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Child trauma survivors continue healing journey during special summer camp

Posted at 7:02 AM, Jul 17, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is welcoming summer campers again.  

This week, the office held “Camp Hope,” which is a week-long camping excursion into Utah’s mountains, specifically for children who are victims or witnesses of crime.

“When we talk about justice, justice isn’t just about holding an offender accountable,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.  “It’s also about restoring the opportunity for the victim to heal, the survivor to heal.”

The camp which is funded by the D.A.’s office is offered at no cost to the families of the children.

Money from asset forfeiture helped provide the seed money to initially fund the program.

Gill believes the camp is worth every dollar spent.

“To see them bloom and open up and recover their childhood back, that's the focus,” he said. “We want children to be children again and enjoy their childhood. It's one of the most fulfilling things.”

As parents and guardians said goodbye to their children while they boarded the camp buses outside the county office building, Kathy, a mom from Herriman, couldn’t hold back her tears.

“He’s so excited to go,” she said of her 16-year-old son. “He just wants me to drop him off and go so he can be with his friends.”

Children who are involved with the camp can be in the program for three years. In addition to the summer camp, which includes traditional outdoor camping activities, monthly events are held to provide continuity and constant attention to the needs of these children who are survivors of trauma.

Kathy gets emotional when talking about the camp because she sees the difference it makes in her son’s life.

“My son struggles to have friends because of the struggles he has been through in the past,” she said. “Camp Hope – he has friends.  He has people that understand him and counselors that take good care of him.”

Camp programming is inspired by research conducted by the University of Oklahoma and counselors who work with children are trauma-informed.

Gill believes his office is the only D.A.’s office in the country offering this type of program, which they have done so since 2020. 

 The first camp held at a campground was postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While about 70 campers took this trip, he believes there is room for the program to grow due to the large number of children who are survivors or witnesses to crime.

“We want them to know they are brave,” Gill said. “It's not their fault and we as a community rally around them and their families to give them that measure of justice. This is the right thing to do.”