By Jodi Pierce, Head Student Advisor and Social Skills Coordinator, CIP Brevard
On Saturday, November 8th, eight students and three staff from the Brevard Center spent the evening camped out in the wilderness at Forever Florida. The group started out at the picturesque Crescent J Horse and Cattle Ranch and headed deep into the 4,700 acre Forever Florida Wildlife Conservation Area. The group traveled past natural streams, forests, pastures, and wetlands, viewing an array of wildlife. They saw alligators, white-tail deer, wild boar, hawks, crested caracara, wild turkeys, buzzards and Florida cracker horse herds.
Upon arrival at the campsite, the students and staff worked together to put up tents and get the campsite set up before dark. There was a great deal of teamwork and effort, and minimal complaints.
The level of motivation and hard work that the students showed was impressive. Their skills ranged from first time campers to Eagle Scouts. Everyone chipped in to help and showed a valued contribution to the experience.
Dinner included hot dogs, baked beans and macaroni and cheese cooked on a wood fire grill. For dessert, there were plenty of s’mores and marshmallows prepared over the huge campfire. Savannah Vice, Life Skills staff, played the guitar, and everyone sang campfire songs and rock and roll classics. She did a great job making the reservations and communicating with the staff at Forever Florida, to ensure that everyone was prepared.
We met a group of people from Georgia, who shared our campsite. The students had great conversations with our campsite neighbors. Brian, who we met that evening, told Jodi Pierce, Head Student Advisor and Social Skills Coordinator, that he had never met a nicer group of young adults. His initial reaction was dread, when he was told that a group of 18 to 26 year old students would be camping nearby. But he was pleasantly surprised by the groups’ friendliness and consideration for others.
Most of the students had settled in their tents for the night around 11 PM. Then they sky opened up and the rain poured down. Nothing could keep some of the tents from flooding, and we were quickly inundated with water. After some shuffling around, we managed to find everyone a dry spot to sleep. It was quite an exciting evening, and an adventure for all.
Everyone woke at sunrise and helped to prepare a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, and biscuits. We had coffee and cocoa, with cherry turnovers for dessert. Lots of cooperative packing up followed, and we were ready to head home to dry out.
The students enjoyed the experience, in spite of the challenges. Thea, a first year student from New Mexico, deemed herself Lady Hestia, for keeping the campfire going through the rainy evening. Thea said, “Let’s go again, just not while it’s raining.” Bryson also wants to go again, saying “This was an experience that I will never forget in my whole life.” Staff and students agree that camping is a great addition to the program at the Brevard Center.