As the 2021-2022 school year ended, 15 Roane County middle and high students started their summer break with an 8-week court ordered juvenile justice C.A.M.P. C.A.M.P. stands for Child Attitude Motivation Program.
“The intent behind the camp, it’s a pretty personal thing to me,” said Judge Terry Stevens, Roane County General Sessions Court, Part I. “My dad grew up under hard, rough circumstances. He was one of 12, and, out of the eight friends he grew up with, he was the only one who didn’t ever go to jail or prison and one of only two that were alive in adulthood. After I was appointed, we talked about ways to motivate some of our local youth who grow up in bad circumstances or who were making their circumstances worse. What made it work better for my dad was meeting the gentleman I knew as my grandfather, who had expectations and showed him what opportunities were available. That’s the goal of our camp, to help the kids with some of the things they’re dealing with and also show them what opportunities are out there. We also let them know people in the community have expectations of them for the better. That’s what we try to convey through camp.”
“I learned to stop and think before I act,” said a 14-year-old male participant, who was in the program for unruly behavior at home. “We need to respect ourselves, so we can learn how to treat other people.”
C.A.M.P. works with community partners to teach students by simply sharing stories of hardship and success, to teaching valuable life skills. Throughout this 8-week summer program, students received classroom-based presentations and prevention education, which covered alcohol, stimulants, marijuana, tobacco/nicotine, prescription medication misuse, as well as suicide prevention, the importance of teen mental health, strengths and character building. The students were given time to express themselves through learning how to play the guitar, building bird houses, painting and crafts. Students attended horse equine therapy sessions, learning how horses aid in grief counseling. They also participated in team building exercises and attended Ridgeview Behavioral Health's obstacle course in Oak Ridge.
“Roane County Anti-Drug Coalition comes in and teaches independent living skills,” said Leonora Spangler, Youth Services Officer with the Juvenile Court. “We work with our local health department and they teach everything from how to wash your hands appropriately to how to make a doctor’s appointment. We were able to work with the health educator on a lot of different things this year, including making their own lunch one day. They made the menu, they made the salad, they made the spaghetti, they made a dessert and it was a good, healthy meal.”
“I enjoyed the food that was brought in and learning about nutrition,” said the male participant. “Learning how to cook and knowing about nutrition to stay healthy is important.”
In addition, C.A.M.P. participants learned about a variety of topics such as healthy living, healthy relationships and budgeting through the University of Tennessee Extension Office. A local realtor also discussed the importance of good credit scores, paying bills on time, and how these things can impact lease agreements or home loans.
“We’ve had doctors, dentists, pharmacists, trades folks and financial planners come and just kind of say here’s how you do it to try and take the stigma away and take the impossible out of their minds,” said Judge Stevens. “There’s a lot of them who don’t know how to achieve certain things and think that it’s not possible, so we have a lot of people come in from pretty diverse backgrounds to say anything’s possible.”
Judge Stevens said C.A.M.P. is a program of trial and error, where new lessons are added each year.
“This year it was a stock market category, because so many people have the opportunity to have 401ks or IRAs with employers,” said Judge Stevens. “It’s important that they know what their money is doing and also that there’s a benefit to saving money. A lot of them don’t understand it. We do the budget part, but then what do you do after the budget? It’s very interesting to see. They bring up different companies that they like and then we say there’s a stock for that. They were very interested in learning about it.”
C.A.M.P.’s predecessor was known as a boot camp and ran from 2005 to 2011. When Judge Stevens was appointed to the bench in 2016, he wanted to start a camp that focused on attitude and motivation. Despite a year off during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s been up and running ever since.
“Our first graduating class is somewhere between 20 to 22 and they navigated those early developmental, often poor decision-making years without coming back,” said Judge Stevens. “We’re very thankful and very excited about the long-term success that we’ve had with them.”
To date, only one student was ordered to return to the program for a second summer.
“We tell the kids part of our expectation for them is to follow in the footsteps of the ones who have come before them because they’ve all done very well, as far as not having any future contact with the justice system,” said Judge Stevens. “We don’t want them to come back, only If they want to come back to say hi or if we can help them with something positive. We have had some come back for letters of recommendation or some guidance.”
“I had one who asked my opinion about a sewing machine,” said Spangler. “It’s those little things that you don’t really pick up on. She thought I would be honest with her. I thought that was an odd little interesting thing that she reached out about. You become one of their adults and that’s a good thing. I’m thankful for that opportunity. They grow up and you get to see it. As they mature, they will stop by just when you need them to tell you what they are up to.”
C.A.M.P. does not receive any extra funding from Roane County. However, the Roane County Sheriff’s Office does provide a school resource officer for the rare occasions when behavioral issues arise.
“Our school system will provide some food for them and transportation, via the bus, but all of these things are already included in their budget,” said Judge Stevens. “We have our anti-drug coalitions that will help fund some things and get resources. The rest is all just community support and quite a few folks who will help cover meals and will help with their time to come speak. We’re very fortunate in that we’ve never had to ask for money. Most of the time, we get more offers than we can accommodate.”
Ahead of graduation, students created action plans for the upcoming school year to address truancy, disciplinary issues, grades, and how to overcome peer pressure. They also learned how to make lifestyle changes that will put them on paths to success, including re-evaluating friendships and relationships. In addition, the students completed many hours of community service, both on-site at locations such as Roane County Parks and Roane State Community College, and at mandated off-site locations.
On graduation day, students received a certificate of attendance, rewards from C.A.M.P. community partners, and a cookout celebration.
“It’s the first time some of these kids have completed something because they struggled academically, or because of poor attendance or other issues with school,” said Judge Stevens. “It’s just to let them know whenever you do succeed and you do try hard, there is a benefit. We explain to them that it’s not always a monetary benefit, but there’s always someone watching how they perform and there’s a benefit if they do it the right way. That’s what we’re trying to convey. Some of these kids wonder why does it matter if I do this? It does matter. There is a better way. Whether it’s not coming back to court, pursuing a career or, sometimes, just the dynamic in their household benefitting from them doing their best.”
Children's Attitude Motivational Program (C.A.M.P) is a partnership with Roane County Anti-Drug Coalition (RCADC), and Roane County Juvenile Courts and Probation. Student participants are required to attend C.A.M.P. Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., similar to a school day.