Program helps youths get back on track (with video)

Program helps youths get back on track (with video)

July 12th, 2012 by Rachel Bunn in News

Clay Clower leads other cadets during a one mile fitness run.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

DUNLAP, Tenn. - Jordan McDaniel will no longer be skipping school.

McDaniel, a 16-year-old from Sequatchie County, has spent seven weeks participating in the Children's Attitude and Motivational Program - CAMP - a court-ordered program that teaches life skills and provides discipline and support for teenagers struggling such problems as drugs, alcohol or truancy.

CAMP taught him discipline, how to push himself and to be a reliable presence for his fellow participants, McDaniel said.

"I was a completely different person before I came here," he said Wednesday. "I figured it would be easy, but it's taken my whole summer."

The program began with a weeklong camp operated by the Tennessee National Guard in Smyrna, Tenn., and it ended Wednesday with a physical ability competition held at Sequatchie High School. This year, 65 kids participated in the competition.

"My favorite part was practicing for this [competition] today," McDaniel said. "It wasn't about myself -- I had other people to count on me."

CAMP provides an alternative to state custody for teenagers like McDaniel and also allows the successful participants to have their records expunged, according to Rhonda Sills, youth services officer in Bledsoe County.

"This isn't like a day camp. It's a good way to show them, 'Hey, you've been in trouble, but this is a new start,'" said Kayla Jones, a deputy with the Grundy County Sheriff's Office. "A lot of these kids are good kids, they've just made bad choices."

At Wednesday's competition - which included pushups, situps and a race - participants helped cheer and motivate each other in the events.

Staff Sgt. Tremayne Wade, who helps runs the entire CAMP program, said it hopes to instill the teens with discipline and respect, giving them tools they need to transform their lives.

"Everything that happened before we stepped into their lives - that's in the past," he said. "It's up to them to use the tools we gave them. To keep pushing until you realize life is what you make it."

Josh Henderson, a 17-year-old Bledsoe County participant in CAMP, acknowledged that "I really wasn't disciplined that well before I came here."

"I think I will realize now that life is not just about the fun things, the things that are happening right now," he said. "You've got to think about the consequences and how it affects you and others."

Though the actual program varies from county to county, each county provides speakers and classes that teach the participants basic life skills.

"You have to adapt to what your county's needs are," Sills said. "We have parent meetings and we find out what the parents feel should be addressed. We're putting an extra emphasis on anger management this year because we've got all boys. One year we had two pregnant girls, so we put an emphasis on skills that would be useful for home life."

Sills said Bledsoe County had an 85 percent success rate with kids that participated in CAMP, and two former participants volunteered to help with this year's program, saying they were grateful for the second chance the program offered.

Wade said many participants have gone on to join the military or attend college.

For Staff Sgt. Tommy Vaughn, who works with Wade, the most important part of CAMP is the role the leaders provide for the teens.

"We put a different role in their life that they're not used to having sometimes," he said. "A lot of the kids, by the time they leave here, the respect they have for everything is amazing. They figure out they can do more than they ever thought they could. They realize their potential."