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Summer camp aims to give tools to military children living with a parent with an Occupational Stress Injury

To give children the tools to express themselves and become resilient individuals when living with a loved one with an Operational Stress Injury (OSI), the Edmonton MFRC is running its annual Individual Success Through Empowering Peers (iSTEP) summer program from July 25 to July 27.

“When we work here at the MFRC, on many of the programs we do, we understand that when there’s a parent or loved one living with an OSI, or injury, or PTSD, the whole family is affected. The idea of the program, the whole concept of why it was developed was because we felt children deserved to have a safe and confidential environment to express their feelings and thoughts,” said Jerris Popik, Mental Health Team Lead for Edmonton MFRC and iSTEP program coordinator.

Since families work in a system, every member of the family is affected, in various ways, when one member has an illness or injury.

“The concept of iSTEP is that this is a starting point to introduce this very complex injury to children in a developmentally appropriate way and allow them to talk about what that means to them as a child and how it effects that child,” added Popik.

Therefore, iSTEP welcomes children from ages seven to 14 to share their unique journeys and build relationships with peers through activities that will empower them and help them develop ways to overcome challenges and stressors and develop problem-solving skills.

The MFRC’s three-day iSTEP summer program is a condensed version of the standard eight to ten-week sessions the MFRC holds throughout the year. However, the key concepts of the program are covered regardless: understanding OSI’s, dealing with difficult feelings and building self-esteem.

The summer program brings its key concepts to life through a special theme each year. This year, inspired by the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, the iSTEP program is adopting the spirit of the Invictus Games as their theme.

“We will be adopting that idea of highlighting understanding physical and mental injuries using the power of sports to build confidence, to inspire the ability to recover and encourage working together,” noted Popik.

The participants will be split into two Team Canada teams and, mimicking the Invictus Games, will accomplish a series of tasks together to prepare for a sporting event.

The highlight of the summer program is the annual field trip to an animal assisted therapy ranch. Participants spend a full day at the ranch learning about how animals and natures can help in the healing process.

Since the summer program started in 2015, a total of 36 children have attended. Overall, since the inception of iSTEP, more than 200 children have taken part.

“To me, the success of the program is for the children to understand that they’re not alone, to normalize their reality, their feelings around a parent or loved one with an injury or illness, the ability for them to build up their coping tools to empower them to help themselves in difficult situations [and] when they're dealing with difficult feelings,” said Popik.

The real immeasurable success, according to Popik, happens when children make powerful connections with their peers and are demonstrated through the desire of many of the children to come back each year for the iSTEP program.

There is no cost to the program.

The program runs from 9 a.m. to noon each day.

Those wishing to register for iSTEP can do so by calling the Edmonton MFRC at 780-973-4011 ext.6300. Registration closes on July 17.

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