AYF staff complete LEAD Camp Mental Health training

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More than a dozen members of the American Youth Foundation staff recently completed Camp Mental Health Certification offered by Let’s Empower, Advocate, and Do. LEAD is a nonprofit dedicated to proactive mental health education for schools, camps, and other organizations that work with youth.

Miniwanca Director of Program Michael Harter and Merrowvista Program Coordinator Jamie O’Hagin completed additional LEAD training and are now certified to teach the Mental Health Certification course. Harter and O’Hagin will integrate this program in the summer staff training at Miniwanca and Merrowvista, so AYF seasonal program staff will be prepared to support youth mental wellness this summer.

“Mental and emotional health is at the center of youth development and empowerment. We know young people need extra help and support for their own well-being,” Harter said. “Our staff trained in LEAD Camp Mental Health Certification will make sure the youth in our care are supported while at camp and have the skills, tools, and networks away from camp to grow. While our staff are not therapists or mental health professionals, it is still important that we recognize those needs in young people.”

LEAD’s Camp Mental Health Certification teaches summer camp staff to recognize risk factors and warning signs of mental and emotional dysregulation in youth and proactively respond to those situations in an outdoor education setting. The course focuses on topics specific to the camp experience, such as such as medication vacations, homesickness, and social media withdrawal. Camp staff learn how to respond to non-crisis mental health situations and to connect campers to professional support in crisis situations.

O’Hagin said the training will provide a baseline understanding of issues campers can struggle with. “It gives us a common language to talk about mental wellness in our communities and support ourselves through proactive measures,” she said. “The more people know, the more we can create these dialogues in an age- and developmentally appropriate way. The pandemic has meant a tough couple years for campers. The more support we can give them, the better.”

O’Hagin said she was pleased to learn that simply being at camp was a big step toward supporting mental wellness. “We already have time in nature, a schedule that allows for downtime, times for reflection – all these things support mental health,” she said. “It was really gratifying to realize we are already doing some of these things.”

Harter said the mission of the AYF aligns with LEAD’s Camp Mental Health curriculum. “Four-Fold living is self-care. This is the essence of what we’re doing: how to make sure you’re healthy so you can care for your best self,” he said. “This training takes what we’ve done for 100 years and gives young staff skills to push the mission forward even more.”

Miniwanca Assistant Girls Camp Director Regan Gibson Wiesler recently completed the LEAD Camp Mental Health Certification. “I’m really excited about how this training will help prepare our cabin leaders to meet kids where they are and be the best resource for them in the camp setting,” she said.

Gibson Wiesler was particularly impressed with the program’s focus on self care for camp staff. “If our program staff isn’t caring for themselves, then how can they take care of our campers?” she said. “The LEAD program the takes health and safety of the whole community into account. Strong leaders make strong campers.”