For children and youth living with HIV/AIDS there continues to be significant social, psychological and emotional challenges that must be overcome, despite improved treatments that allow HIV+ children to live healthy lives. Over the years, success of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has helped HIV+ children/youth to live longer lives, yet the therapy can unfortunately cause a variety of mental health symptoms such as depression, mania, and schizophrenia. These symptoms are compounded significantly by the isolating and ever-present social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, which often results in long-term negative impact on the self-esteem and self-worth of children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS.
In addition to the mental health challenges present for children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS, the every day stresses and challenges associated with the disease provide further determents to obtaining a healthy and successful life. There is a powerful link between HIV/AIDS and poverty; more than almost any other factor, low socio-economic status has been shown to increase individuals’ likelihood of contracting the disease. As a result of the socioeconomic detriments associated with the disease, many children are living under immense stress, but are less likely to seek social support from friends and family for fear of rejection and isolation. Due to this, we are seeing more youth becoming involved in violent crimes and participating in at-risk behaviors, such as unsafe sex and involvement in gangs – which in turn leads back to increased mental health disorders.
Recognizing that mental health is one of the most critical issues facing youth affected by HIV/AIDS today, The Laurel Foundation provides a safe, empowering, and supportive environment for children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS each summer through Camp Laurel. Camp Laurel is based on traditional residential camps, yet caters to the fragile physical and mental health of children and youth living with HIV/AIDS. With a daily schedule focused on challenging our campers’ perceived capacities, Camp Laurel uses traditional camp activities (such as horseback riding, rock climbing, archery, swimming, canoeing, kayaking etc.) to get our campers to energetically participate in physical activities and help them to develop positive bonds with other youth affected by HIV/AIDS. In addition to activities that are designed to build campers’ self-esteem and self-worth, through the support of trained volunteer counselors and volunteer mental health professionals, campers also learn crucial life skills, such as teamwork, conflict resolution, leadership and problem solving.
This summer, The Laurel Foundation is recruiting volunteer mental health professionals to join our staff at Camp Laurel’s Summer Camp (August 19 – 24). As a member of our ‘Help Team’, our mental health volunteers (MFT, MSW, Behaviorists, etc.) use their academic and professional skill sets to provide extra support to our campers who need it the most. In addition to mental health assessments and interventions (including risk assessments, behavior intervention plans, and conflict resolution), our Help Team volunteers become a part of the Camp Laurel community by participating in daily camp activities, including campfires, hiking, arts & crafts, cabin skits and so much more!
If you’re interested in using your professional skill sets to empower at-risk youth affected by HIV/AIDS this summer, consider joining the Camp Laurel team! Find out more by contacting us at LFranklin@Laurel-Foundation.org.