Teen shares the profound impact of Camp Mariposa

By Alicia Sisk

There’s more to Amanda Grainger than meets the eye. In many ways, she’s a typical 16-year-old: she does well in school, enjoys playing softball, has good friends and makes her father very proud. But Amanda has overcome a great deal in her life, and one Oaklawn program has helped her achieve it — Camp Mariposa.

Camp Mariposa is a free weekend camp for kids age 9-12 whose family has been impacted by addiction. The camp, offered in partnership with the Moyer Foundation, is held six times per year and aims to reduce feelings of fear and guilt, help kids make friends who understand what they’re going through, teach youth about addiction and equip them to choose a healthy, positive lifestyle.

Amanda began attending camp when she was 10 years old. Her mother, who she lived with off-and-on until she was 6, is addicted to drugs and alcohol, and Amanda experienced abuse and neglect from an early age.

Amanda and her father, Kevin Grainger, of South Bend, credit her oldest half-brother for protecting her and meeting her basic needs when she was a child.
“My brother used to steal food for me and my other brother, because my mom would be too busy in a bar,” she said.

Kevin was deployed to Iraq almost immediately after Amanda was born. When he returned to the states about two years later, he had custody of her until a judge ordered she be returned to her mother. Two years after that, her mother was arrested for drunk driving, with Amanda in the backseat, Kevin said. Her mom went to prison, and Amanda went back to live with her dad.

“It took me a long time to trust my dad,” Amanda said. “I loved him to death, but just gaining trust. Growing up with my mom, when I was promised something,

I’d get my hopes up and it would never happen.”

When she was 9, Amanda started seeing an Oaklawn therapist to address some issues resulting from the abuse and neglect she experienced. Her therapist recommended she attend Camp Mariposa. One of the greatest benefits was meeting kids like herself.

“Knowing kids who have gone through the abuse — you have to experience it to know what it feels like,” Amanda said. “I met kids who went through that, and it’s easier to talk about it and easier to get close to them.”

Making friends and building healthy relationships is a key part of Camp Mariposa, says Camp Director Liz O’Connor. She and other camp leaders help the kids “to learn that they’re not alone, that there’s a safe place to talk about what goes on at home and that this isn’t their fault,” she said.

It also aims to break the intergenerational cycle of addiction, says Matt Lentsch, executive director of the Oaklawn Foundation, which helps fund the camp and keep it free for children and families.
“Kids with an addicted parent are four times more likely to develop an addiction of their own,” Lentsch said. “That’s why it’s so important to get to these kids when they’re young and teach them healthy ways to cope with the stressors in their life.”

There are about 60 campers from our region who attend multiple camps throughout the year. The Moyer Foundation, which developed the camp and operates similar camps in about a dozen other locations across the United States, fully
funded the camp during its first few years. Since then, funding has declined, and now the Moyer Foundation only covers about a third of the cost, Lentsch said.

“We’re so incredibly grateful for everything the Moyer Foundation has done,” said Lentsch. “But in order for this to continue, we need folks from our community who are willing to make a financial commitment to keep this opportunity available, to help these kids process what they’ve been through and help them move forward in a positive way, just like Amanda has.”

Throughout every camp, kids learn the seven C’s: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it. But I can take care of myself by communicating my feelings, making good choices and celebrating myself.”

That was a lesson Amanda took to heart.

Reflecting on her time at camp, she says, “I learned to trust. I learned it’s OK to talk about it. I learned it’s OK to cry. I used to be like, ‘No, I’m not gonna cry, tears are for quitters,’ ” she said. “But I learned it’s OK to cry, and that it’s not my fault, because I used to blame myself every day for that. I used to think if I had been a better daughter, my mom wouldn’t be like this. But that’s not true. She was already hooked.”

Amanda now returns to Camp Mariposa as a junior counselor and attends reunion events held throughout the year for kids who have aged out of the camp. She plans to study social work in college and wants to be a therapist.

Her father thinks it will be a good fit. He sees how she interacts with the younger campers when he drops her off or picks her up for the weekend. “Some of these little girls, they adore her,” Kevin said. He’s grateful for the difference it’s made in Amanda’s life. “It changed any guilt she had, and these aren’t temporary changes. It makes permanent change.”

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