Ashley Hill enrolled in Christiana Care’s Camp FRESH to learn more about becoming a healthy adult who eats foods that are good for her, exercises regularly and makes wise choices for the future. The 16-year-old from Wilmington took those lessons — and more — home with her.
“She asked me to buy ingredients for quesadillas she learned to make at camp,” said her mother, Shannon Nicholson. “Ashley not only made dinner; she cleaned up the kitchen afterward.”
This year, 51 campers — the largest group ever — completed the eight-week program at Eugene duPont Preventive Medicine & Rehabilitation Institute in Wilmington. Campers ages 12 to 18 took on some weighty topics. They talked about ways to prevent gun violence with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn. They learned about the “3 H’s:” herpes, hepatitis and HIV. They challenged themselves with a six-mile hike along the Brandywine River.
“We talk a lot about setting goals and turning dreams into reality, such as going to college,” said Isaac Hicks, a Christiana Care registered dietitian and community educator. “We look at the whole young adult — socially, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.”
On Parents Night, campers and their families shared a healthy meal of skinless chicken breasts, brown rice, vegetables and green salad. Parents said their teens showed heightened maturity and an awareness of how their choices will impact their futures. Ashley’s mom had been concerned about her daughter taking the bus to camp. “As it turned out, she showed a lot of responsibility in getting herself up in the morning and off to camp,” she said.
Ashley said Camp FRESH helped to open the lines of communication on such topics as making wise choices regarding sexuality. “Me and my mom talk about keeping your body safe,” she said.
Tamara Swain of Wilmington said her 12-year-old son Victor Stokes started making suggestions for their household budget after a session at Camp FRESH taught about managing money. Victor took on responsibility for getting ready for camp. “He was so excited that he started washing his own clothes,” Swain said. “That is an activity that he will continue to do.”
The first Camp FRESH was held in 2007, when 37 young people from urban neighborhoods learned how to become ambassadors for healthy eating and exercise in their communities to help others reduce their risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Since then, the evidence-based program has grown to include other lifestyle choices, such as resolving conflicts, avoiding drugs and alcohol, safe sex and planning for the future.
Daisy Santiago’s son Gregg Graves began attending Camp FRESH when he was 13. A few years later, his younger brother Anthony enrolled.
“They came home, and we had discussions about looking at the labels of the foods we eat,” she said. “We stopped drinking soda and started drinking water. We exercise 30 minutes a day.” Everyone in the family lost weight. Santiago lost more than 100 pounds. Each son shed more than 40 pounds. Today, Gregg is 20 and was employed as a counselor at Camp FRESH.
“This experience made a positive impact on our entire family,” Santiago said.