[Hpn] Couple opens summer camp in West Virginia for homeless children

Grassroots Media Network tta@mail.utexas.edu
Sun, 30 Jul 2000 12:30:04 -0500


Couple opens summer camp in West Virginia for homeless children
Source: AP - AP Wire Service
Jul 29 11:02

By KIA SHANT'E BREAUX
Associated Press Writer

GLEN LYN, Va. (AP) _ Fifteen-year-old Shannon Stevenson used to tease 
homeless people. Like many youngsters, he didn't understand their plight.

Never in his wildest dreams did he think he would end up homeless himself.

``I found out fast it could happen to anybody,'' said Shannon, who moved to 
Roanoke, Va., nine months ago after his mother ended a relationship in 
Virginia Beach,
Va. ``No one likes being homeless, but I think it's like harder for kids 
because we like to move around a lot and play.''

For 10 days this summer, Shannon and his 13-year-old brother, Daniel, found 
lots of space at Scottie's Place _ a new 300-acre wilderness camp for 
homeless children
on the Virginia-West Virginia state line.

The camp, nestled at the top of the scenic Powell Mountain and located both 
in Giles County, Va., and Monroe County, W.Va., provides respite from crowded
shelters and offers homeless children a wilderness adventure.

``It's a place where kids can be kids,'' said Jo-El Wadsworth, who opened 
the camp this year with her husband, Paul Winter.

The couple from upstate New York quit their day jobs years ago to pursue 
their dream of living off the land.

Scottie's Place was inspired by a boy named Scottie, whom the couple met 
seven years ago while camping in Florida. Scottie lived with his parents 
and baby brother in
a van. He stayed with the Winter-Wadsworths for nine months while his 
parents got their lives back in order.

``Scottie was a marvelous boy, very adventurous,'' Winter said. ``Meeting 
him is what opened our eyes to the issue of homelessness and the fact that 
it affects so many
children as well.''

Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless 
population, representing 36 percent of all homeless people, according to 
the National Alliance to
End Homelessness. A 1998 survey of 30 U.S. cities found that children 
accounted for 25 percent of the homeless population, according to the 
National Coalition for
the Homeless.

So far, two groups _ one from Roanoke and the other from Raleigh, N.C. _ 
have visited Scottie's Place. Winters and Wadsworth hope to attract groups from
metropolitan areas within a 500-mile radius, including Atlanta, Boston, 
Lexington, Ky., and Washington, D.C.

Advocates for the homeless said there are few if any such camps in the 
nation, and that the service Scottie's Place provides is invaluable.

``Homelessness is incredibly disruptive to children and the biggest 
challenge for parents is for their children to keep a sense of 
self-esteem,'' said Steven Berg, a
spokesman for the National Alliance to End Homelessness. ``Some place like 
this will only help that, as well as give their parents a little time to 
look for a place to live
and get their life back on track.''

Constance Stevenson, Shannon and Daniel's mother, said the boys came back 
with more positive attitudes and are eager to return as camp counselors. 
Shannon even
learned to play a piece by Beethoven on the camp piano.

``I'm jealous,'' she joked. ``He's learning to do things I've always wanted 
to do.''

The camp is free. Winter and Wadsworth provide transportation to and from 
the camp and supply clothing and equipment. They rely on donations to keep 
the camp
running.

Campers are referred to Scottie's Place by teachers, clergy and counselors, 
whom Wadsworth has contacted. Because it is a wilderness camp and safety is 
a concern,
children must be at least 8 years old with no history of drug or alcohol 
abuse, criminal activities or violent behavior.

The camp emphasizes pioneer living, so there are few amenities. There's a 
small cabin equipped with a few conveniences, such as a computer and a 
telephone.
Everyone, including camp counselors, Winter, Wadsworth and their four 
children, sleep in small huts made of saplings, rope and canvas.

Some campers choose to scurry barefoot around the serene campground, where 
food is cooked in cast-iron skillets over an open fire and wet apparel hangs on
clotheslines strung between trees. The campsite is near a spring, a 
waterfall, the New River, scenic trails and a blueberry farm.

The children spend mornings feeding goats by hand and gathering eggs from 
the camp's chickens. Two oxen, a few llama, sheep and dogs also make their 
home at
Scottie's Place.

Many meals are fixed with food picked from the camp garden or found growing 
wild.

``We try to be as self-sufficient as possible,'' Winter said.

Winter, who holds a degree in social work from Cornell University, has 
worked with children and adults with special needs for more than 18 years. 
Wadsworth, who
holds a degree in theology and psychology from Wells College, led women's 
wilderness retreats in New York. They've home-schooled their children for 
more than 14
years.

The couple said it's been challenging to get the camp up and running. They 
own the land the camp is on and have lived at the camp site for a year. So 
far, they've run
the camp without pay and have relied on credit cards for their personal 
expenses.

They hope to get more donations so the camp can buy a larger van and hire 
more counselors to accommodate larger groups. Now, the camp can only handle six
children at a time.

Winter and Wadsworth hope one day to expand the program to include 
families. They also envision the camp becoming a model for similar programs 
elsewhere.

``There are fringe adults, but there no fringe children,'' Winter said. 
``We hope to catch a bunch of them and show them other sides to life and 
show people across the
country it works.''

___

On the Net:

Scottie's Place: http://www.scottiesplace.org/

National Alliance to End Homelessness:
http://www.endhomelessness.org/

AP-ES-07-29-00 1201EDT

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