Campers aim to lose weight, gain self-esteem

July 22, 2008 8:46:28 PM PDT
A local sleep-away camp is attracting kids from all over the country. It's designed to help kids get in shape both physically and mentally. Action news took a trip to the Poconos to what makes this camp different.

Austin Repsher, 13, of Bethlehem said he's having a great summer. He's working on his footwork for football, making friends, and the 285-pound athlete is losing weight. "My coaches have always said I have quick feet but I'd be quicker if I dropped 30 pounds," he said.

That's Austin's goal at 'Camp Pocono Trails.' It's a camp designed to help kids lose weight and live healthy and director of the camp, Tony Sparber said it's not just about changing kids' bodies. "When they first come here a lot don't talk, they keep their heads down," he said.

So at the camp they help kids socially and mentally. Tiffany Sinclair King of Durham, North Carolina wrote about the emotional issues of being big for a national essay contest. She's 12-years-old and weighs nearly 300 pounds. "I ask God every day why I am this size and I feel like I'm dying inside," she wrote.

Her essay won her an 8-week scholarship to the camp. "I went crazy literally, I was very excited," King said, adding, "it's a lifetime chance some kids can't get."

So she's taking advantage of the chance to get help losing weight and gain confidence.

Camp counselor Sam Friedman of South Philadelphia says as the weight comes down, confidence goes up. At least that's what happened with him. He was a camper here when he was 14. He said at the time, he was depressed.

"I was overweight, I didn't like the way my life was going, I didn't have many friends and didn't have a girlfriend, " Friedman said, adding he owes his success to Camp Pocono Trails. It taught him the foods to eat, the right portions. He also learned the value of exercise. At age 13, he was 230 pounds. Now at 23, he weighs about 160. "Now it's easy for me; I finally changed my lifestyle," he said.

And Friedman is now 'paying it forward,' showing kids here that success is reachable. Sparber said kids at the camp lose about three to four pounds per week. But at camp, their environment is controlled. Once they go home, it's a different story.

"If parents don't have things set up properly it's going to be tough," Sparber said, adding, "I can't emphasize enough how important it is for parents to get involved."

At the camp, kids learn nutrition and cooking and they go home with instructions, recipes and access to an online nutritionist. Both Tiffany and Austin said their parents will help, because for Tiffany as she wrote, it could mean the difference between life and death. For Austin, it means living the life he wants to live. "Once I'm done with this year, I'd like to see me start JV football, start Varsity football," he said.

Austin is doing six weeks at the camp. Tiffany will stay eight. Action News will check in on their progress and have an update in August.

The cost of the camp is $2,650 for two weeks and there are still openings for this summer. For more information, visit: