It’s a place where kids can climb telephone poles and navigate mock mine fields while learning important life lessons. It’s Adventure Camp, a weeklong program that encourages kids to make responsible choices and encourage their peers to do the same.
Adventure Camp, run by the Warwick Police Department, the Rhode Island National Guard, the city of Warwick and the Warwick Youth Advisory and Prevention Task Force, is a weeklong day camp that teaches students lessons in leadership, confidence and substance abuse.
Now in its 12th year, Adventure Camp was formed when a member of the National Guard approached the Police Department to form a collaborative partnership. The result was Adventure Camp, which has continued to grow and evolve over the years.
Officers Dennis Amerantes, Leo Tetreault and Sue Gauthier, all school resource officers in Warwick, serve as counselors at the camp.
“It’s an opportunity during the summer to engage in leadership and team building,” Amerantes said. “While getting substance abuse education.”
Throughout their time at Adventure Camp, kids participate in a myriad of physical activities, including a ropes course where kids have to climb a telephone pole, jump off and grab a trapeze; a mock mine field where they don “fatal vision” glasses that simulate intoxication; and obstacle courses.
“The kids love it,” said Amerantes.
Katie Cahoon, now a sixth grade science teacher at Blackstone Valley Prep School, remembers her childhood experiences at Adventure Camp fondly. Cahoon’s mother, Captain Linda Eastman, encouraged Cahoon to participate in the camp when she was 16.
“I didn’t want to go,” she said with a laugh. But once she got there, she had a lot of fun.
Cahoon said she challenged herself to do things, especially physical activities, she thought she couldn’t do. By pushing herself, Cahoon learned self-confidence, and with the encouragement of others, she learned the importance of teamwork and collaboration.
Cahoon enjoyed her first year of Adventure Camp so much that she went back for two additional years as a junior counselor. Her experiences teaching younger participants were the first hints of what eventually became her career today.
“It fostered my love to lead and teach others, and to make a difference in their lives,” she said.
Patty St. Amant, director of the Warwick Department of Human Services, said the lessons participants learn in Adventure Camp stick with them throughout their adult lives.
“If we can continue to build kids’ character and leadership skills now, they’ll make good decisions later in life,” she said.
The main goal of the program is to teach students about substance abuse and encourage them to make healthier choices.
“Make good decisions, that’s huge for us,” said Amerantes. “We really want to impart that knowledge.”
Gauthier said Adventure Camp is able to teach kids lessons they cannot learn in the classroom.
“It teaches them life skills,” she said. “They learn how to work as a team.”
She said it also helps to break the stereotypes associated with police. By having police and National Guard members as counselors, the students get a better idea of who they are as people, and the stereotypes melt away.
Amerantes said although Adventure Camp is challenging physically and geared toward ending substance abuse in teens, it’s not a boot camp. For most, it’s a chance to do something new alongside their peers.
“I highly encourage them to get out of their comfort zones,” said Amerantes. “The kids cheer each other on, and that’s where the confidence comes from.”
He also said the police and National Guard serve as positive mentors and role models to the participants.
The program is open to participants age 11 through 14. The camp runs Tuesday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., and wraps up with a cookout on Friday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Each week can accommodate up to 40 participants; the fee (which can be waived for special circumstances) is $30 per week and includes a cookout and free T-shirt. Camps run July 10-13, July 17-20 or Aug. 14-17. Visit www.warwickri.gov for more information and for registration forms.