Portland pianist Michael Allen Harrison will perform at a concert to benefit the newly formed Camas Teen Reach Adventure Camp (TRAC), an outdoor camp for foster children between the ages 12 to 15.
Cindi Lund, the director of the faith-based camp, which has nonprofit status under the umbrella of the Camas-based Harvest Community Church, said Harrison’s name is a big draw.
“People at my church (said), ‘Oh my gosh, you got Michael Allen Harrison?'” Lund said, adding that one woman bought 10 tickets because she realized the camp’s $10 asking price was a great price and she would likely bring several friends.
“You’d probably pay $40 minimum to see him over at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall,” Lund said of Harrison, a renowned pianist and composer who founded his own nonprofit to help at-risk youth learn about music and instruments. “We’re asking $10. Some people are donating above and beyond that.”
Harrison will play from 7 to 9 p.m., Thursday, June 20, at the Northwest Gospel Church, 305 N.E. 192nd Ave., Vancouver. All proceeds benefit the Camas chapter of TRAC, a national organization. Tickets cost $10 each and are available online at ticketsource.us/trac-camas.
The Camas TRAC formed in 2018 and will host its first camps in August. The group recently received a $5,000 grant from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, a grant-giving group funded by individuals and businesses in Camas-Washougal that seeks to improve the lives of at-risk youth and families in Camas and Washougal.
In their application for the 2019 Community Chest grant, Camas TRAC organizers said the Camas-based group would provide two, three-day camps each summer — one for males and one for females — at an undisclosed Clark County location.
“Our goal is to serve 24 youth at each camp or a total of 48 youth each summer,” the TRAC staff stated in the grant application, adding that most children in the foster system are not able to attend summer camps due to the state’s requirements for background checks, security and camper confidentiality.
The grant application stated that TRAC “is designed specifically to meet the needs of teens in foster care.” Each camp counselor has no more than two campers they are supervising and the camp uses a low-rope challenge course “to provide opportunities for campers to build and experience trust and teamwork with other campers and with staff.”
Started by Tim and Serena Howell on their ranch in Sherwood, Oregon, in 1997, TRAC expanded nationally and now has 78 camps in 20 states.
Serena Howell said opening a TRAC in Southwest Washington has been a “longtime dream” for Lund, who has worked for TRAC in Sherwood and Hood River, Oregon, since 2003.
“Cindi has been hoping for this opportunity for a long time,” Serena Howell said. “There’s a huge need in (Southwest Washington), and she was able to get the ball rolling.”
Lund, of Camas, said she sometimes feels overwhelmed by her new job as director of the Camas TRAC but that her passion for the organization’s mission motivates her.
“It’s like trying to eat an elephant whole,” Lund said. “It’s a lot of work. (But) I totally get these kids, and I get why they need a place to go and learn new skills. It’s just really cool to watch them bloom when they get in a place where they really feel they’re being honored.”
Aside from the Community Chest grant, the Camas TRAC also has garnered support from several Camas-Washougal area businesses, including Camas Grocery Outlet, Safeway, Costco and QFC, which all donated store credit to the organization’s benefit dinner in November 2018, allowing more funds to go directly to the organization.
“We’ve received support from several local churches as well,” Lund said. “Fundraising is hard, but we have been blessed.”
According to the group’s grant application, the budget for the Camas TRAC in fiscal year 2019 is $36,171. At the time of that application — in March 2018 — the group had nearly $25,000 in cash raised from direct donations, church sponsorships, grants and fundraisers.
A minimum of 20 percent of campers will be from the Camas-Washougal area according to the group’s grant application.
The group had extra start-up costs this year, but told the Community Chest that operating expenses for the two summer camps and ongoing mentorship program is expected to be around $20,000 annually.
Although there will be a mental health professional available at the camps, Lund said TRAC is not “a therapy camp.”
“We’re not qualified to be therapists. We don’t expect to ‘fix’ any kid in three days. That’s not possible,” Lund said. “What’s important is that we care about them, and we think they’re awesome.”
In the Community Chest application, TRAC staff wrote that children in foster care “are more likely … to exhibit high levels of behavioral and emotional problems (that) can affect them into adulthood … primarily caused by experiences such as neglect and abuse that the children faced before entering the foster care system.”
TRAC organizers hope their summer camps and ongoing mentorship program can give teens a new way of looking at the world.
“Their self-esteem is so broken because it’s natural for kids to believe that if something bad happens, it’s somehow their fault. It’s not. They take that on,” Lund said. “My co-director likes to say that we’re a ‘yes’ camp. As much as possible we have few rules. We want to be safe, we want to be fun, we want to say ‘yes’ (and) just feed into the positive things. We try to speak to them in different ways.”
Lund remembers when a camper accidentally hit his counselor on the head with a football during a TRAC summer camp. The youth took off running, believing he would be punished. TRAC staff caught up with the boy and assured him the event was an accident and he was not going to get into trouble.
“That young man learned that it was not OK that he was hit before, that he didn’t deserve it and that adults weren’t all out to harm him,” Lund said. “A huge difference we can make is when we can respond differently than the kids are wired to expect.”
Editor Kelly Moyer contributed to this article.