Animal Camp is a mental health camp for children developed by Dr. Linda Nebbe and presented by Heart and Solutions and Hope Tree counseling agencies as well as Black Hawk Wildlife Rehabilitation.

The mission of this camp is to assist each child in building a therapeutic bond with animals and nature as a way to promote personal healing and growth. Each child will be paired with their own counselor who will use a skill-building/strengths based approach combined with nature and animal assisted therapy techniques specific to the needs of the child.

The camp will take place on Linda Nebbe’s property in Cedar Falls, Iowa where the Black Hawk Wildlife Rehabilitation is also housed. At any time, she has a mix of animals including a horse, baby raccoons, beavers, doe, several species of baby birds, foxes, and owls.

Campers will have the ability to view these animals, learn about them, and take part in viewing their feedings. When rehabilitation animals are ready to be released back into the wild, campers may be able to witness this event. There will also be a “quiet area” with domestic animals that campers can handle and interact with. In the past, these animals have included kittens, a pet rat, and a pet snake.

The benefits of working with animals and nature are numerous. As will be presented at camp, one explanation of its importance is called The Pyramid of Life. At the bottom of this pyramid are plants, in the middle are animals, and at the top are humans. If you knock out the bottom of the pyramid (the plants) then humans fall. If you knock off the top part (the humans) then the natural world is not effected, yet humans have the most potential to destroy all of the natural life around us.

Throughout history, humans have depended on nature. We went from living off the land, working the fields, and being outside interacting with the natural world to being isolated under artificial lighting surrounded by concrete: “Through our lifestyle, we have lost our elemental tie with the land,” (Linda Nebbe – Nature as a Guide, 1995).

Today, children are spending a significant portion of their day in front of screens and less time outdoors even more so than their parents. Studies have shown that being in nature, or even seeing pictures of nature, reduces anger, anxiety, and stress. It can also decrease our blood pressure and muscle tension. Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools have found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety. Animals, too, help to reduce stress.

When interacting with animals, our bodies produce the hormone called oxytocin, which helps us to feel bonded to the animal and gives a deep sense of connection. This is especially useful for children who struggle with attachment to others as well as in social settings. This is significant reason why emotional support and service dogs are becoming more and more popular in treatment for trauma and Autism spectrum disorder.

Animal Camp will instill these benefits and natural healing that the environment and animals provide while also re-establishing and building the connection children have to the world around them.

Children in 2ndthrough 8thgrades (or 6 to 13 years old) that have Medicaid insurances are invited to participate in the Animal Camp taking place at 2027 S. Union Road, Cedar Falls, Iowa. There will be two sessions: June 17th-21stand July 15th-19th. Each session will take place from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and children can attend one or both sessions. Additionally, transportation can be arranged through Medicaid services.

To sign up, please contact Blair Birkett at phone number (319)-214-3110 or at e-mail address blairb@heartandsolutions.

Heart and Solutions, LLC is a Strength Based Mental Health Counseling Agency in Iowa that provides Mental Health Therapy, Marriage and Family Therapy, and BHIS Counseling Services to the Cedar Rapids, Grundy Center, Jefferson, Ames, Waterloo, and Marion areas.

post by Blair Birkett