How does Camp FRESH change lives? Ask Bonnie Henry of Wilmington. Both of her sons improved their grades after enrolling in this special summer program for teens at Christiana Care.
Latrell, 16, completed his second Camp FRESH session this year and is entering 11th grade. Carlos, an 18-year-old who attended Camp FRESH for four years, is now enrolled at Delaware Technical Community College with the goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.
“They learned responsibility, about being on time and the consequences if you aren’t on time,” she said. “They are more ready for school life and work life.”
For 10 years, Camp FRESH has provided teens with the tools and knowledge they need to grow and flourish, including heart-healthy cooking and meal planning, financial literacy and sexual responsibility.
In August, more than 50 campers and their families gathered to celebrate a decade of Camp FRESH. Among them was the Marshall family.
Eric Marshall Sr., a Wilmington father of four, plans his family’s summer around Camp FRESH. Two sons attended Camp FRESH this year. His oldest daughter, Erin, was the first to attend in 2008. She is now 20 and an honors student at Delaware State University, thanks, in part, to what she learned at Camp FRESH.
“Young people learn a lot about social interaction and skills that help them at school and in the workplace,” Marshall said. “They stay busy — and out of trouble.”
Camp FRESH personifies The Christiana Care Way in delivering an innovative model of care, said Omar Khan, M.D., medical director for Community Health at the Eugene duPont Preventive Medicine & Rehabilitation Institute and service line leader for Primary Care & Community Medicine.
“It combines the research and common sense,” Dr. Khan said. “What you eat, how you play and who you hang out with all have an impact on health.”
Family & Community Medicine educator Terry Casson-Ferguson helps to connect the dots for Camp FRESH teens and empower them to be in control of their health.
“We tell them that it isn’t their parents’ responsibility to make wise choices for them — it’s their responsibility,” said Casson-Ferguson, affectionately known as Miss Terry.
Zhaya Silva, 15, of Wilmington, has taken that advice to heart in starting her own exercise routine. “I am spending a lot more time working out and a lot less time on games,” she said.
Elizabeth Harper, 17, of Claymont, is a second-year camper. She has been impacted by the meaningful conversations at Camp FRESH about difficult topics and tough choices campers face as they grow up. Most campers have witnessed gun violence, and many have known victims of violence in their neighborhoods.
“We talk about gun violence and its effect on the community,” she said. That includes learning nonviolent strategies for solving confrontations and other problems.
Making good choices also means good nutrition. Elizabeth shares heart-healthy cooking techniques with her mother, Nakeya Martin.
“We save money cooking at home instead of eating out,” Martin said. “She makes these really great potatoes, baked with olive oil, sea salt and dill weed — so much healthier than french fries.”
Healthy eating was at the root of Camp FRESH, which began with a focus on nutrition and identifying “food deserts” in the city of Wilmington — neighborhoods where there was little access to fresh produce and other healthy food. The “FRESH” stands for “Fresh Resources Everyone Should Have.” The campers canvassed their neighborhoods and took the knowledge they gained about nutrition home with them. And they made a positive impact on their communities.
“Corner stores started to adapt their purchasing habits to include healthier food,” said Brian Rahmer, Ph.D., MS, director of community health engagement for the Women’s and Children’s Health Service Line. “Young people became involved in the civic process.”
Over the years, the program expanded and evolved. The curriculum grew to include lessons about other healthy behaviors such as avoiding violence, responsible sexuality, and setting and achieving long-term goals.
Sandi Thuku, 14, of Newark, has a new outlook on college after a Camp FRESH field trip to the University of Delaware campus in Newark. “We learned about preparing for college, and now I can actually see myself going there,” she said.
“We see these young adults blossom, many over the course of several years,” said Christopher C. Moore, senior program manager, Center for Community Health in Family & Community Medicine. “We watch them mature and grow in the ability to make wise choices that will benefit them going forward in whatever they want to achieve in life.”