Jared Davis wants to teach children affected by the opioid epidemic a “new normal.”
As a firefighter and an emergency medical technician with the Teays Valley Fire Department, he’s seen first-hand just how treacherous the opioid epidemic can be. He’s also worked with the Tri-County YMCA’s summer camp for several years, and through both of those opportunities he’s come to recognize a need.
“There’s a distinct need in our community that focuses on prevention. A lot of the opioid crisis focus is on treatment for people who are affected,” he said. “Prevention, it’s going to start with the kids who are directly affected by it.”
It’s a generations-long cycle of poverty and drug abuse, he said, and if something isn’t done to intervene — it’s likely going to continue.
“When a kid is born into a particular situation, they’re going to see that as normal,” he said. “When their family does drugs, doesn’t work and isn’t functional, the kid is simply going to grow up and follow in those footsteps.”
“It’s not a kid’s fault to grow up and become what their home situation is if no one has ever taken the time to show them a better way,” he said.
And that’s exactly what he and others at his church, Church at the Depot, feel called to do: Show kids a better way.
The church purchased the former Salvation Army Camp Happy Valley property in February, which had been on the market since 2016, according to a previous Gazette-Mail report. It has sat vacant for two years, Davis said.
Camp Happy Valley was last open during the summer of 2014 as a day camp. The camp is located in the Scott Depot area of Putnam County on the former Fletcher Farm that was purchased in 1967.
Church at the Depot purchased the property for $535,000, according to online property transfer documents.
Their goal? Camp Appalachia, a residential camp for kids affected by the opioid epidemic and children who are in foster care.
Camp Appalachia is a more than 150-acre camp, complete with a rock wall, a ropes course, a pool and more. The goal of the camp will be to teach children resiliency skills, using a strengths-based model.
Rather than focusing on “what is wrong and how to fix their problems,” Davis said the strengths-based model helps teach kids to overcome their situations by investing in what their strengths are as a unique individual.
“When a kid can come to summer camp for prevention — maybe it’s a kid who is not very athletic and doesn’t think they can achieve on the rock wall. When you build that child up, and you help them up the rock wall … when they see something that’s hard and they didn’t think they could accomplish it — and they accomplish it — that’s going to build their resiliency,” he said.
“Instill in them the belief that they can be better. We can’t necessarily fix the kid’s situation, but we can change his or her outlook on the situation. So, when they go back to a home that is not suitable, so to speak, they have the emotional fortitude and the resiliency to be able to overcome their family situation. Maybe they can look back on the counselor who spent extra time with them, or showed them that they cared.”
Camp Appalachia has partnered with West Virginia State University, Davis’ alma mater, to provide outdoor education for campers. Using his connections with first responders in Putnam County, Davis said Camp Appalachia will invite firefighters, EMTs and police officers to come hang out and participate in camp activities with children to show them a different viewpoint.
“They might view those folks as the people who took Mom or Dad away,” he said.
Davis said the church also hopes to prevent summer learning loss in its campers.
For example, he said, a student who just completed fourth grade on a fourth-grade reading level may spend the entire summer “in survival mode” at home with their families.
“So what happens, a lot of those times, is they go to fifth grade back down on a third-grade level,” he said.
The church will plan on spreading the gospel to campers, but it’s not a typical church camp, Davis said.
Most importantly, he said he wants to campers to see themselves “the way the Lord sees them, which is loved and cared for.”
The church hopes to offer the camp at a low or no cost to children but knows it will be a large undertaking. He also plans to partner with local foster care agencies and the Angel tree program to send kids in need to camp for free or at a low cost.
“We want to reteach that normal. A lot of these kids are not exposed to functional adults who contribute to society well, who maintain jobs and stable households,” he said. “We want to help them identify strengths within themselves. Not many have an adult saying, ‘Hey, you’re good at this, or you’re good at that.’”
Because the property has sat vacant for a few years, Davis said there is still a lot of work to be done before opening it in some capacity this summer. Davis said the church hopes to open the camp as a day camp this summer but has longer-term goals of a residential camp.