Family Camp Wrap-Up
By Tyler Sullivan, Camp Director
Overcoming Barriers hosted four families in Northern California at the end of June for the High-Conflict Divorce Camp. Campers and staff traveled from across the country to the Valley of the Moon retreat site with the collective goal of building safe and positive connections between parents and their children. There was a lot to do in just four short days!
Upon arrival campers were given the whirlwind introduction to camp including being introduced to staff, touring the site, meeting their bunk-mates and learning some details of the camp schedule. Dinner and evening activities with assigned seating gave everyone a chance to get to know fellow campers and staff and to begin the process of building the community that would support all of us during the coming days of hard work.
For the next three days we ran a busy camp schedule with the amazing backdrop of mild sunny weather and redwood trees. After yoga and breakfast Doctors Deutsch, Bailey, Ward and Sullivan led their morning groups, Common Ground teens, Common Ground youth, East parents and West parents respectively, sharing and reflecting on their family experiences both before and during camp. The morning groups gave campers an opportunity to share their stories and receive feedback from the renowned Overcoming Barriers clinical staff who, at camp, have the unique opportunity to facilitate campers’ work toward realizing positive solutions in the safe and supportive camp milieu.
Lunch was served in the dining hall and always featured the “groove table” where kids ate with their cabin counselors playing games and challenging each other with trivia using their immense knowledge of the natural world (!). Shortly after finishing lunch we all began afternoon activities which included arts, crafts and sporty activities including clay sculpture, tie dye, press-print painting, swimming, crazy kickball and Can-Jam. After a little down time to rest and clean up, everyone came together in the field for circle where we made announcements and everyone read aloud the appreciations that had accumulated over the course of the day. Healthy dinner in the dining hall came next followed by evening activities which included a campfire, movie night and the famous Big Show on the final night of camp where campers and staff showcased their amazing talents, creativity and love for the spotlight. This year’s Big Show in the Recreation Hall was one for the history books, featuring kids, parents and even a few staff members who had choreographed skits and music acts that kept the audience laughing and on the edge of their seats.
I would like to include a story from camp to help illustrate the challenge facing one child at camp. As we were preparing a seating chart for an art activity the clinical team suggested I ask one of the children if it was okay to assign them to a table sitting with their “un-favored” parent (or “west” parent as they are called at camp). At first, when I took the child aside and questioned them about the seating chart they refused to answer. After probing a little deeper the child told me that they were fine with whatever I decided and preferred not to make the decision because, they said, “if I make the decision it will be a problem.” I was glad that camp structure was there to support the child in this instance by taking away the responsibility of choice, even if just for a little while, taking them out of the middle of their parents relationship. The parent and child sat at the same table for the activity accompanied by two staff people and had a nice time.
The last day of camp was as busy as any other. After breakfast, each morning group met briefly to conclude their shared experience at camp. Campers and staff spent the next few hours playing games in the field and finishing their art projects while the clinical team met with each family to discuss plans and recommendations for after camp.
One meeting the clinical team facilitated was between a parent and teenager that had not spoken with each other for two years leading up to camp. The teenager wanted their parent to hear a request they had made two years before and they had the opportunity to present the request at the meeting. They had their first conversation in two years, the result of which was an agreement to participate in alternate weekly therapy together for six months. Campers and staff that had gotten to know the two individuals during camp were impressed with their strength and openness to making the most of their time at the Valley of the Moon.
The clinical team was amazed with the amount of work each co-parent team did over the course of camp. Parents were engaged and impressed everyone, especially their children, with their commitment to making changes for the benefit of their families. A number of step-parents attended camp and were a huge part of their families’ movement at camp and will continue to be instrumental to co-parenting plans moving forward.
We all came together just before departure to have a last camp circle in a patch of shade in the field. As we shared the last appreciations and played silly games it amazed me to think how far everyone had come in four short days. After closing, as we gathered ourselves and packed gear into cars, a number of campers commented that they wished they had a few more days at camp, and I think we all felt that way. I felt very privileged to have been a part of such an amazing group, both campers and staff, who all put their lives on hold for four days, traveled in planes and automobiles to join and share their stories and listen to others with the goal of supporting the kids at camp in having positive relationships with both of their parents. Their hard work, honesty and willingness to trust each other at camp was inspiring to me and hopefully also to the kids at camp. Thank you everyone!
Here are a few testimonials submitted by parents:
(pseudonyms chosen by campers)
Geet, “West” Parent
“An incredible experience with great lifetime memories for children and adults. Cannot envision any other therapeutic setting that offers such a multidimensional approach to helping all family members to address and assist in “overcoming” the pain and trauma attendant with high-conflict divorce. A major therapeutic benefit is derived from insightful contact with the other family members. We all shared common experiences before camp.”
Elle Aaye, “East” Parent
“Best medicine for families in crisis. This camp should be expanded and offered to more families.”
Glen, “West” Parent
“I came to Overcoming Barriers hopeful but skeptical. I never would have expected so much to happen in four days. The camp experience opened a whole new possibility for my daughter and for improving my relationship with her.”
Outkast, “West” Step-Parent
“Wow. What an amazingly talented and compassionate group of staff members. Each member of our family felt fully supported by skilled professionals at all times and were able to learn and practice new skills in a safe and supportive environment. Thank you!!”
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have supported Overcoming Barriers both through donations, volunteer work and emotional support over the last few years. The transformations we witnessed at camp this Summer only increased our commitment to providing programs for families in conflict. Though we are still a very small organization we have plans to expand programming for next year and continue increasing access and awareness within the family courts. We are currently raising money to enable Overcoming Barriers to provide a range of programs to families with lower incomes and devote resources to training professionals in high-conflict divorce work. For more information including how to support please visit the Support OCB page.