“How many camps have you been to?”
“Well I’ve been going since I was 8 years old and I’m 17 now, so it’s been quite a while…”
Couper says he didn’t expect much when he first started going to camp, but it had a lasting impact in his life.
I asked him the best thing about being on camp.
“All the support I got,” he said. “Everyone knows why you’re there but not the specifics of what’s going on, so it’s a big safe space.”
Camp for Kids is designed for children who have one or more parents in prison. It gives kids a chance to get away from ‘normal life’ for a time, and to spend some time with positive role models and other children who understand their situation.
When asked what was hard about camp, Couper says it is largely the same as the best thing. “Opening up. You’re not sure what other people are going to think, but it’s just a safe space. Especially when I was young, there was a lot of help for me to learn to tell my story. It’s not as hard to talk about anymore. And if you feel comfortable telling your story you can just go for gold!”
Learning to share and be vulnerable was a big step for Couper, but it helped him to process his situation and family life.
Now, Couper is a junior leader, and has been on many camps helping kids like him to process their own stories.
“I enjoy being a leader a little bit more than being a camper. It’s great being a role model for the kids. Last year one of the kids, Toby*, started his first camp saying he hated it and wanted to go home. By the end of camp, he said, ‘oh, I’ll see how I feel about coming on camp next year…’ This year he came back and was much better behaved. When you get kids who are very misbehaved, you notice it on the first day, but by the last day you wouldn’t even recognise them!”
We talked about the donors who make camp possible, and what Couper might say to the people who gave financially towards his camp experiences.
“You’re doing a huge thing for people who definitely need it. All the kids appreciate it more than anyone understands. They should keep donating, if they can!”
When I asked Couper what the best camp activities are, and any stories he might have, Couper said, “Everything is amazing! Every kid loves the quad bikes, because it’s different to everyday life. The flying fox and giant swing still make me nervous by how high they are, but as a leader you just put on a brave face for the kids and say, ‘it’s not that bad!’”
Now finished high school, Couper is exploring what his future holds. He is planning to study as a personal trainer, and then move into P.E. teaching.
“I used to think teachers suck and that I would never be a leader and teaching is horrible. But on my last camp everyone was like, ‘You’re so patient with the kids’. I realised I like helping kids. It wasn’t only because of camp, but it did influence my decision.”
*Name has been changed.