Keeping kids in mind

Photo courtesy of Scott Amick

Scott Amick, an Odyssey Youth program leader and motivational speaker, addresses 300 high-schoolers post-Camp Fire about resilience during a conference at Richardson Springs.

In the months following the Camp Fire, Scott Amick found himself bonding with teens attending Paradise Intermediate School.

Amick is the youth programs director and a motivational speaker for Chico-based company Odyssey Teams Inc., which hosts team-building programs worldwide. He volunteered his time and expertise to help the school’s displaced students, along with others across the county. While visiting Paradise Intermediate’s makeshift campus in Chico’s former Orchard Supply Hardware store, two boys shared with Amick that the fire had taught them something: to be kind to their friends and not take them for granted. So many of their classmates had to move immediately, and never returned to their school.

Amick could relate to the students’ stories: He lost everything in the fire, too, fleeing the morning of Nov. 8 from his home in Magalia with his wife and infant daughter. It reinforced how precious life is, he said, and how much his family means to him. The more time he spent with the school, he told the CN&R, the more he was blown away by the students’ resilience, and the way they responded to positive coping mechanisms.

“They’d pump me up and I’d pump them up,” he said.

Amick and his organization are part of a greater network of local professionals and educators working to address the reverberations of the fire and provide support to traumatized youth. Last school year, Amick continued volunteering across the county. He shared his story and listened to students tell theirs, providing them with tools for self-care and inviting them to connect with one another.

“What I tell them is, ‘Your fire is coming. Maybe some of you are facing your fire right now,’” he said. “‘Be prepared. Journal. Find that place in you where [there] lives courage, kindness.’”

Then, earlier this summer, Odyssey, the Paradise Recreation and Park District, and Outdoor Education for All (a volunteer network of outdoor-education advocates) partnered for a youth summit at Terry Ashe Recreation Center, Amick said, to get a pulse on the community’s needs and to connect children and their families to resources.

That’s how Amick was inspired to develop Camp Courage. The three-day program for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders is designed to be a positive, fun, active experience to help youth reconnect and feel empowered to take on the next school year (see infobox page 15).

The camp will include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities using slime, drones and the video game Fortnite, art and music opportunities, kayaking at the Forebay Aquatic Center and a ropes course at Richardson Springs.

These activities and team-building exercises will encourage the campers to reflect on themselves, set goals and think about what they are grateful for in their lives, Amick said. His aim is to help campers understand that, even though they will continue to face challenges, they have the strength to face them and there are tools they can use to cope: “You’re not alone. We’re in this together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Paradise Unified School District teachers and staff are prepping for their students’ return to the Ridge this fall. Dena Kapsalis, director of the district’s Student Services Department, said there will be counselors at each school site, thanks to a $1.6 million grant-funded partnership with the Butte County Office of Education (see “Stressing support in schools,” Healthlines, July 4).

In addition, the district is creating a framework to guide academic, behavioral and emotional interventions and support for its seventh- through 12th-graders, funded by Project Cal-Well, which is focused on promoting the mental health of California schoolchildren.

At Paradise Ridge Elementary, the school created to house the students who attended campuses damaged by the Camp Fire (Paradise and Ponderosa elementary schools), Principal Ed Gregorio is thrilled to implement programming from Mindful Littles, a nonprofit based in Orinda.

After the fire, Mindful Littles worked with Orinda schoolchildren to create and deliver peace kits to Ponderosa Elementary students that included gratitude journals, deep breathing exercises and stress balls. Weeks later, many told Gregorio that they were still using the kits when feeling stressed or anxious. That’s why he wanted to expand the partnership, he told the CN&R, and provide students with more tools “to tap into their inner resilience” and cope with “whatever stress or uneasiness that they might be feeling that day.”

Next school year, Paradise Ridge Elementary students will receive weekly yoga, meditation and deep breathing instruction and participate in social-emotional learning exercises to strengthen their self-image, outlook and compassion. These programs also will be provided to teachers and staff, who will receive coaching to continue implementation. The program could be extended two more years, depending on funding.

In addition, the kids’ new campus (at Paradise Intermediate) will have a fresh coat of paint, new furniture and a new playground. The school also plans to launch an adopt-a-business program and reach out to local establishments with projects or letters of encouragement.

“I think the schools will be able to provide some positive energy to our community, and I want to help the students get reattached to the community of Paradise,” Gregorio said. “Our expectation is that through this whole experience we are going to be better individuals because of it. All of us will realize how truly strong we are, and that by working together there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”