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Bullying Prevention Is a Community Effort at Camp Mariposa

OCTOBER 16, 2020
BY: JEANETTE ALTMAN AND BRIAN MAUS, CAMP MARIPOSA SARASOTA

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but at Camp Mariposa, every month is bullying prevention month. Camp Mariposa is a national addiction prevention and mentoring program that serves youth ages 9–17 who are affected by a family member’s substance use disorder. Camp Mariposa is funded and coordinated by Eluna, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to support children and families impacted by addiction. Camp Mariposa uses a group and peer mentoring model in which youth and trained adult mentors make a one-year commitment to the program. Many youth who attend Camp Mariposa have experienced bullying and significant trauma—including abuse, neglect, and the addiction-related loss of loved ones due to incarceration and/or death. The mentors and staff at Camp Mariposa create a safe and supportive community where kids can be kids and escape the challenges of their daily lives.

Eluna partners with youth-serving organizations and mental health agencies in 15 locations across the U.S. to establish Camp Mariposa in their local communities. One such organization, JFCS of the Suncoast, has been part of the Camp Mariposa network for nine years, serving youth and families in Sarasota, Florida, and surrounding communities. All of the programming at Camp Mariposa Sarasota focuses on creating a consistent, inclusive, and safe environment in which youth are free to be themselves: quirky, vulnerable, brave, creative, energetic, and hopeful. Bullying of any kind is not tolerated and is addressed immediately during camp weekends. One of the ways this safe and inclusive environment is created is through the continual reinforcement of the SAFETY FIRST rule—if actions or words are not emotionally or physically safe for oneself or someone else in the program, youth are encouraged to seek another approach to getting their need or want met safely. Campers learn to trust themselves to come up with positive alternatives or seek assistance by leaning on the wisdom of mentors or trusted peers. Jackie, a mentor at Camp Mariposa Sarasota, recently shared, “Our campers never cease to amaze in their creativity and reasonable solutions that bring a win-win for everyone.”

Many campers have attended the program for several years and are invested in creating a safe family environment away from home. However, accepting Camp Mariposa as a welcoming and safe space can be overwhelming for new campers, who will often test its limits and authenticity. In these moments, seasoned campers step up and become protective of their fellow campers and community. They are quick to help newcomers understand that bullying is unacceptable, and offer alternative actions and words that are acceptable. The beauty of Camp Mariposa is that it does not take long for a new camper to adjust and become a loved and accepted “family member.” Davis, an 11ear-old camper who has attended the program for a couple of years, recently shared that the camp “…felt like home and that I had a family.  I’ve learned new things and also I never give up. I get inspired by the other campers here.” 

Mentors are a key factor in creating a SAFETY FIRST environment at Camp Mariposa Sarasota. They are trained in trauma-informed approaches and are great role models for the campers. Mentors are also strongly encouraged to spot acts of kindness, empathy, helpfulness, and collaboration by campers. These acts are enthusiastically celebrated with prizes, cheers, and public acknowledgment. One mentor recently shared, “The smiling little faces beaming with pride let us know we are doing something correct.”   

Keeping Camp Mariposa safe for all is a group effort. Everyone works together to make sure that Camp Mariposa is an inclusive community where all individuals are welcomed and valued, from the youngest campers to the most seasoned mentors.

  • For more information about Camp Mariposa and Eluna’s other programs, visit elunanetwork.org.
  • For more information about Camp Mariposa Sarasota and JFCS of the Suncoast, visit https://jfcs-cares.org.

Learn more about best practices for mentoring programs by visiting the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Mentoring Resource Center at https://nationalmentoringresourcecenter.org


Jeanette Altman is the Program Director at Camp Mariposa Sarasota. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from the University of South Florida and has a combined 20 years of experience in social services, public speaking and hospitality management. Jeanette is passionate about empowering and inspiring youth, caregivers and volunteers in her community. Brian Maus is the Director of Addiction Prevention & Mentoring Programs at Eluna and is responsible for overseeing the national Camp Mariposa program. He is a Licensed Couple and Family Therapist and holds a Master of Arts degree from LaSalle University. Brian has over 30 years of experience working with children, teens, and families from diverse backgrounds and has developed programs that have been recognized on the local, state and national levels.

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