
Cameron hosts five age-determined groups of 10 boys, each living together with two adult “chiefs” in separate camps spread out across 902 acres of sand hills and pine forest near Cameron, N.C. Each camp is about a 10-minute hike from a central “chuck wagon” building, which serves meals five days a week. The boys plan menus, order supplies and cook for themselves the other two days.
Campers build their own sleeping shelters from native pine which they harvest, strip and cut to shape with hand tools. While less formal than an army barracks, the shelters are kept just as neat.
Shelters house three or four boys each and are enclosed in the winter, but unheated. When the weather is cold, campers double up sleeping bags and occasionally gather in the shelter’s rustic “craft tent,” which has a pot-bellied stove. Despite the chill, most campers prefer winter to summer.
Chiefs and campers work together to plan activities for each day. The boys cut their own wood, plan their daily activities and learn other important life skills, such as problem solving.
Interpersonal problems or misunderstandings are always dealt with immediately using a “P-S-P” procedure. Chiefs assist the boys in 1) identifying the problem, 2) deciding on a solution and 3) discussing the prevention of similar problems in the future.
Around the campfire each night, boys and chiefs focus on positive things that have happened during the day. Something good is said about each camper, so that all can go to bed on a positive note.
Twice each week, the entire camp meets at an outdoor chapel for devotions and sharing of spiritual insights gained during the week.
Adventure trips are an integral part of the program at Cameron. About twice a year, each group plans a major trip such as backpacking on the Appalachian Trail or canoeing 250 miles down the Suwannee River. Boys learn through the life experiences of calculating costs for gas and food, determining supply needs, being close to nature and living in a community that requires teamwork for success.
Families are involved in the therapeutic process. Campers return home every six weeks for a four-day weekend called “Homesday.” Both campers and other family members set goals for the weekend and test their improving attitudes. A social worker assigned to each family is responsible for quarterly conferences and camper-family evaluations.
Cameron does not accept “assignments” from the court system, though it is sometimes offered as an alternative. Boys and their families must choose Cameron voluntarily. Campers stay in the program until they have gained sufficient skills and maturity to be reintegrated into the home environment.
As a college project, two Cameron alumni surveyed other former campers to determine long-term effectiveness of the program. They discovered that 87 percent of all former campers were either working or in school, a remarkably high success rate.
Cameron Boys Camp began in 1980, and continues to grow. Benefactors have made possible the erection of several new permanent structures in recent years, including the Tommy and Jeanie Eller Chuckwagon, the Clifford Ray Trading Post, the Buchanan Office Building, the Curtis Bettini Lodge, the Hubert M. Craig Lodge and the A. J. Fletcher Lodge (lodges provide on-site housing for staff).
Currently, one of the camp’s greatest needs is for more qualified staff. Chiefs, who live with the campers, typically see their work as a short-term mission project rather than as a permanent career, so there is a high turnover rate.
Baptist Children’s Homes is considering the possibility of opening a similar camp for girls at another location.
Officials of Children’s Homes conduct periodic tours of Cameron Boys Camp as well as other facilities in the N.C. Baptist child-care system. For more information, or to participate in a future tour, contact the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina at 1-1-800-476-3669.

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  • These boys go to the woods, rather than to the woo