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News / Health / Clark County Health

Lifeline Connections’ Camp Mariposa helps children affected by substance use

Program of Vancouver behavioral health organization offers kids education, fun

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 19, 2024, 6:07am

The butterfly symbolizes transformation and embarking on a new phase of life.

And that’s exactly what Lifeline Connections’ children’s camp aims to do. Camp Mariposa, named for the Spanish word for butterfly, is a year-round camp for kids. It offers separate programs for kids 9 to 12 and those 13 to 17.

Lifeline Connections is a behavioral health organization that provides care and resources to people who experience substance use or mental health conditions. It offers the camp for children affected by a family member’s substance use. The program focuses on prevention and mentorship.

The camp is free of charge and runs Friday to Sunday. The youth camp is overnight, and the teen camp is a day camp. Campers must commit to a year of weekend programming. The camp is the Southwest Washington chapter of a larger Camp Mariposa program developed by the national nonprofit Eluna Network.

Between 2015 and 2019, more than 2 million children in the United States lived with a parent with an addiction, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Addiction in the family greatly impacts child development.

To Learn More

To learn more about Camp Mariposa, visit lifelineconnections.org/services/camp-mariposa or contact Megan Elvrum at melvrum@lifelineconnections.org or 360-946-7764.

The camp takes place May 3-5, July 29-31, Sept. 27-29 and Nov. 15-17.

Camp Mariposa aims to interrupt generational cycles by teaching campers healthy coping skills. The program has seen great success in steering children away from substances.

About 95 percent of Southwest Washington campers do not use substances, according to staff.

“Knowing the impact that substance use has on entire families — not just the individual that’s experiencing it, but the entire family — we want to bring on more support for children and create a healthier environment overall,” said Megan Elvrum, Camp Mariposa’s Southwest Washington program director.

Fun but educational

Campers participate in such activities as sports and art therapy while also learning about peer pressure, grief, self-esteem and trust.

“It’s also teaching them that they aren’t the reason addiction is taking place, letting go of that shame and guilt that they may experience too,” said Brandy Branch, Lifeline Connections’ vice president of outpatient and community-based services.

Campers are encouraged to explore their feelings by writing a letter to “addiction” and burning it afterward.

“This activity is probably the most emotional but the most rewarding,” Elvrum said.

But despite the heavy topic, staff said the camp aims to be fun.

“We just let them be kids because sometimes they don’t get the opportunity to be kids at home,” Elvrum said, adding they might be raising their siblings or focused on school. “This is their free time to just have fun.”

Any child 9 and older who is impacted by substance use disorder in some way is welcome at the camp, although campers and their families must be interviewed to ensure the camp is the right fit for the program.

Staff members said they try to break down barriers to accessing the camp, and often provide transportation to the camp and gas cards.

Teenagers in the camp can continue their involvement in Camp Mariposa as junior counselors.

Branch said the camp has many ongoing community supporters, but the program is still underfunded. Staff are always searching for grants and other financial opportunities.

“I feel like Camp Mariposa is making significant momentum in breaking the generational cycle of addiction,” Elvrum said.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.