Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer camp haven for HIV+ teens

Overnight summer camps are a rite of passage. They give teens a chance to be away from their family for more than a one-night sleepover. They get to experience things such as canoeing, hiking and making s'mores.

Teens living with HIV disease rarely experience residential summer camp, but the Safe Haven Project is changing that for Charlotte area youth. The camp is Aug. 9-16 at Lutheridge Camp Grounds & Conference Center in Arden. In its second year, the camp has doubled with 40 teens, most of who are from here.

Teenagers have incredible challenges and ones with living with HIV have an even harder time, said Jermaine Nakia Lee, N.C. camp director.

These teens can’t say their stomach hurts because of medication. Their teachers and classmates don’t understand why they have to keep leaving to use the bathroom or why they have visible rashes.

"This camp gives them solace," he said.

Safe Haven started in Martha’s Vineyard, and opened an N.C. location last year. It’s for teens, ages 13- 18, who are infected or whose parents are infected with HIV.

At the camp, teens do the typical stuff. Lee has a background in performing arts, and he incorporates that into the activities at the N.C. location. Campers will participate in a talent show, and they will participate in a body image project. They will have a professional photo shoot with a photographer and stylist so they can see their beauty, Lee said.