Safe Girls, Strong Girls: The Camp Cadi Story
Updated: Jul 9
Mary is one of my oldest and best friends.
I would consider our childhood to have been decently “storybook.”
We are from a small town where we felt safe being children. We played sports, went to prom, had coffee dates, birthday parties, took road trips, and never thought much about any sort of evil that could exist in the world.
I would describe our upbringing as one where our parents encouraged us as girls and taught us that our strength and our voices are important and powerful.
Now, this is not a story about how all of that changed one day when a terrible tragedy struck our lives. That would be predicable. This is the opposite. Because some terrible tragedy did not happen to either of us, is why I am sharing the story of Mary and Camp Cadi with you.
Did you know?: April is both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Mary Newman works as the Assistant Director at Camp Cadi, a summer camp near Atlanta, Georgia for girls traumatized by childhood sexual abuse. She began volunteering as a camp counselor in 2007, while attending art school in New York City. She had an interest in art therapy and her roommate told her about the camp her mother had just started, Camp Cadi.
“It was around ten o’clock at night on my first night at Camp, and I was reeling with emotion from the day. We had spent the day in a storytelling workshop, in which each girl wrote and read aloud her story about the horrific abuses she had experienced” Mary recalls.
“I witnessed the different ways in which sexual abuse had affected each girl. Some expressed rage by acting overtly sexual, while others were so withdrawn that they didn’t speak at all. Yet, during the workshop, I watched as this group of young women overcame their fears and began to trust others. This was an experience that changed my life forever and pushed me to work hard to help as many girls affected by this issue as possible. “
Amy Barth is Camp Cadi’s founder and director. She began Camp Cadi in 2005 after processing her own sexual abuse in her mid 40’s. After struggling with myriad symptoms well into her adult life she was inspired to start a camp that helped girls process their trauma as early as possible. As a survivor/thriver, and the mother of four daughters, Amy is committed to keeping girls safe, preventing CSA, and providing a safe place for girls who have been traumatized to heal.
Here are the Facts:
· In America, 1 in 3 girls is sexually abused before her 18th birthday, which can lead to life threatening physical and mental health effects.
· 90% of victims will know their abuser, and 20% will be abused before the age of 8 years old.
· There are over 40 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse living in the United States but it’s hard to even determine an accurate number because so much abuse goes unreported.
· 45% of pregnant teens report a history of child sexual abuse and children who are sexually abused are at greater risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or suicide attempts.
Though this story begins with darkness it is not about darkness. Quite the opposite. It is about all of the strong women who work to bring back the light. All of the staff at Camp Cadi are 100% volunteer and they work tirelessly to help the campers regain their childhoods. This is a story of beauty and hope!
The Camp Cadi Mission: Safe Girls, Strong Girls Survivors of sexual abuse often look to unhealthy ways of coping with their abuse at first, which is why it is so important to start healing from their trauma as early as possible.
Girls that are traumatized by sexual abuse often blame themselves for the abuse, but at Camp CADI they realize that they are not alone. Surrounded by other girls who have experienced similar abuse gives each camper a sense of community that they have never felt before.
Regaining Childhood Experiences:
The girls participate in traditional camp activities like: Horseback riding Arts & Crafts Team sports Hiking Annual Talent Show Dancing Swimming Canoeing Team building activities Outdoor group games (capture the flag, Frisbee, tag games, etc.)
Art Therapy | Expressive Arts
At Camp CADI the girls learn expressive skills through different artistic, creative ways. Each year there are several registered art and music therapists there to help each camper find the best way to express herself. In addition to traditional art therapy we have also included:
· Play Therapy
· Circus Arts
· Acting/singing workshops
· Improve workshops
· Puppet therapy
· Adventure therapy
Each year 20-35 girls are brought to camp, and the goal is to scale to 50 girls each summer. This is a grassroots movement.
It costs $1,200-1,500 per camper for one week of camp. This includes an average sum of everything we provide: transportation to camp, lodging, meals, therapy sessions, camp facilities, evening activity programming.
Camp also provides clothing items, sleeping bags, pillows, toiletries, swimsuits and medical supplies for any camper that needs them. In some cases campers attend from homeless shelters and foster homes.
Prior to working at Camp Cadi Mary says, “I didn’t know anything about childhood sexual abuse and I was stunned by the intense physical and mental impact it had on all of the campers.”
I am so proud of Mary.
Her passion for the “Safe Girls, Strong Girls” mission has been unwavering for over ten years.
I constantly tell her that I want to do my part to help. So if you’re still with me and still reading I thank you. You know that I truly believe that knowledge is power, which is the cornerstone of my blog. It is my mission to create awareness because when we know better we can do better.
Now, we all know about Camp Cadi.
Now, I have given to you what Mary gave to me years ago: A way to use my own childhood experiences in a meaningful way to give back. A way to provide the birthday parties, the dancing, and singing that for us were normal and show the girls who were victims that this can be their “normal” too.
It is an effort to reclaim childhood. To be the light for these girls and show them that this is how it is suppose to be.
What can you do?
If you would like to learn more and help give back childhood to the campers this summer please visit the Camp Cadi website.
Note: Photography by Mary Newman.