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New Perspectives - Aug, 1993 Issue #23 

ELLING CAMPS AT ROCK CREEK FARM
Thompson, Pennsylvania
717-756-2706
Tom Croke Visit: July 1993

A national search for a summer camp for a client with a mild thought disorder brought me to one of the most pleasant surprises of the summer, and right in my own home state! This is a summer camp program for children and young adults, elementary through high school age, (with an independent living skills program for post high school) who are learning disabled or are experiencing social adjustment problems. This is clearly a broad group, however they do not accept severely retarded children, nor children with profound orthopedic handicaps restricting mobility. Plans are underway for special facilities to accommodate orthopedically handicapped children. They also accept autistic children only where the autism is relatively mild, and children with records of delinquency under very careful scrutiny for compatibility.

Rock Creek Farm has been in operation, minus the post high school program, since 1965. It was acquired by Lloyd Elling in 1991, who appears to have based his leadership on traditions already in place at the time he acquired it. A very dynamic, high energy, yet self effacing individual, Lloyd gives of the credit for the quality of the program to its former owners. In fact there is a very large population of children who have been attending yearly maintaining their loyalty. This does not happen where leadership is lacking.

The dynamics around Lloyd's leadership became evident in the first few minutes of our tour when a boy who may have been about ten years old became extremely angry a few feet from us and required staff intervention. A young staff member responded appropriately and sensitively, in my judgment. Lloyd quietly excused himself, and joined the staff member and the boy in a manner which expressed warmth and support for both. When it was all over, the telling point was Lloyd's personal critique of the entire situation. He was specific about what more he would have liked to see the staff member do and what he planned to do with more training to bring it about. Clearly Lloyd is a perfectionist in the standards he sets for himself while he has the clear ability and patience to support the growth of both his staff and campers.

The camping program is typical of summer camps in general. Rock Creek Farm is well removed from civilization in the Northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. It occupies a clearing on a mountainside, with an administration building/director's home/dining hall, scattered cabins, an arts and crafts building, a tutoring building, two lakes (one for swimming and the other for boating), ample play and athletic space, a nearly abandoned bus containing an on campus radio station, and several other assorted buildings. Each camper cabin contains its own full bathroom facilities, complete with hot showers, making it unnecessary for the children to walk outside at night. The space is well designed and well used.

The program was very active and busy with no one getting bored. I had an opportunity to observe closely the arts and dramatics programs. The level and quality of teaching was impressive. The population of boys and girls was ethnically diverse and cohesive. Lloyd tells me about a quarter of the campers are publicly funded, reflecting a commitment to be maintained even if it becomes easy to fill every space with privately paying children..

Perhaps the most impressive characteristics of this camp, other than Lloyd Elling's leadership, were these two:

First, this is an environment in which kids with social and behavioral problems can co-exist with kids who are more fragile due to emotional problems, such as mild thought disorders. One reason for this is the energy put into mutually supportive community. As an example of why it works here, any child who causes harm, pain, or injury to another is responsible for the repair. If Bobby hits Billy and Billy is bruised, Bobby must hold the ice pack on Billy's bruise. If the injury is more emotional, i.e. Bobby verbally abused Billy, Bobby must still take quiet time with Billy affirming him. Simple idea. It works at Rock Creek Farm. Maybe we should try it in Bosnia.

The second standout was the Saturday night program. A bit like the traditional campfire, this is an opportunity for kids to sit meditatively and reflect on the week (or whatever period of time the particular attention span allows) and speak openly of affirmation and forgiveness of others. Innermost thoughts come out. Kids take risks. I did not see it. Lloyd described it to me, after inviting me to stay for it (I couldn't). Then an obviously ADHD 10 year old told me about it. ADHD enjoying a quiet activity? Something is different. Then I heard more from about a half dozen others, one at a time. No, these are not the kinds of kids likely to carry the "official line" to make the program look good.

The staff was international in character, and seemed to be dominated primarily with college students and recent graduates. The international character of the staff seemed to be related to the fact that Lloyd operates another summer camp in South America, operating there while we have winter. Some staff work both camps. I saw no evidence of very young staff lacking the maturity to handle their jobs with excellence.

Lloyd's parting comment was that his goal for most of the kids was that on completion of the summer at his camp, they would at least understand what a friend is. Having a friend might be too tough a goal. A modest goal. From a modest man. Running an impressive program. A few more men like him might make this a better world.

Copyright 1993, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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