Last year, Jarreau was unsure about his first time away at summer camp.
“Everyone is scared the first time because you don’t know what you’re going to get yourself into,” he said. But “the first day here I felt like I was at home.”
Because it was such a positive experience, the opportunity for another week at camp couldn’t arrive fast enough.
“I was begging my parents to let me go again,” he said. “The last three weeks I couldn’t wait for school to get out so I could come to camp.”
Jarreaeu, 14, is one of 45 kids who are participating in Camp Hope, a week-long camp designed to be most beneficial for children who are witnesses to or victims of family violence, sexual assault or emotional abuse.
Jarreau and the rest of the campers are spending the week swimming, canoeing, fishing, learning how to start a campfire, working on arts and crafts and getting a feel for shooting a bow and arrow.
The camp is a partnership between the Family Safety Center and YMCA Tulsa, which operates the camp at its Camp Takatoka on Fort Gibson Lake near Chouteau.
The participants are nominated by the social service agencies that assist their families, and there is no charge to them for the camp.
“Once you’re inside the gates of camp, everyone is equal. This is a place to start fresh, make new friends and positively change the trajectory of your life,” said Kyle Wilkes, vice president of mission advancement with the Tulsa Y. “We believe every kid, regardless of their background, deserves the same camp opportunities.”
Jarreau said participating in summer camp has made him a better person.
“I used to feel bad about myself all the time. Coming here made me feel like I’m able to be me,” he said. “They let you talk about your feelings instead of holding them in. They are hearing you and listening to you, and they care about you. It’s not bad when you let your feelings out.”
Following the week-long camp, the participants have the opportunity to meet once a month for fun outings and to maintain the friendships they’ve made at camp.
“It’s like a family reunion,” Jarreau said. “You get to go to barbecues and Drillers games. We always do something fun to still have contact with these people so you don’t forget them.”
Neveah, 9, said she, too, was apprehensive about coming to camp but quickly found that her fears were unwarranted.
“I was kind of nervous at first because I didn’t know if people would be friends with me or talk bad about me, because that’s what they do at school,” she said. “Here they encourage me and let me be who I really am.”