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Camp Fowler’s Outdoor Adventure Therapy for LGBTQ+ Youth is a week-long overnight therapeutic recreation and experiential education camp for LGBTQ+ youth ages 14-21. Aside from their sexual/gender identity, targeted youth are marginalized by factors such as racial inequality, poverty, lack of family support, or a history of trauma. Certified adventure counselors use a variety of challenge course elements, experiential learning activities, and outdoor recreation leading to increased self-esteem, reduced depression, enhanced peer relationships, and improved self-efficacy. Camp Fowler is a 43-acre property with woods, a stream, wetlands, and facilities that include high and low-ropes challenge course elements, a climbing wall with zip line, athletic fields; swimming pool; five cabins that can accommodate over 100 people overnight; a multipurpose conference center with industrial kitchen and meeting space for 120 people; a playground; a modern bathhouse; and an amphitheater with a fire pit. Camp Fowler is also a member of the American Camp Association.
Adventure therapy tied with experiential education is a promising therapeutic approach (see attachment 3), which promotes behavioral health breakthroughs outside of clinical settings. Exercise and exposure to nature have demonstrated benefits of alleviating chronic stress and improving mood, which creates a restorative atmosphere ideal for healing and overcoming trauma. Experiential learning in the camp setting provides a sense of mastery in a novel environment leading to feelings of empowerment and self-efficacy. Additionally, the recreational properties of the therapy are more conducive to enthusiastic youth engagement than clinical services, which have associated stigmas for many populations and may be perceived as boring. In particular, adventure therapy is a promising intervention for LGBTQ+ youth who, like many underserved populations, suffer disproportionately from social isolation and family rejection. Improved peer support and social/emotional wellbeing were common themes in the feedback from two LGBTQ+ sessions conducted at Camp Fowler this year. (See attachment 1).
Core components of adventure therapy model can be employed easily by diverse behavioral health and human service agencies at little or no cost. Researchers have identified these components as: being outside in nature; using adventure activities (i.e. challenges that must be overcome by a group) to build peer relationships and leadership skills; and opportunity for reflection after each activity. While some of the Camp Fowler Outdoor Adventure Therapy program activities require specialized equipment (i.e. the ropes challenge course), it is possible to adapt team-building and challenge-based activities without the use of specific equipment. The evidence-based assessment tools are also available at no cost. Program leaders have presented outcomes at local county Offices of Children & Youth, a 40 to None (a homeless LGBT advocacy network) conference, and at the national Runaway and Homeless Youth conference. Additionally, the program has been submitted for certification by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council.
Sustainability will be ensured through approval of the service by medical assistance. Valley Youth House is in the process of qualifying for Outdoor Behavioral Health Certification. Once approved, the program will be submitted for approval with the local Managed Care provider, to establish an approved hourly rate for service to youth with behavioral/ mental health diagnoses. Camp-based programming has also recently been approved as an Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, qualifying for business tax credits. Partnerships include: •The Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Center is a referral partner. •The Da Vinci Science Center provides accredited educators and interactive demonstrations. •Wildlands Conservancy provides hands-on nature experiences. •County Offices of Children & Youth provide underwriting and referral of youth in care. Major financial supporters ($10,000 or more) include PPL Corporation, Foundations Community Partnership, Marcon Foundation, Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce LGBT Business Council, and the Northampton and Bucks County Offices of Children & Youth.
As defined by the researchers who study it, adventure therapy includes a broad range of programming that can occur in a variety of settings, including public parks, ropes courses, or backcountry wilderness. The service model can include brief outpatient interventions, residential programs, or lengthy wilderness expeditions. The flexibility of this definition means adventure therapy can be replicated by a wide variety of agencies as an alternative or complementary treatment. Additionally, adventure therapy can be an effective intervention for a variety of populations. The model has shown promising results for a number of underserved and at-risk populations of youth and adults who suffer from isolation, high stress, substance abuse, and poor mental health. The strong social component of the program helps increase feelings of social connectivity while the outdoor environment reduces stress and facilitates cognitive reframing that may not occur in traditional clinical settings.
The program uses both qualitative (e.g. interviews, surveys) and quantitative (e.g. pre/post-tests) evaluation. Pre/post-tests used in the past summer included two self-assessments: the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), which measures depression symptoms, and Tufts University’s Positive Youth Development Short Form (PYD-SF), which measures growth in the domains of competence, confidence, connection, caring, and character. The PHQ-9 showed statistically significant decrease indicating a strong reduction in depressive symptoms after camp sessions. On average, PHQ-9 scores decreased by 30%. The PYD-SF showed an average improvement of 5% per youth, but results were not statistically significant. Qualitative feedback was strongly positive (see attachment 1) and many youth wanted to return to camp. In fact, one-third of the 115 unduplicated youth served have returned for additional sessions. New evaluation measures, such as the Adventure Therapy Experience Scale and the Youth Outcome Questionnaire will be implemented for future sessions to substantiate anecdotal evidence of positive outcomes.