By Roger Houghkirk, Director of Camp Bright Feathers

The Quick History of CBF

In the 80’s the world started to deal with a life changing and life destroying disease called HIV/AIDS that would affect millions of lives and families. It made people scared, intolerant, and the fear of the unknown created by myths and misinformation increased the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Even as we learned more about this disease as time went by, there became a need to support children who were infected and affected by HIV. In the winter of 1992, the YMCA Camp Ockanickon Board of Directors (now known as YMCA of the Pines), took that brave step and envisioned starting a camp for children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. This was during a time when people didn’t understand HIV and were extremely fearful. However, this didn’t stop the board from approaching HIV organizations and seeking help in starting a camp. The first camp was held in August 1992. Approximately 60 campers from the Philadelphia and South Jersey area boarded buses to come to Camp Matollionequay (now held at Camp Ockanickon) for Camp Bright Feathers. It proved to be such a success that Camp Bright Feathers has become an annual experience since 1992.

Smiles, Memories, and Relationships

Camp Bright Feathers has become the place where kids can forget their troubles from home – and for a week, just enjoy being a kid. Camp has served thousands of children over the last 27 years. It is pure joy to see all of the campers every year as they roll up in their cars or buses, observe the experiences they share, and then witness the tears of joy as they wave good-bye (knowing that they had a great experience).

The excitement, the smiles, the energy that the campers bring is infectious. They realize that they are at their home-away-from-home: They are at Camp Bright Feathers. What makes camp great?  First off, they are allowed to be kids. They get a chance to try many old and new things at camp that they may not have the ability to do back in their community. The challenges allow them to grow as people. They learn about our core values of camp – honesty, respect, caring, responsibility, inclusion and courage; values that help them grow into positive people and help them share the values back in their community. Every day they get to interact with positive role models at camp who help shape them as people.

During the week, many memories are created. It might take place during a village activity, a dinner theme night, the BIG Talent show or the all-camp dance. One of the highlights is the big pizza night. Sometimes the best memories are created when campers are just hanging out in the village or by a campfire enjoying s’mores and singing some crazy, funny camp song.

One of the best things that we do at camp is help foster relationships during the week.  Over the years we witnessed campers become lifelong friends. It is quite an awesome feeling when you see these relationships reconnect at camp every year. These relationships have helped the campers outside of camp when they have suffered through some unfortunate issues, including sickness or death of one of their camp friends.

The Future is so Bright

One of the best things is that over the last several years, fewer children are being born with HIV so the number of infected campers that come to camp has been reduced. We now serve a larger portion of affected campers (meaning somebody in their household has HIV/AIDS) than infected campers. Camp Bright Feathers has always been dedicated to serving children and teens affected by HIV/AIDS, but now we also serve children and teens who have been affected by community violence. We hope to continue to provide a free week-long overnight experience for those that meet our mission. The ability to provide life-changing and positive experiences to help make a child’s life better is always our top priority. There are many ways a person can help us achieve our mission and we hope that you can help make the future better for our future generations of campers.

“Thank you for the memories we are about to make with our friends.”

Camp Bright Feathers is dedicated to serving children and teens affected by HIV/AIDS and/or violence through a nurturing overnight camp program that focuses on improving the health, well-being and self-sufficiency of all.