Eleven-year-old Alex came to Kidder Creek this summer on medication for depression and aggression. He had been hospitalized for mental health issues after experiencing severe child abuse and witnessing his father beat his mother. But Alex came as part of Camp HOPE, a new partnership between Mount Hermon and Camp HOPE California. Alex said after camp it was the best week of his life. “Rafting, horseback riding and ‘having friends’” were his favorite activities in a life-changing week for a boy with deep mental, emotional and spiritual challenges.
Casey and Beth Gwinn started Camp HOPE in 2003—the first specialized camping program in the country focused on children exposed to domestic violence. Casey and Beth’s roots with Mount Hermon go deep. Casey is the son of former Mount Hermon Executive Director Bill Gwinn (1957–1978). Beth is the daughter of Howie and Marilyn Stevenson, part of the summer program team of Mount Hermon between 1953- 1999. Casey’s vision for Camp HOPE began during his time as the elected San Diego City Attorney, after creating the San Diego Family Justice Center, a unique Center where all the services for victims of domestic violence and their children are located under one roof.
“We need to be Jesus before we say ‘Jesus’ if we really want to build relationships with children who have experienced so much trauma and abuse in their lives.”
This summer Mount Hermon partnered with Camp HOPE and saw more than 375 children and youth counselors from Family Justice Centers across California and Idaho come to Kidder Creek to find hope and healing through love, acceptance, and adventure. Most of the children had never been out of their neighborhoods. Many had never seen a horse, been on a raft, or experienced anything like the magic of Kidder Creek.
Pete Morrill, Kidder Creek’s Director, shared the vision for Camp HOPE from the beginning, “We need to be Jesus before we say ‘Jesus’ if we really want to build relationships with children who have experienced so much trauma and abuse in their lives.” “These children need to be loved and cared for before we can expect to see them find faith and true transformation,” said Beth Gwinn early in the summer.
By all measures, Camp HOPE shows amazing promise in addressing the needs of children who face such long odds in their lives. Children exposed to domestic violence are more than ten times more likely to grow up to repeat the violence and abuse than children never exposed to violence. And the vast majority of all adult inmates in California prisons today grew up in homes with some mix of child abuse, domestic violence, drugs, and alcohol. Casey says it best, “We can love them at eleven or we can lock them up at seventeen.” Alex was one of many children who felt the love of Kidder Creek and Camp HOPE staff members this summer. Pete Morrill sums up the new partnership, “Every dollar we raised for this vision made a difference in a life. For so many hurting children, Camp HOPE is a divine appointment that will matter in the context of eternity.”
Casey Gwinn is the son of former Mount Hermon Executive Director Bill Gwinn (1957- 1978). His passion for children exposed to domestic violence, and his passion for Mount Hermon, brought Camp Hope to Kidder Creek this summer.