North Carolina Wilderness Programs Uplift Struggling Teens


Published:

Baptist Children's Homes camps combine wilderness camp with private school. Students live in groups in the wilderness, create their own shelters, prepare their own meals and chart their own expeditions.

Photo courtesy of Baptist Children's Homes of North Carolina

Behm Williams is now a middle school teacher at Just Right Academy in Durham, but a few years ago he was a teenager whose life was spinning out of control. Williams’ mother sent him to camp at SUWS Carolinas, a school of urban wilderness survival.

“I feel a bond with the students who have attended a wilderness program,” Williams says. “‘I survived wilderness camp.’ You share an experience that other people really can’t understand.”

Williams describes learning to shelter himself and his possessions by tying plastic into a tarp-covered hammock when it rained. He explains how he rationed his supplies and oriented his days around learning to set campfires with stones and sticks.

Williams says it instilled a sense of adult responsibility in him. “It feels like that sort of missing rite-of-passage that tells you, ‘You’re not a child. You can do this.’”

Wilderness camps like SUWS Carolinas target adolescents who may have emotional or behavioral problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and trauma. Participants may have engaged in troubling behaviors — truancy, drugs, defiance or poor school performance, for example. Trained leaders bring small groups of these students into the wilderness, where they travel, learn skills to keep themselves warm and dry, prepare food and make decisions about how to work together to achieve their goals.

Why the Wilderness?

Wilderness programs work on the premise that experiencing a significant period of time in the wilds of nature can help struggling kids adopt skills they need to manage life at home and school. Exercise and exposure to nature have proven physical and mental health benefits, which include reducing stress, depression, aggression and anxiety.

The down-to-basics lifestyle offers participants space to focus. “You take the student away from all other distractions and focus on the present” says Kristen Koch, an administrator at North Carolina Outward Bound School, which offers locations in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Outer Banks, and uses outdoor adventure programs to challenge participants to safely and confidently step outside their comfort zones.

Wilderness life is tough, and the relationship between actions and results is very stripped-down and direct.

“We have to live with our results,” says Steve Ashton, director of Cameron Boys Camp, which is located in Cameron on 902 wooded acres. “People don’t need to make natural consequences artificially. We need to solve the leaky roof problem, or we get wet.”

Learning to regulate emotional responses, treat property with respect and work effectively with others take on clear importance in such a setting, while learning survival skills builds strength and self-confidence.

Emotional Healing

Each wilderness program’s application includes an assessment of the campers’ needs. Most programs employ trained therapists who meet regularly with participants. All utilize highly structured schedules and adults trained to work with struggling teenagers.

Many program instructors also train the participants’ families about how to offer productive support and interact with the participating family member. “It’s not just the kid that comes to camp, it’s the family,” says Linda Barber, a case manager at Camp Duncan for Girls, which is located near Aberdeen.

These programs aren’t designed to cover everything. Admissions officers work with parents to decide whether the program can serve their family’s needs — and families must consider whether the program’s benefits are worth the fees. After the wilderness experience, depending on the program and the student, some participants return home, while others go on to therapeutic boarding schools.

“I had a lot of work to do when I got home,” Williams says. “I used the confidence and strength I gained (at SUWS) to help me handle my problems.”

Look Before You Leap

None of the programs mentioned here are wilderness “boot camps” (extreme wilderness programs with military-style discipline techniques), and all but Outward Bound (because it is a national program) are licensed by the state of North Carolina, which reviews them periodically.

Parents should, however, meet in person with program administrators, ask questions and research the programs before entrusting any wilderness program their child. The Federal Trade Commission is a good place to start. Visit consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0185-residential-treatment-programs-teens for sample questions you can ask representatives to ensure a positive experience for your child. Also, talk to your child’s school counselor to get a sense of the program’s reputation, and ask other families who have used the program about their experiences.

Elizabeth Brignac is a freelance writer in Cary.


Wilderness Programs to Check Out

Outward Bound Intercept Program
Outward Bound is a nonprofit wilderness adventure program that offers many kinds of outdoor expeditions across the world. Intercept is a four-week adventure expedition designed specifically for teens with behavior concerns. It is a structured adventure program, not wilderness therapy. In groups, participants spend their days setting up campsites and traveling across the state or country.
Program details: In 2017, Outward Bound will offer two summer Intercept expeditions in North Carolina for ages 14-17.
Educational component: Some schools offer independent study credits for Outward Bound programs.

Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina is a for-profit wilderness therapy program based at Lake Toxaway that combines wilderness experience, education and therapy. Participants spend half their time on wilderness expeditions and the other half at base camp practicing their skills. Family education and communication are emphasized.
Program details: An average stay lasts 70-80 days. Designed for ages 10-17. Participants are grouped by age, gender and emotional/behavioral issue.
Educational component: At base camp, students participate in an education program with a North Carolina-accredited teacher and can earn school credit.

SUWS Carolinas

SUWS Carolinas is a for-profit wilderness therapy program in Old Fort, which is near the Pisgah National Forest. About 60 percent of participants’ time is spent in the woods hiking and learning wilderness skills. Students spend the rest of the time at base camp undergoing different kinds of therapies and attending behavioral education classes.
Program details: An average stay is 58 days. Designed for ages 10-17. Participants are grouped by age, gender and emotional/behavioral issue.
Educational component: Students can earn partial school credits in science, English and P.E.

Baptist Children’s Home Wilderness Camps

Camp Duncan (for girls) and Cameron Boys Camp

BCH camps are nonprofit programs based in Aberdeen and Cameron that combine wilderness camp with private school. Students live in groups in the wilderness, create their own shelters, prepare their own meals and chart their own expeditions. Family training is emphasized.
Program details: Length of stay varies widely. Some students stay for months, or even years. Designed for ages 11-15. Students must want to participate. Participants are grouped by age but also with an eye toward balancing different kinds of students into effective groups.
Educational component: Both camps are North Carolina-licensed private schools.


Summer Day Camp Options for Struggling Teens

Just Right Academy

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Wake County

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Durham and Orange Counties:

The Trilogy School

The Life House

 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Fun Things to Do in the Triangle This Week, Dec. 18-21

Make a winter craft, learn about historic toys, explore animal constellations and peek into Durham's history.

Carolina Parent's Biggest Hits of 2017

See our top online articles and social media posts from the last year.

New Scrap Thrift Store Opens in Durham

The store features a variety of gently used clothing, jewelry, fabric, crafts, holiday items, housewares, furniture, electronics, toys and games, vintage items and more.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

December 2017

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Barriskill Dance Theatre School present its annual production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Reynolds Theater, Duke University
125 Science Dr.
Durham, NC  27708
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy a family Chanukah concert from local band, Mishpacha (Hebrew for “family”). Mishpacha’s music is influenced by a variety of musical genres including folk,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Burning Coal Theatre Company as it presents a stage production based on the children's novel by JM Barrie. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $25/adult, $15/student

Where:
Burning Coal Theatre
224 Polk St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Telephone: 919-834-4001
Website »

More information

Learn about winter. Sip pine needle tea, and observe the ice and snow through hands-on science experiments. All ages with adult. Registration required. 

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Cary Ballet students presents a condensed version of the holiday story for younger audiences. Join Clara, her heroic nutcracker, the evil Mouse Queen and all of Clara’s colorful friends on a...

Cost: $21-$25

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Cary Ballet Company
Telephone: 919-200-3939
Contact Name: Michelle Gisondi
Website »

More information

Build a LEGO menorah, discover chocolate making and enjoy games from 3-4:45 p.m. at the Apex Community Center. At 5 p.m., a menorah lighting and fire show take place at 220 N. Salem Street in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Apex
, NC


Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Enjoy a 3.5-hour bus tour in the heart of downtown Raleigh during the holiday season. Pullen Park Holiday Express tickets included. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $55/adult, $39/child

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
, NC  27601


Website »

More information

The Triangle Youth String Orchestra performs its annual holiday concert. All ages. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15/adult, $5/child

Where:
Athens Drive High School Auditorium
1420 Athens Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Website »

More information

Cary Ballet students presents the holiday story of Clara, her heroic nutcracker, the evil Mouse Queen and all of Clara’s colorful friends. The Raleigh Boychoir's Resident...

Cost: $21-$25

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Cary Ballet Company
Telephone: 919-200-3939
Contact Name: Michelle Gisondi
Website »

More information

Join in celebration of Hanukkah with a group menorah lighting (bring your menorahs from home), fun crafts for the kids, latkes, jelly doughnuts and more. This fundraising event is open to the...

Cost: $10 children 3-18, $12 adults. At the door: $12 children 3-18, $15 adults

Where:
Beth Meyer Synagogue Social Hall
504 Newton Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Beth Meyer Preschool
Contact Name: Michelle Panek
Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Come experience O'Henry's classic Christmas tale “The Gift of the Magi." Be transported back to the Roaring '20s in...

Cost: $25

Where:
Sonorous Road Theatre
3801 Hillsborough St, Suite 113,
Raleigh, NC   27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Create a snow globe to take home. All ages with adult. Registration not required. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

See 10 unique play homes built by Terramor, with $10 raffle tickets available per play home benefitting Duke Children’s Hospital and the YMCA of the Triangle. The Play Homes include a fire...

Cost: $10.00/raffle ticket

Where:
Terramor Homes Corporate Office
7208 Falls of Neuse Road, #201
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Terramor Homes
Telephone: 919-810-2504
Contact Name: Rebecca Newsome
Website »

More information

Family members join teams to shoot foul shots for a chance to win a holiday ham. See website for age divisions and times. No registration necessary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Community Center
73 Hunter St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Telephone: 919-249-3402
Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly holiday gospel tradition. The show, created by Langston Hughes, features soaring singers, inspirational dancers and the heartwarming and humorous procession of...

Cost: $26/adult, $22/student

Where:
Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

See a family-friendly movie on a big screen. Take snacks and a blanket. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore toys that children enjoy all over the world. Make a toy to take home and read a story. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Children's Book Buyer Sarah reads stories to babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
McIntyre's Books at Fearrington Village
2000 Fearrington Village Center
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore creative movement. Ages 2-5 with caregiver. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/member, $8/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Kids enjoy crafting and nature while parents enjoy holiday shopping. Take a lunch and water bottle. Ages 6-10. Meet at the park office. Registration required online. 

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St.Clair
Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Learn what the Ingalls family did to survive one especially long winter and how they celebrated Christmas. Taste an old-fashioned peppermint candy stick and take home a homemade holiday craft. Wear...

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir presents its annual holiday concert. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Edenton Street United Methodist Church
228 W. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Come experience O'Henry's classic Christmas tale “The Gift of the Magi." Be transported back to the Roaring '20s in...

Cost: $25

Where:
Sonorous Road Theatre
3801 Hillsborough St, Suite 113,
Raleigh, NC   27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to this witty and warm journey through a lifetime of Christmases as Scrooge finally finds redemption, charity and love. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Kenan Theatre
120 Country Club Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2017-18 Education Guide offers 660 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our debut Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.
Edit ModuleShow Tags