Camp offers solace for kids with addicted family member

Ky Hoelzle (left) and Carli Garcia attended Camp Mariposa last year.

EVERETT — Kids growing up in a home where family members have a drug or alcohol problem bear a burden of their own.

“My nieces probably felt this was only their dirty secret,” said Kristie Kaaland, who is a guardian for the two girls, Carli Garcia, 11, and Parker Garcia, 13.

Kaaland, who lives in Skagit County, said when she first began looking after the girls as a temporary guardian, she needed help. “I was at a loss over where to go,” she said.

She heard about Camp Mariposa, a free camp in Snohomish County designed especially for kids who, like her nieces, had experienced the emotional problems caused by a family member’s addiction.

“It’s unheard of what they do,” Kaaland said of the camps her nieces have attended. Kids between the ages of 9 and 12 can attend for free.

Compass Health, a nonprofit mental health organization, began running the camps through a contract with the Seattle-based Moyer Foundation in the fall of 2014. Snohomish County is one of eight sites nationally where Camp Mariposa is offered.

The next camp is scheduled April 22 through 24. Three additional camps are scheduled this year. The three-day camps are believed to be the only such programs in the country to assist children living in homes with family members who have drug or alcohol problems.

“We encourage the kids to attend multiple camps,” said Tom Sebastian, chief executive of Compass Health. All meals and supplies also are provided for free. “It’s one of the coolest things we do,” Sebastian said.

The camps are designed to reduce the feelings of fear, guilt and loneliness that children living with a parent with addictions can have, he said. The camps also provide kids an opportunity to bond with other children with similar experiences.

Since the first local camps kicked off in Snohomish County, 51 children have participated, said Megan Boyle, associate director of Compass’ intensive services for children.

Campers come not just from Snohomish County but throughout the Puget Sound region, including Skagit, King and Pierce counties.

Counselors help the kids talk through the issues they face. Family addiction often triggers issues of shame and secrecy, Boyle said. “Talking with other kids helps them process their experiences.”

But there also are activities traditionally associated with camp, such as campfires, boating, hiking and swimming.

Last year, the Moyer Foundation received a $2 million federal grant to expand Camp Mariposa programming. The local camp will provide additional services to the families of the campers, Boyle said. “It helps us provide education to parents and also provides activities for younger siblings,” she said.

Campers who have graduated from the program can return as junior counselors to be mentors to the campers.

Kaaland said some of the most important things her nieces have learned is that they didn’t cause the addiction of their parent, and neither can they cure it.

“The blame and the shame goes away,” she said. “I can’t express how important it is for their self-esteem.”

Her nieces have eagerly looked forward to their camp experiences and reconnecting with the friends. “When we get to camp and I barely have it in park and they’re jumping out of the car,” Kaaland said. “It’s been a godsend.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Attend camp

Children ages 9 to 12 who have been affected by family drug or alcohol abuse are eligible to attend Camp Mariposa, a free program of the Moyer Foundation. The camp in Snohomish County serves children from throughout the Puget Sound region. This year’s camps are scheduled from April 22-24; June 10-12; July 29-31; and Oct. 21-23. More information is available at www.compasshealth.org/services/camp-mariposa or contacting Megan Boyle at 425-349-8153 or megan.boyle@compassh.org.

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