Camp Long using recent troubles to help troubled kids overcome adversity

Camp Long sign
Camp Long works with troubled teens. Now it's facing some problems of its own. (November 18, 2010 / WRDW-TV)
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News 12 First at Five / Thursday, November 18, 2010

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. -- Camp Long is a camp for at-risk kids that has been dealing with its own problems as of late, but they're overcoming adversity and staying focused on their mission to help troubled youth.

In November, a fire destroyed one of the log cabins, which nobody was inside of and in October, two of the camp's horses were stolen. Investigators say the horses were later found at a farm in McCormick County in poor health. The horses are in good health now, but the building is still in disarray.

No matter how long the list of troubles, they still have to focus on rebuilding the troubled kids. They're non-violent juveniles in trouble with the law who go there for 90 days, but just like the camp, they've been hit by adversity and now it's time to overcome it.

The cabin is burned and bruised, but it's still standing at Camp Long. Take a walk into the kids lives and they've been bruised, but they're still standing as well.

"We teach these kids everyday that you might have death in the family, you might have your house burned down, you might have your horses stolen, but whatever it may be you push on," Camp Long Director Cody Greene said.

They push on with education, he said. It's a little less traditional as you'll find the kids reading on bean bags instead of desks, but they're still learning.

"A lot of times these kids fail at just trying to learn with pencil and paper and reading on the chalkboard," Camp Long counselor Cheryl Cummings said. "You actually have to allow them to do some hands on learning."

But the reason they're at the camp is to fix behavioral problems before they get the book thrown at them. They use a strict level system making the kids abide by about 40 different rules. If they abide by them, camp officials say they're rewarded and with continuous good behavior they're given the ultimate reward and that's to go home early.

"I think they're a product of their home environment rather than they're a bad kid who's acting out," Cummings said.

To keep them from acting out, though they wear all blue sweatsuits, you'll never see the boys and the girls mixing, she added.

But Cummings said as a counselor she sees the progress being made in intimate group sessions and one on one sessions, where their problems come into focus.

"The kids here need special attention and we help them get their life back on track," she said.

"They're kids," Greene said. "Everything we do here, we treat them like children and try to get them to grow and be better people."

While News 12 was there, during a group session one of the students spoke about how they now feel school is important after they leave the camp, something they didn't feel before.

The girl's answer is the growth Camp Long says will go a long way.

"It makes me feel wonderful because it means that we actually did impact their lives," Greene said.

The camp goes on all year and officials say over the last four years at least 85 percent have returned home to their community.