Members of the Whitley County UNITE Coalition got an update on Camp UNITE and were introduced to their new coalition coordinator during their monthly meeting Monday afternoon.
About 207 youth from 32 counties poured into Williamsburg July 26 – July 30 for the 10th Annual Camp UNITE, which was held at the University of the Cumberlands. This includes about a dozen campers from Whitley County.
“Camp UNITE was a huge success this year,” said outgoing coalition coordinator Carl Varney. “It is a huge undertaking but it is by far the best thing we do at UNITE in my opinion.”
Camp UNITE is for students entering the seventh, eighth or ninth grades in school, and provides a positive, drug free environment for many less fortunate children, some of whom deal with drug usage in their own homes.
Dawn Lang, who will be the new coalition coordinator for Whitley County, noted that when some of the children were asked about their favorite thing about the camp, their answer was having three meals a day to eat.
A documentary film crew with KET was at the camp this year shooting footage for a special they are preparing on the opioid crisis, Varney added.
The camp is free to attend. Lang said that estimates indicate it costs Operation UNITE about $275 per child for the week.
Coalition coordinators work for Operation UNITE and serve as a bridge between the parent organization and local UNITE coalitions, such as the one in Whitley County.
This year there were about 80 volunteers for Camp UNITE, which was down from about 148 volunteers last year.
Camp counselors include high school juniors and seniors and college students.
Lang noted that many of the counselors are former campers themselves.
Varney added that he knows of some counselors, who changed their majors to social work after spending a week with the kids because they saw the importance of helping children.
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) in Charleston, West Virginia, is considering starting a similar camp there, Varney said.
In addition, Varney informed the club Monday that Operation UNITE’s Board of Directors had approved their actions plans for spending $4,000 on local projects.
The funding includes purchasing $1,600 in materials for the Whitley County Detention Center’s re-entry program, $400 for advertising, and $1,000 each for Oak Grove and Whitley Central Intermediate School’s Archery in the Schools program.
Varney noted that archery is now the largest youth program in schools.
During Monday’s meeting, Whitley County Health Department Public Health Director Martha Steele gave the coalition an update on the proposed needle exchange program that the health department is hoping to start.
Steele noted that the Whitley County Fiscal Court and the Corbin City Commission have already signed off on the exchange and the subject is already on the agenda for next month’s Williamsburg City Council meeting.
Local government entities have to sign off on local needle exchange programs before the exchanges can be started.
“Hopefully you will see that in the next few months,” Steele added.