WILLIAMSBURG, KY – Three officials from a southwestern Indiana community are participating on staff this week at Operation UNITE’s Camp UNITE to get a feel for how things operate – just in time for their inaugural camp program in Evansville next week.“We tried to model (our camp) off of what you’ve done down here,” said Kyle Phernetton, director of public relations at the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office, which is sponsoring that camp along with the Evansville Police Department and Vanderburgh Sheriff’s Office. “We’ve been working on the planning for about a year.”
Camp UNITE is a free 4-day, 3-night leadership/adventure program for youth entering grades 7-9 during the upcoming school year. More than 200 youth are attending this year’s seventh annual event at the University of Cumberlands, which began July 23.
Approximately 30 middle school-aged youth are expected for the Indiana program, also a free week-long residential camp to be held on campus at the University of Southern Indiana July 29 to August 1. Law enforcement officers and officials from the prosecutor’s office will serve as staff.
“Most of the kids are ones we’ve placed in foster care because of meth labs,” noted Detective Brock Hensley, with the Evansville Police Department’s Meth Suppression Unit. “One of our goals is to let them see police in a different light instead of just taking mom and dad off to jail.”
“It gives us an opportunity to show the kids they can succeed in life and see that they can get out of whatever situation they’re in,” added Lt. Tim Everley, director of the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Drug Task Force. “We want to teach them leadership skills that they can use instead of just being followers.”
“We are using the University of Southern Indiana to get them on a college campus to show them what it’s like and to encourage them to continue with their education,” Everley added. “Our long-term goal is to expand. We’re using next week’s camp to get our feet wet.”
The Evansville group became fascinated with the concept of Camp UNITE about three years ago when UNITE President Dan Smoot spoke at a national methamphetamine conference in Texas.
“Basically I mentioned the impact law enforcement officers could have with the youth using unconventional ways, such as our Camp UNITE,” said Smoot, who at the time was UNITE’s law enforcement director. “The next two years we e-mailed back and forth and I went up and met with some community leaders there in Evansville.”
“As the drug epidemic worsens nationally, we have to look at new ways to impact the next generation,” Smoot continued. “Camp UNITE is a prime example of that. We not only ensure the kids enjoy themselves through various activities, but we constantly bring them drug-free messages and expose them to positive role-models through our youth counselors and adult volunteers.”
Camp activities are designed to develop leadership and communication skills, promote teamwork and problem solving, instill confidence and trust, and let youth know they do not have to face difficult situations on their own. Activities during the week include competitive events, swimming, outrageous games, motivational speakers, a visit a local water park, and more.
“The amount of organization that has to take place is incredible,” noted Everley. “It’s kind of like the first day of school.”
For more information about assisting with the Evansville program contact Kyle Phernetton at 812-435-5688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.