CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A high school student who first attended the Regional Teen Institute in Jackson County when she was in the seventh grade said the experience saved her life.
"I had a really hard time with my peers. I was different from them, and so they ridiculed me, made fun of me and were generally rude and shunned me. I felt like I had no place to belong, and I even thought about suicide," she said. "Coming to TI, I felt like I actually belonged somewhere."
The summer camp, held at Camp Rippling Waters each June, is sponsored by the Adolescent Health Initiative at United Way of Central West Virginia and focuses on alcohol and drug prevention as well as violence, bullying and other critical issues teens often face.
The Regional Teen Institute is one of the camps supported by the Gazette Charities Send-A-Child-To-Camp Fund. The camp hosts workshops for sixth- through eighth-graders from Kanawha, Boone, Clay and Putnam counties that cover a variety of health-related topics to help them "thrive as they creatively pursue their dreams."
Those issues include everything from teen pregnancy prevention and healthy dating relationships to eating disorders.
"TI is a place of respect, fun and learning. TI means a place I can be myself and, in a way, fit in," the camper said.
The camp also teams up with organizations such as West Virginia Students Against Destructive Decisions, RAZE and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Another camper said, "It was very fun to meet some great people. I can't wait to come back next year. I think TI is a place where you learn about stuff you haven't learned before and meet new friends."
The cost of the camp is $200 per child. The camp is looking to award 12 scholarships at a total cost of $2,400.
The camp is held June 11-14 at Camp Rippling Waters, a Church of God campground, located about 20 miles outside Charleston near Sissonville.
For more information about the camp, visit www.youthmakeadifference.com or call 304-340-3622.
To help a child attend this camp or others like it, mail your donation to the Gazette Charities Send-A-Child-To-Camp Fund, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, WV 25301. To donate online, go to www.wvgazette.com and look for the camp fund logo.
Every penny donated goes to camp scholarships. The Charleston Gazette covers all administrative costs.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.