Near Price Hill, Cincinnati there is a neighborhood with only one road in and one road out. It is home to over 700 families and has an average annual income of less than $15,000. The Villages of Roll Hill is one of the ten most impoverished neighborhoods in the nation, but within the privately owned property are parents who want more for their children and kids whose dreams can’t be diminished by the disparity around them.
Lisa Hyde Miller has served Roll Hill for over 30 years. She sees the children and their families and she sees opportunities, not what could be lacking. Lisa has long provided meals, GED classes for parents, and multiple opportunities for families to connect; she has desired to do something specifically for the children, but needed assistance in planning and carrying it out. She reached out to Chris Cox, Back2Back Cincy Director. “I just want them to know they can have a fabulous life,” Lisa shared with Chris. “Can you help me?”
“We were all in from the beginning,” shared Chris. “The staff team decided to do a Play with a Purpose camp for two weeks for the community. The kids walked from their apartments and each day they were provided breakfast, lunch, and various stations that addressed the Five Point Child Development plan by engaging their spiritual, physical, educational, emotional, and social needs. 25 children showed up between the ages of six to 14 and nearly all of them showed up consistently each day. There were many wins through the two weeks, and one young boy in particular left a lasting mark on the staff team.
Ethan* is a nine-year old boy with auditory sensitivity, but arrived ready to belong and take part in community. Back2Back staff are trained in Trauma Competent Care, which helps safe adults address overstimulation and dysregulation for children from hard places. Once they saw Ethan’s sensitivity in large groups and a lot of noise, they gathered headphones and fidgets to help him self-regulate when things become too much to manage alone.
He had to miss one day of camp due to a prior commitment and when he returned, he immediately found Chris (who he called Carl the entire camp). “Did you miss me yesterday?” he asked eagerly. “Of course I missed you. Did you miss me?” Chris responded.
“I kind of missed you,” Ethan replied quickly.
The more time Chris and his team spent with Ethan, the more they realized he, along with a few others, had significant disparity in reading comprehension and writing. When staff asked him to write his name, the letters weren’t always the correct way, and he often needed words spelled out for him letter by letter. Staff were happy to oblige, excited to help him grow while he was with them. Two of the stations at camp were a reading group and a connection group. The connection group work focused on helping children identify the many emotions they experience and how to voice them in a healthy manner. After a full week in both stations, Ethan was writing complete sentences and could voice what he needed when overstimulated.
“It was two weeks of connection, relationship building, and watching children who aren’t always given the best opportunities to thrive when presented with them,” shared Chris. “The kids from Roll Hill were invited to other summer programming, but a lack of transportation access hindered their attendance, and we knew we had to step up for them and provide a safe place where they could enjoy the summer and grow in their community.”
Week two brought about new challenges for Ethan. He wanted to participate in the basketball games happening throughout the day, but voiced fear of not belonging. The day was structured in such a way that Ethan was in connection group first, then received one-on-one connection with a safe adult. The confidence he gleaned from those stations helped him go all in on the basketball court. “He became elated everyday to show off his skills and realized bouncing the ball and repetition of the game brought him a lot of joy,” shared Chris.
Ethan’s rhythm remained strong and consistent throughout the camp, but on the second to last day, he was in a group with a young man he hadn’t connected with, which led to dysregulation. Using the tools he’d been given days prior, Ethan walked out to the hallway, articulating his anger and frustration at the disruption he was experiencing. A volunteer stepped in, asking him to sit with her and draw, and Ethan accepted, knowing he could trust her. After a few moments, he gathered his headphones and returned to the large group, reading to make celebration masks with his peers.
After going outside for basketball, he came in upset and dysregulated. “My mask broke,” he shared with the staff. Immediately, four staff members were at his side, two calming him down and two gathering materials to fix his mask. The mask was fixed, Ethan was once again regulated, and then his mom arrived to pick him up for the day.
As he slid the mask on to show his mom, staff overhead him say, “Today was the best day ever! I can’t wait to tell you about it on the way home!”
Ethan did not experience two weeks of nothing but fun and ease. There were plenty of hard moments for him and the other campers, but what they did receive made all the difference – presence. There was dysregulation and minor hurdles, and not one of them was faced alone.