Children have been called the “secondary victims” of the opioid epidemic.
In 2022, 486 people in New Hampshire lost their lives to overdose. Many of those people were parents and caregivers. Children are left carrying burdens of anger and grief and risk — on very narrow shoulders.
Camp Mariposa Nashua, run by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua, helps lessen that burden for children whose young lives have been deeply affected by a family member’s substance misuse — including kids whose parents have died or been incarcerated. With a combination of therapeutic, evidence-based programming and plain old camp-style fun, Camp Mariposa lets kids know they are valued, they are not alone in their experience — and that what happened was not their fault.
Day Martinez was 12 when he first went to Camp Mariposa. His father, whom he loved, who coached his youth sports teams and who also went to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, had died from suicide when Day was 11.
Day arrived at camp wrapped in a barrier of nonchalance. “I was lost,” he said.
When a staff member pulled Day aside for a conversation about his potential to be a positive role model for younger kids, something in Day’s sense of self shifted. He spent the rest of the weekend finding ways to practice leadership. And he shed the nonchalance. Now 20, Day serves as a mentor to kids at Camp Mariposa. He is studying social work at Nashua Community College while also working part-time on an Agway loading dock.
Camp Mariposa Nashua follows a model established by the national Eluna Network to help kids develop mental health resiliency, manage their grief and prevent substance misuse. The year-round program welcomes kids from across the state and region, and offers programming for families between monthly camps. (The Children’s Resiliency Retreat of the Souhegan Valley Boys & Girls Club offers similar programming for kids affected by addiction.)
At Camp Mariposa, campfires are important events. Children write “letters to addiction,” which they can read aloud to one another before throwing them into the flames.
Day recalls this line in a letter from his younger self: “Addiction…No matter what happens, you will never get ahold of me.”
And this young man has found his life’s purpose: He is going to be a therapist.
“I want to make an impact,” Day said, “so other people don’t have to go through what these kids go through.”
If you or someone you know is having a mental health or substance use crisis, help is available 24/7. Call NH Rapid Response at 833-710-6477 or visit nh988.com.