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Daybreak for troubled kids

Summer camp, with its communal ac- tivities, often rustic shared lodging, and high camper-to-counselor ratio, is not typically a place where children get highly individualized attention. But at a special camp in Montpelier, Vt., it’s a dif- ferent story.

Camp Daybreak, directed by Dan Os - man ’02 and sponsored by the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addic- tion Recovery, serves kids from 8 to 11 who have a range of social, emotional, and behavioral needs as well as mental health conditions. Many can’t attend traditional summer camps because their needs are so high. Every summer, 30 youngsters spend a week at Daybreak, which charges $200 for tuition (though Osman is proud to say the camp has never turned away a camper for inability to pay). Each camper is paired with a “big sibling,” a teen- or college-aged volunteer who works closely with staff members, many of whom have extensive mental health experience, to develop an individ- ualized plan for the camper.

The campers have experienced trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, have some form of autism, or simply need sup- port in social situations such as manag- ing frustrations or making friends. They are referred by educators, mental health providers, and families who believe they can benefit from a supportive residential experience. Since its founding in 1961, the camp has served more than 1,500 campers and housed more than 2,300 vol- unteers.

Osman has been with Camp Daybreak since 1997, when he

ing people.” Today, as the camp’s direc- tor, he handles marketing, fundraising, hiring staff, recruiting volunteers, and admitting campers. (He also runs Camp Thorpe, a summer camp that serves kids and adults with physical and develop- mental needs.)

While Daybreak offers conventional activities like swimming, arts and crafts, nature programs, treasure hunts, and tal- ent shows, its campers have the benefit

experience with our population and leave wanting to work in this field,” Osman says. Some regulars travel each year from the West Coast, while others reserve their vacation time from work to come to camp.

Osman, who majored in elementary education at Skidmore and worked for 10 years at an alternative high school near Burlington, Vt., even met his wife at Camp Daybreak. (They have a 2-year-



first volunteered in a big-sibling role. As a sophomore at a small K–12 school in Vermont, he had worked with fourth- graders and befriended a boy with Down syndrome. He recalls, “I had never met anyone who experienced the world with such joy. I felt a connection with this young man and knew that, whatever I did with my life, it would involve help-

of navigating them with the support of a volunteer, which proves especially useful when they get frustrated and need space, encounter a challenging social situation, or feel homesick. Osman says the camp taps into participants’ strengths and in- terests and fosters relationships focused on safety and genuine care. “Kids are so often confronted with the stigma of their condition, but this approach instills suc- cess in our campers, so they’re able to be

themselves and have the confidence to achieve mental health.”

The experience is often transforma- tive. Many children, when they return to school in the fall, exhibit marked im- provement in how they relate to their peers and take part in classroom activi- ties. It is also life-changing for the volun- teers: “Many arrive having little or no

old daughter, and Osman says, “There’s nothing I enjoy more than spending time with my family.”) Others from Skidmore who have been involved in the program are Phoebe Kittredge ’04, who was a big sister for three years; Kristie Sills ’16, a counselor for three summers; and Jamie St. Peter ’00, a con- sultant who has been with Camp Day- break for 20 summers.

“There is a tremendous amount to be learned from a group of motivated indi- viduals coming together to make a dif- ference in the life of a child,” Osman concludes. “I feel lucky that I am con- stantly learning from my staff, seeking opportunities for professional growth, and developing new techniques to work with this wonderful population.” Still, he wishes he could do more. “For every kid we serve, there are so many others who could benefit from an experience like Camp Daybreak.” —MTS



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