The stress on EMS and public health and safety has been amplified by the ongoing strain from the pandemic. With an increase in first responders suffering from burnout, PTSD, stress, and depression, and a growing number leaving the profession altogether, there was an idea backed by research to bring the outdoors to first responders who desperately need a break. Studies suggest connecting with nature can be beneficial to relieving stress and boosting feelings of happiness.
Studies suggest connecting with nature can be beneficial to relieving stress and boosting feelings of happiness. (Photos: Camp Hero)
Camp Hero was founded in 2019 after Rocco Besednjak, a former police officer, bought 160 acres of land in Jackson County, Kentucky, as a place for first responders to escape their life stressors and focus on their mental health and wellness. To further Camp Hero’s mission, Michael Poynter, with 42 years of paramedic experience and having spent the last 10 years as a director with the Kentucky Board of EMS, helped form a partnership between Camp Hero and Nature Reliance School to connect first responders with nature immersion opportunities.
Camp Hero has grown to over 2000 acres and offers dozens of courses for safety and survival training, land navigation, foraging, gardening, the study of plant and animal life, outdoor activities or the chance to simply relax.
“Now more than ever, we need to take care of our own,” commented Poynter. “The mission of Camp Hero is to help provide this support to those who need it.”
Camp Hero has grown to over 2000 acres and offers dozens of courses for safety and survival training, land navigation, foraging, gardening, the study of plant and animal life, outdoor activities or the chance to simply relax. Courses, organized events such as out-of-state pig hunts and fishing trips, and full room and board are offered at no cost to first responders.
First responders complete a survey related to their mental health and wellness, how they are feeling, and how the outdoors could benefit them, before visiting Camp Hero. A staff psychologist helps filter selections and provides guidance on site. Visitors also complete a post-survey, and according to Poynter, the responses show huge improvements in the moods of first responders from when they arrived.
“I’ve seen positive changes in people’s stress levels in a matter of minutes of them being outside and experiencing the sights, sounds and scents of nature,” mentioned Poynter.
Organizations outside Kentucky have showed interest in expanding the concept to their states with property they’ve already identified for the use.
Camp Hero has enjoyed resounding success in the satisfaction of the first responders they’re able to support. So much success that organizations outside Kentucky have showed interest in expanding the concept to their states with property they’ve already identified for the use. From the inception of Camp Hero to its expansion with Nature Reliance School, the initiative to connect those who need a break with nature is inspiring in the ways we can all support each other.
Camp Hero and Poynter were finalists for the 2022 Hooley Awards in the Service category. The Hooley Awards recognize innovators and thought leaders, honoring their involvement, creativity and passion, and were founded to acknowledge their contributions in innovation and excellence. The Hooley Awards finalists were celebrated and the winners were announced during the 14th annual ImageTrend Connect Conference in July 2022.
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