RISE Program Hosts Youth Summer Camp

Written by Marsha Akoto, Program Development Specialist

From June 12 to June 15, the JFS Delaware RISE (Refugee Integration Support Efforts) Department hosted a 3-day summer camp for children and adolescents, focusing on mental health and cultural navigation. We were delighted to welcome 25 youths, ranging from 3 to 15 years old, representing diverse parts of the world, including Sudan, Jordan, Uganda, Kazakhstan, Haiti, Congo, El Salvador, Ukraine, and Cameroon. The camp featured linguistic diversity, with participants speaking Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian, French, Haitian-Creole, and English.

The camp sessions ran from 9 am to approximately 12:30 or 1 pm each day. Children enjoyed breakfast and lunch, engaging in games, exchanging contact information, playing sports, dining together, laughing, and dancing. Throughout the activities, they learned about identity development, culture shock, mental health, navigating life in America, making friends, American culture and norms, distress tolerance skills, self-care, community support, resiliency and coping strategies. The sessions encouraged children to ask questions and share their unique experiences, fostering a supportive group dynamic.

The children eagerly shared their experiences of life back home in their respective countries and their new experiences in the U.S., which have been surprising, exciting, and reminiscent of life back home. They discussed their thoughts on mental health and the challenges they have faced since moving to America—such as difficulty making friends, adapting to the climate, language barriers, and navigating cultural norms. Furthermore, they explored how these challenges have affected them, including difficulty sleeping, feelings of isolation, lack of concentration, and reminiscing about their previous life.

During the sessions, the children learned various coping strategies grounded in trauma-informed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), facilitated by a licensed professional counselor of mental health and two JFS mental health fellows. These strategies were designed to help them mitigate these challenges and enhance their overall well-being.​

The camp leaders, hailing from diverse backgrounds including the U.S., Europe, Liberia, Russia, Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Haiti, spoke multiple languages. They shared their personal journeys of coming to America and life in their respective countries, illustrating to the children the shared humanity and resilience across different backgrounds.

Overall, the camp was a vibrant blend of learning, cultural exchange, and community building, reinforcing the message that diversity enriches us all and that strength and resilience are universal traits!