Imagine you are six years old and your dad is in jail. You’re probably confused. You may not understand where he is or why he’s not there. You probably aren’t sure why you have to see him through plexiglass every week or why there are guards in room who won’t let you sit in his lap. You might even feel like you’re singled out, like you’re the only kid this has ever happened to. What do you do?
If you live in Tompkins County you can attend a summercamp program called Project RISE, and it’s dedicated to helping kids of incarcerated and criminal justice-involved parents get to experience a safe, understanding camp environment for free.
The project, spearheaded by Aislyn Colgan, is starting as a part of the existing Village Camp, founded and run by Camp Earth Connections owner Susan Rausch. Rausch has owned the Freeville campground, located in Hammond Hill State Park, since 2002, when she took it over from Cayuga Nature Center.
Before taking ownership of the campground, Rausch founded Village Camp back in 1999 as a community camp. With help from Greater Ithaca Activities Center, Rausch began something that she said “is very different from other camps.” It’s a very outdoor-focused program and kids aren’t broken up into age groups. Instead she said, “We come together as a community and then we offer choices to the kids.” She added, “The Village Camp doesn’t really have a focus other than supporting kids who are disenfranchised in one way or another.”
Thus, when Colgan approached Rausch with the idea for Project RISE, it was a natural fit. Colgan said, “Project RISE is geared toward anyone whose parents are involved in the justice system in any way.” Kids with parents on probation, drug court, or behind bars will qualify for full camp scholarships. Over the past few months, Colgan has done the leg-work in terms of securing funding to make sure those scholarships are a reality.
Before moving to the Ithaca area in 2011, Colgan worked at Project AVARY (Alternative Ventures for At-Risk Youth), a camp for kids of incarcerated parents. Colgan was there for two summers and found the program inspiring, so when she moved out the area she decided she wanted to recreate it somewhere else.
Although Project AVARY included year-round activities, Colgan said that she hopes to build up to that point so that eventually there can be day trips or weekend getaways during the off-season.
“This is meant to be a focal point for parents and families dealing with incarceration to mobilize and help each other out and be more resilient,” she said. “Project RISE means ‘Resilience in Spite of Everything.’ So it’s meant to be a base for people to work together and build resilience among themselves and work against this system of mass incarceration.” She added, “It’s not like, ‘Let’s help these poor kids who are through no fault of their own are a victim of their parents’ behavior.’ This is like, ‘The system is targeting these kids.’ And this is to resist that.”
This year, the camp will be one week long, running from Aug. 17 to 21. Kids will be picked up at GIAC at 8:30 a.m. and dropped back off at 5 p.m. To enroll or get more information, contact Colgan directly firstname.lastname@example.org. •
This article originally appeared in The Ithaca Times.