News: Oregon youth camp provides, celebrates 40 years of helping at-risk children
Story by Spc. Kirby Rider
WARRENTON, Ore. – It started in 1970 as a vision to help at-risk youth from across Oregon and Southwest Washington. Four decades later, that vision has impacted more than 6,500 young lives.
Held every summer at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Facility on Oregon's northern coast, Camp Rosenbaum brings together more than 250 volunteers from the Oregon National Guard, Portland Police Bureau, Housing Authorities of Oregon and southwest Washington, and other local organizations, to provide what many call 'a life-changing experience' for more than 150 at-risk youth from housing authorities throughout the region.
“Many of these children seem to be broken in some way,” said Yvette “Momma Bear” Potter, a counselor, and Housing Authority of Portland employee. “You can see there is little positive influence in their home lives.”
Camp attendees have so much potential at this point in their lives. All the counselors provide constant reinforcement, and words of encouragement, like "You can.” A message of “the sky is the limit” is often heard throughout the camp, Potter said.
The boys and girls, ages 9 - 11, learn life lessons and good citizenship skills during the week-long camp. Counselors also teach them the importance of staying in school and avoiding drugs and gangs. The campers also participate in a Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T) program, facilitated by a certified Portland Police Bureau instructor.
“This [camp] brings the best of the best organizations together to create something unique for these kids,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a member of Camp Rosenbaum’s board of directors, and son of the founder of Camp Rosenbaum, retired Oregon Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Fred M. Rosenbaum, who died in January 2010
The elder Rosenbaum held the first camp using a minimal budget and a handful of volunteers. Through his full-time position as the Chairman of the Housing Authority of Portland, he was able to garner further support and funding. This helped the camp grow over the years. His goal; to provide a free summer camp for Portland's at-risk youth, which would instill self-confidence and positive life choices in all those who attended. Over the past forty years, the camp has touched the lives of more than 6.500 children, says current Camp Director, Oregon Air National Guard Lt. Col. Donna "Curly" Prigmore.
“This camp gives kids the opportunity of a lifetime,” said, Prigmore, who works for the Port of Portland, and also serves as the Inspector General for the Oregon Air Guard's 142 Fighter Wing. “It teaches them if you treat people how you want to be treated, you can go far.”
Over the past four decades, camp volunteers have put in more than 230,000 volunteer hours, organizing activities ranging from arts and crafts, fishing and horseback riding, to swimming, overnight camp-outs, and other field trips. These events, while fun, also teach values and good citizenship skills such as loyalty, fairness and teamwork.
“The biggest thing is, you can focus on the children and teach them life skills,” said Greg “Boogieman” Matthews, who serves as the camp's master of ceremonies.
When he's not providing comic relief for the campers, or dancing on the stage in front of 150 screaming children, Matthews serves as State Representative for House District 50 (Gresham). In early 2010, Matthews drafted a house resolution that recognized the civic accomplishments of the camp's founder, Fred Rosenbaum. The proclamation was unanimously passed through the state legislature.
“You can truly make an impact, the volunteers come from different backgrounds, but are all here for the same cause; the kids,” Matthews added.
Each camper will receive a free membership to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland. Starting this year, counselors and camp staff members will select 18 campers who will participate in a year-long mentoring program, which will connect the campers with role models throughout their local communities.
The pilot program, administrated by Oregon Mentors, will be made available to children from the Bend/Redmond area during the first year. Counselors are instructed to identify children within their group who display significant risk factors such as foster care involvement, a family history of gang involvement or sibling/parent incarceration, or drug and alcohol abuse.
The children identified for the program will be paired with a caring adult mentor who will encourage them to reach their goals, and help guide them through peer pressure, and challenges they may face in their home or community, says Lisa "Nike Goddess" Edgington, who serves as the Chairman for the Camp Rosenbaum Fund Board of Directors.
"Studies show mentored youth are more likely to feel connected to their school or community, and less likely to use drugs and alcohol," Edgington said. "This mentorship program is meant to help build upon the positive foundation they gain from coming to Camp Rosenbaum."
Mandy Mason-Markham, a Portland mother of four, who have each attended camp, spoke during a gathering of camp supporters, corporate contributors and community leaders. She said all of her children who have attended camp now serve as role models for other children in her neighborhood.
“If you want to know if Camp Rosenbaum works, look around your communities,” she said, as her eyes swelled up with tears. “They advocate for other children who are bullied and do not have a voice."
“Camp Rosenbaum is making a difference,” she added.
For more information about Camp Rosenbaum, visit www.camprosenbaum.org.