For twelve-year-old Darius Jones*, attending Red Ribbon Week at Jameson Camp has helped him grow as a person. Red Ribbon Week is a free summer camp for kids ages 7-17 impacted by HIV/AIDS. Red Ribbon Week is just one of many specialty sessions offered to youth ages 5-17 at the 132-acre oasis in the heart of Indiana.

“Sometimes I don’t make the best decisions,” Jones admits. “I’ve learned when I react to other people, I have to think about what’s best for them and myself.”

According to a 2013 study, children impacted by HIV/AIDS are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and anger and are more likely to demonstrate emotional problems, sleeping difficulties, and traumatic stress. Behavioral therapy has been identified as an effective intervention for many of these risk factors.[1][2] Jameson Camp offers round-the-clock behavioral therapy during summer programming, supporting children like Darius.

“When I was little, I thought I was a bad kid. I yelled a lot and got angry easily. Chris [one of the Behavioral Specialists] helped me learn some coping skills so I could be mad without acting out. He helped me become a better person.”

Jameson Camp is one of those hidden natural gems that is closer than you think. Its campus sits within the city limits of Indianapolis and only 10 minutes from the international airport.

Darius, who lives in downtown Louisville, KY, looks forward to coming back to Red Ribbon Week every year. “Jameson Camp is like a wildlife vacation,” Darius says. “I live in the city. And you don’t get to see wildlife like this every day.

Jones likes to go camping while at Jameson Camp, so he can see various animals.

“We went camping last night and we heard coyotes,” Jones says. While he didn’t necessarily like the close proximity of the coyotes to the campsite, he likes “getting in touch with wildlife.”

Experts say experiences in nature are critical to child development.[3] Contact with nature is important because it promotes a child’s creativity and imagination, intellectual and cognitive development and boosts social relationships. Children who connect with natural environments and ecosystems tend to display better moods and higher self-esteem and be more resilient to personal stress.

Children who experience a summer at Jameson Camp have lots of wildlife to see – deer, rabbits, raccoons, groundhogs, skunks and a variety of birds. Next year, campers will have the opportunity to participate in biodiversity studies. Environmental Education Manager, Ris Pitzer, believes giving kids the opportunity to do hands-on science gives them a sense of belonging and impact.

“You can see the magic that sparkles in children’s eye when they make meaningful connections with nature,” Pitzer says. “All the trauma and pain these kids are carrying just disappears for a moment and they can feel joy and awe.”

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22091302/ The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral stress management training on mental health, social interaction and family function in adolescents of families with one Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive member

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6882031/ Effects of psychosocial interventions on children affected by parental HIV/AIDS: a meta-analysis on depression and anxiety

[3] https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7424505/ The Role of Interaction with Nature in Childhood Development: An Under-Appreciated Ecosystem Service