Fair Play Transformed Our Family

Fair Play Transformed Our Family 

We were afraid he would end up in juvenile detention!

“Things had gotten so bad with Elijah that we didn’t know what to do with him,” Wendy, his mother, remembered. “We even considered a failed adoption and sending him back. That’s how bad it was. But, we prayed about it and felt the Lord saying to us, ‘No, he’s your son.’”

He made life miserable for everyone around him

“Elijah came to us when he was 18 months old,” Wendy said. “He was in the foster care
system and being moved from home to home. That caused him a lot of struggles and behavior

After we adopted him, his behavioral issues increased every year and became more violent.
He would constantly lie, wouldn’t take responsibility for his actions, and continually
manipulated us and his siblings.”

“He was very aggressive against me,” Wendy continued. “He would throw things at me, call
me awful names, and was very destructive.

In first grade, he would turn the classroom upside down. They would have to clear the
classroom of the other children because of how violent he was. I ended up trying to homeschool

We were alone

“We felt very isolated,” Wendy explained. “Friends and family had no idea what we were
going through. They would offer suggestions of what we should be doing. We know that they
were just trying to be helpful, but it wasn’t good.

We were looking for someone who would just listen and not offer suggestions. We had tried
everything, and nothing was working.”

Looking for help

“We tried different therapies, counseling, and supplements,” Wendy said. “We also had enrolled him in several short term programs.

But as things continued to get worse, we decided that he needed a long term intervention. His
problems had been building for years. It was going to take time to deal with behavioral issues.

I began to research possible options. Imagine my surprise when I found Fair Play and
realized it was only an hour and twenty minutes ffrm our house. It seemed like the perfect fit for
Elijah. So, I made the call.”

Hope – finally

“When Josh, the family worker, came to visit us for the first time, I was so nervous,” Wendy
said. “I was afraid that Elijah was going to freak out and act out.

But Josh was so good with him. He sat with Elijah and showed him pictures of camp. Elijah
seemed to connect with him immediately. They even set some goals for Elijah.

I was so blown away. I couldn’t believe that it was my son sitting there and calmly talking. It
was unreal. I started to have a little hope.”

What a difference a year can make

“We started to see changes after six months at camp,” Wendy said. “In the beginning some of
the home visits were pretty rocky. But as time went on, their continued to be some angst, but we
were seeing some positive things.

At the one year mark, we really began to see changes. It was like we saw an actual heart
change. He wasn’t just doing things to please us or to put on a show. He was really different.”

Back home

“We are honestly shocked by how well he is doing since returning home,” Wendy remarked.
“He is making good grades at school. He is making friends. He is relating well with his siblings.

He has had a few stumbles since returning home. But instead of shutting down and becoming
aggressive, we can talk about the problem. He is very redirectable and able to talk about things
calmly. That’s never happened before.

Before camp, I was afraid he would end up in juvenile detention. But now, the sky is the limit
for him. I’m not saying that he won’t have struggles, but this intervention was exactly what our
family needed. It changed our lives.”

I wish I could hug all of you and say thank you

“We could not have afforded camp without you, the donor, making it possible,” Wendy
exclaimed. “You are having a tremendous impact on people’s lives.

You not only changed Elijah’s life, but you have transformed our family as well. And you are
helping many other families as well.

I wish I could hug every one of you and say thank you in person. We are deeply, deeply,

Brian, former camper, with his wife

Without Camp, I Would Have Gone to Jail

You helped Brian change the direction of his life.

When Brian came to camp 27 years ago, it totally changed the course of his life. 

Like a lot of boys, Brian was struggling at home. “I was having a rough time,” he explained. “I was acting out violently. My temper was out of control. I would do things just to get in trouble so that I could get away from home.” 

“I did not think about the consequences,” he continued. “Going to camp really helped, because it taught me to look deeper into things and communicate my feelings.”

I learned life skills I still use today.

“In the beginning, I found it hard to fit in the group,” Brian said. “When there was a problem, the whole group would stop what we were doing, and work on that problem. As a selfish boy, I found that aggravating. But as time moved on, it became standard operation to help out. It became easier.” 

“Today, I still use the problem solving skills I learned at camp,” he said. “It comes in really handy with my job. I can reason with people on a personal level and diffuse volatile situations.”  “I also use the meal planning and budgeting skills I learned at camp,” he explains. “I’m teaching it to my children to help them save money and function in society.”

Camp helped our whole family.

“Camp helped our whole family,” Brian remembers. “My mother learned how to communicate better with me and my sister. We would do things together as a family.” 

Today, Brian and his wife have six children. “My experience at camp has helped me through my life. It’s helped me to be a better husband to my wife and a better father to my children. I am passing down to them what I learned at camp.”  When asked what he would say to parents who are considering camp for their son, he responded, “Give it a chance. It’s awesome. It’s not just going to help your son; it will benefit your whole family.”

Thank you for changing everything.

“I probably would have ended up in jail, had I not gone to camp,” Brian concludes. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity. You’ve helped change my life and the future of my family.”

Education at camp

How Education Complements Camp

Your support provides a well-rounded experience for boys at camp.

When Tommy* first came to camp, Nathan Stephens, Education Coordinator, did not have high hopes for him.

“When I met with him the first time, I had a hard time realizing that there was any potential there,” Chief Nathan remembers. “Like many boys, his misbehavior and the traumas he had faced prevented him from being able to study and learn. As I invested into him over the next nineteen months, the results were amazing. He gained almost three years in his reading and a year in math. Good things were happening in his group, and he seemed to have an awakening. To see how far he had come was powerful for me.”

Nathan is employed by the Oconee School District and maintains an office at camp. For the past forty years, the District has partnered with Camp to assure that the boys are receiving a free and appropriate education. This partnership also allows the boys to be assessed through standardized testing to see how their performance compares to their peers.

“My goal for a boy when he comes to Camp is for him to improve at least two school years in his reading and writing plus one year in his math,” Chief Nathan explains. “When a boy arrives at camp, I assess and identify his weaknesses in reading, writing, or math. I target those areas where he needs help, assess again, modify the teaching if necessary, teach, and assess once more.”

Camp is different than the typical school because we focus first on behavioral change – then academics. It isn’t that academics is something that we hope to get around to, but that the academics are designed to complement behavioral instruction.

The Camp staff serve as the main teachers. Whether it’s planning menus, buying items at trading post, writing letters and articles, or designing and building a tent; reading, writing, and math are an integral part of Camp’s daily activities. “Serving at camp for the past fourteen years has given me the satisfaction of making a difference through relationships with the boys,” Chief Nathan concludes. “It’s very rewarding to watch boys like Tommy change and become excited about learning. Thanks to everyone who makes Camp possible through their financial support and prayers.”

* not his real name

Camp Gave Me the Tools I Need

Jack didn’t know how to fit in, process his feelings, or accept help

Before camp, Jack never felt like he fit in. He was often the oldest in any of the groups he was in, and he felt like he was treated differently.

And, he didn’t know how to deal with his feelings.

“I refused to talk about how I was feeling,” Jack remembered. “I would try to figure it out on my own. Then I would have an outburst about something that happened a few days earlier. There would be a lot of yelling, and sometimes I would get violent.”

“My parents didn’t know what to do with me,” he continued. “Although I knew I needed help, I wouldn’t allow anyone to help me.”

Things finally came to a head when he was arrested and ended up in the care of the Department of Juvenile Justice. His parents found out about Fair Play and decided to enroll him at camp.

Jack adjusts to life at camp

“On my first day at camp, I felt accepted,” Jack said. “I felt that these people really wanted to help me and would stay beside me. They treated me the same as everyone else. They treated me like my age didn’t matter. They made me feel normal.”

“It took me awhile to trust my group,” Jack said. “But about halfway through my stay, I shared with my group something that I had never talked about before. The staff and the group really helped me work through my problem.”

Jack learns to talk about problems and find solutions

Today Jack has a good relationship with his parents and has learned how to deal with his problems. “Camp taught me how to talk about my problems and have a plan to work through them,” Jack explains. “Even when I get upset and yell, it’s over quickly. Camp gave me the tools I need to get through life.”

“Camp was the best place I could have gone,” Jack concludes. “My family says so too. Camp accepted me for who I was. It’s amazing!”

Mom Had Nowhere to Turn

But you helped Mary and her three children be a family again!

Braeden and his family

I Felt Like a Failure

“I felt like a failure as a parent,” Mary explains. “I didn’t know how I was going to get my son to function in society. I didn’t have any friends whose children acted like this. I didn’t know where to turn. It was very lonely and exhausting.

“Our family was a mess. Braeden had a lot of behavior issues at home and school. He was on a lot of medications. He was punching holes in the walls and tearing up everything he could get his hands on. He was very defiant. There was a lot of yelling and screaming. It caused a lot of stress.

“Something had to change. One of his teachers suggested Fair Play Camp School and I gave them a call.”

They Understood What I was Going Through

“When the family worker came for the first visit, it was such a godsend,” Mary remembers. “It was an instant relief that there were people who cared for boys like Braeden. His behavior was nothing new to them and they were perfectly okay with it. They let me know that I was not alone.”

Today, He’s a Normal Teenage Boy

Today, life is very different for Mary and her three children. “He’s your typical 14-year-old teenager. I never thought I would be able to say that. He is off all of his medications.

“He loves to play and argue with his sisters. He is remorseful when he hurts someone’s feelings. He is constantly telling us how much he loves us. He’ll talk about anything. He had a summer job and was able to save up some money. He loves to work and learn.

“Before you could tell that something was missing inside. But now he is full of life, energy and positivity.”

Thanks to you, this family is enjoying life together today. “I can’t imagine not being able to have this opportunity,” Mary said. “Thank you for giving families like ours a chance to be made whole.”

Group therapy is an important component of helping kids diagnosed with RAD.

Teaching Life Skills through Outdoor Therapy

In our attempt to effect life change in a boy, there are four foundational skills that we build into the lives of a group. These four “cornerstones” are routines, plans, evaluation, and problem solving. If a boy makes these things a part of his life, his chances for success are dramatically increased. These skills are an essential part of Outdoor Therapy.

Teaching Life Skills through Outdoor Therapy – Creating Structure

young man sweeping a trail, learning personal responsibility

One of our first objectives in helping a boy is to bring order to his life. We do this through the simple things of learning to take care of ourselves. Clean clothes, making a bed, sweeping a tent, raking a trail, setting a good cooking fire, etc. As boys learn to bring order to the chaos of their outer lives, they are given confidence to begin looking at the chaos in their inner life. Outdoor Therapy helps them address the emotional and spiritual issues that keep them from being at peace with themselves and others.

Teaching Life Skills through Outdoor Therapy – Planning for Success

Fair Play Camp provides a safe environment where kids diagnosed with RAD can work on their issues.

Planning… with Purpose

Another big problem for almost all of the boys who come to Camp is impulsiveness. Decisions tend to be made with only the next five minutes in mind, regardless of the consequences of the next five years. We want to help a boy learn to think clearly about how decisions impact his life and the life of the group for good or ill. Once a week, the group sits down and plans out in detail what they will do the next week. With Outdoor Therapy, they have opportunity to plan fun and adventure, but also need to think about and plan for work and activities that need to be accomplished for their own welfare.

Teaching Life Skills through Outdoor Therapy – Solving Problems

boys circling up at camp to resolve problems

Constructive Problem Solving

One of the most important skills each and every one of us needs for the rest of our lives is problem solving. A group learns that living together requires the skill of problem solving in order to function. Anything that promotes a bad attitude or produces conflict is identified as a problem. When a problem comes up in a group, the whole group stops what they are doing, circles up, and talks about the situation until there is resolution, and everyone is in a good attitude. In this way, a boy learns to solve real life situations in the context of when it happened and with whom it happened. With Outdoor Therapy, problems are worked through in a constructive way like this, it actually builds relationship, rather than continuing the destructive cycles from unsolved problems.

Teaching Life Skills through Outdoor Therapy – Evaluation

Meaningful Evaluation

Evaluation is a big part in the process of helping a boy learn to put a word on what he is feeling. To be able to do this in a positive way, without “blowing up,” acting it out, or even just internalizing it, is so important to developing healthy relationship skills so the boy can function in life. Many times a day, a group will stop what they are doing and talk about what they have accomplished. “What was good?” “What can we do better?” These questions help give perspective to a group. At the end of every day, the group has a “pow-wow,” which is an opportunity for every boy to give expression to the activities of the day and the impact on his life personally and the group as a whole.

boys circling up at camp to resolve problems

Reactive Attachment Disorder and Camp

Many children adopted from foreign countries suffer from reactive attachment disorder (RAD). “RAD is a condition in which a child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregiver,” a mother explains. “It may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met.”

young man on balcony

Children with RAD thrive on chaos and upheaval. “Our family life was out of control,” one mother of a boy with RAD recalls. “We couldn’t take him out in public. The more we showed him affection, the more he would push us away. He was tearing our family apart!”

Radical Attachment Disorder (more commonly referred to as Reactive Attachment Disorder) is a disorder that is found in children or young adults who have not formed strong attachment with their primary caregiver or a young adult who had been neglected in their younger years by their primary caregiver. There are two primary types of reactive attachment disorder: inhibited and disinhibited. These two types are typically manifested with different types of behavior. Inhibited Radical Attachment Disorder is typically characterized by behaviors that are detached or unresponsive, while Dis-inhibited Radical Disorder is characterized by inappropriately familiar behavior with others.  This disorder is not yet as well researched as some, and there is not yet a generally accepted response and treatment regimen.

Teens who deal with Radical Attachment Disorder (RAD) face inability to form proper relationships with others either by not allowing relationships or by forming inappropriate relationships. If Radical Attachment Disorder is not treated the teen may develop social, behavioral, and psychological issues later in their life. It is important that these teens are encouraged to form appropriate relationships with those around them.

from Best Therapeutic Boarding Schools, “About Radical Attachment Disorder”
sober young man

“Camp provides a space for a boy to deal with his attachment difficulties,” explains Gary Barnhart, program director. “We have the time at camp for him to share when he is struggling. His chiefs and group will stop everything to focus on the present distress. As he begins to open up, the others speak into his life in a caring and understanding way. Over time, his brain will start to reframe relationships as he learns to express what he is feeling and begins to trust others.”

“Everything we do at camp, we do together,” Daniel Hochstetler, executive director, said. “The constant interaction with his chief and the other campers fosters trust. As they solve problems, they are able to get below the surface of his acting out to see what is really bothering him. As they care and help each other, the boy becomes part of the solution – not just a problem. He begins to believe that he can be different.”

Camp helps Brandon deal with a difficult childhood

When Brandon camp to camp in 2003, he was a violent and angry boy. Adopted as a one year old, he lived with his adoptive father and stepmother after his parents separated. At age 9, his father died suddenly. He then went to live with his adoptive mother.

Feelings of abandonment and rejection overwhelmed his young heart. He began to act out by fighting, cursing, skipping school and partying. He attempted to stab his step mother, set their house on fire and ran away numerous times. After being suspended from school, his mother was at her wits end.

A social worker informed them of Fair Play and they got in contact with a family worker. After visiting camp, he knew that was the place for him. He loved the outdoors and recognized that something had to change before ending up in jail.

At camp he learned how to express grief in a totally different manner rather than acting out. Together as a group, he with the other campers learned how to help each other express their feelings in a productive way. “The more I attempted to help others with their problems,” Brendon recalls, “the more I experience healing for myself. I learned to think about others more than myself. We suffered together as a group.”

One of the first things we learned at camp was the importance of solving problems. “We would circle up, and talk about the problem until it was solved. We learned to not run from our problems but to face them head-on. These problem solving skills helped to prepare us for our future.”

Chief Kevin remembers that Brandon arrived at camp soon after he started as chief. “As Brandon and I were both new at this camp thing, we bonded pretty quickly,” he recalls. “I remember many nights, when after the group was in bed, that we would talk. I would sit on his footlocker as he shared about the difficult things in his life.”

“Brandon allowed me and camp staff to walk his journey with him.” Kevin continues. “It was a joy to watch as he learned how to play guitar, solve problems, work together with his group and summit to authority. Obviously there were many difficult times, but he continued to grow into a man. He became a close friend with my wife Sheree and I and has stayed in touch over the years.”

“Camp is the first place I really felt accepted and loved,” Brandon remarks. “Every night the Chiefs would tuck us in and tell us they loved us – no matter how bad we had been that day. We were a rough group, but they stuck with us. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about camp. I still stay in regular contact with some of the other guys. Fair Play is located in a beautiful area but it’s the people that make camp – not the land!”

Camp helped Brandon to be a father to his son and step daughter. He is a skilled carpenter and construction worker. “Thank you for helping me to get my life on track!” Brandon concludes. “If it had not been for Fair Play, I would either be in jail or dead!”

Hawkins Family

Serving Adoptive Families at Camp

“We Thought Love Would Be Enough!”

These families who adopted from foreign countries were often unprepared for the effects of their son’s previous experiences. Many boys came from orphanages where they experienced neglect. This can cause negative behaviors later in life. Other boys experienced abandonment and loss from their biological families. They frequently struggle to build relationships and trust with their adoptive families. The result is sometimes disarray and turmoil in the family.

“We did so much for our son; why doesn’t he appreciate it?” is a question that many of these parents ask themselves.

For years they did everything possible for their son. But their options were running out. They had no place to turn. They didn’t know what to do next. They were desperate.


Evan had experienced a lot of severe neglect in a Ukrainian orphanage. “He was severely underweight when we got him,” his mother Christine remembers. “I thought that we would just love on him, and that would be all he needed.”

“Because he has no memory of that trauma and wasn’t verbal, he was not able to process it,” she goes on. “He was not able to talk about it in therapy. He can’t recall it, but it’s there.”

Things really got bad with Evan when puberty hit. He was bullying other kids and getting behind academically.

Once, after a violent incident, Christine told him that they knew he didn’t want to be this way. They were going to pray for an answer. He responded, “There’s nothing to pray about. God can’t fix me.” He had given up on himself.


Many children adopted from foreign countries suffer from reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Bradley was one of them. “RAD is a condition in which a child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregiver,” explained his mother Sharon. “It may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met.”

Children with RAD thrive on chaos and upheaval. “Our family life was out of control,” she recalls. “We couldn’t take him out in public. The more we showed him affection, the more he would push us away. He was tearing our family apart!”

 “Unless you live with a child with RAD, you have no idea what it’s like,” his father Scott relates. “Our closest friends and family members would comment on our supposed lack of parenting skills. We felt very alone!”


“In the orphanages, there aren’t enough caretakers for all the children,” Hudson’s mother Tamela explains. “So they don’t get a lot of one-on-one attention. They don’t get held and rocked. They do the best they can with the allocated resources.”

Like many children from these orphanages, Hudson had developmental delays in many areas. He responded well to much of the therapy, but there were still behavior issues. He was finally diagnosed with RAD. “That rocked our world,” Tamela remembers. “We knew that it was going to be a sustained effort for the rest of our lives.”

“As time passed, it continued to get worse,” she continues. “When he tried to hurt another child at basketball camp, we knew that we had to do something.”


Josh was not in an orphanage, but he suffered early loss when his mother and twin brother died soon after he was born. In that culture, having twins was a curse. Since Josh was alone, he would have been treated as an outcast. He was rescued by missionaries and eventually adopted by Rodney and Gina.

When Josh turned seven, the hurts and feelings started to surface. He would keep all his feelings inside and refuse to talk about them. Then something would happen and he would erupt in fits of rage. They were at loss with how to deal with his issues.

He would take out his anger on Gina—hitting and throwing things at her. But they could not get him to talk about what was bothering him. Then he started hitting and disrespecting other people.

No Place to Turn

Their situations felt hopeless. These families tried many therapies and various methods to get help. Nothing seemed to work. They didn’t know what else to do. “Our son had every test known to man done on him,” one father said. “We were told that there was nothing they could do for him.”

“One of the things about RAD is that the number of people you can rely on to help gets smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller,” another father said.

“Since he was adopted from another country, we had no help from the Department of Social Services,” a father explains. “We were on our own. We didn’t know where to turn.”

In their desperation, these families searched far and wide for a solution. They often learned about camp from other families, or a professional recommended it. Many families were surprised that camp felt they could help their son. “Our family worker said they could help us with our son,” one mother said, “but… I didn’t believe him.”

Change Begins

 “Camp provided the time and attention for our son that we couldn’t,” a father observes. “They could take the time to stop everything and deal with his issues. If he acted out, the whole group would circle up and deal with the problem at hand. You just can’t do that in a family environment. That’s the sort of thing that has brought change.”

“Camp provides a space for a boy to deal with his attachment difficulties,” explains Gary Barnhart, program director. “We have the time at camp for him to share when he is struggling. His chiefs and group will stop everything to focus on the present distress. As he begins to open up, the others speak into his life in a caring and understanding way. Over time, his brain will start to reframe relationships as he learns to express what he is feeling and begins to trust others.”

“Everything we do at camp, we do together,” Daniel Hochstetler, executive director, said. “The constant interaction with his chief and the other campers fosters trust. As they solve problems, they are able to get below the surface of his acting out to see what is really bothering him. As they care and help each other, the boy becomes part of the solution – not just a problem. He begins to believe that he can be different.”

Families often notice change within a few months at camp. For many boys, it’s learning to react to problems in a more productive manner. “On one home visit, Josh was having a bad attitude,” his father explained. “When asked what was going on, instead of getting angry like before, he admitted it and explained why and changed his attitude.”

“His first home visit was amazing,” another mother remarked. “He was different, especially with me. To have him look at me and say ‘yes ma’am’ – that was priceless. Six weeks at camp accomplished more than all the other things we have done throughout the years.”

“You always know that camp has your back,” comments Scott. “You always know that they are only looking out for the best for your child. You can be open and honest with the staff because you know they understand your situation. They made us feel safe.”

Life Goes On

 “The past few years have been a whole lot easier,” Warren explains. “It’s not been a cake walk, but we now have the tools to work through our problems. I don’t where he would be without camp. He was headed for some type of incarceration.”

“Camp helped his decision making,” Christine said. “He now has the wherewithal to make a good decision. Now it is up to him. When he makes a bad decision, he can process what he has done, where it can lead, and what he can do about it.”

Josh has been home a few months. He still has things to work through and it has not always been easy. “He still gets angry, but it’s what he does with it that has changed,” Rodney said. “When issues surface, he’s quick to say ‘That’s not right, lets change this.'”

“Camp takes something from unmanageable chaos to manageable chaos.” A father explains. “It’s still hard, but he doesn’t end up with the same outbursts. We thought we could bring these boys into our home and change them with a lot of love. But the hurts and scars were so deep that we realized that we needed help.”

“When a boy graduates and goes home, the family is given a renewed hope that things can be better,” Daniel said. “With all that they have been through, many families quit believing that they can be a healthy family. The camp experience renews their passion. It gives them the energy, courage and hope to move on. Camp doesn’t fix the boy. We help them understand what the problems are which gives them the confidence and tools to work through them.”

The Hawkins family visit with a family worker

Working with a RAD child after graduating

Prepared for Success

After graduating, Bradley has been a different person. He is doing well in school, making friends and even joined the Boy Scouts. But it hasn’t been perfect. As we were preparing to conduct the interview for this article, Scott almost canceled it due to some problems they were having with Bradley. The difference now is that they have the tools to work through problems.

Like at camp, the family has a pow-wow every evening where they discuss the day – what went well and what could have gone better. They also discuss what will be happening the next day. “Camp is still an accountability partner for Bradley,” Scott explains. “We ask, what would the chief say? How would your group respond to this behavior? We are constantly using the principles that we learned from camp to solve problems.”

For older brother Taylor, it’s like having a new brother. “Now when he makes a bad decision, he stops to think about it,” he observes. “We are able to have deep conversations as brothers about meaningful things. God definitely used Fair Play to change Bradley!”

“We are still on a journey. Every day we are committed to continued growth,” Scott comments. “Camp was a God-send. We have no idea where we would be without it. There is not a better place in the world where we could have sent Bradley for help! There is not a better support system for families.”