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UC Hosts Camp UNITE


From left, Kyle Phernetton, Director of Public Relations at the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office; Detective Brock Hensley, with the Evansville (Indiana) Police Department's Meth Suppression Unit; and Lt. Tim Everly, Director of the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Drug Task Force, prepare items donated for youth at the seventh annual Camp UNITE program at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky on Tuesday, July 23.

Williamsburg, Ky. - University of the Cumberlands (UC) recently hosted the seventh annual Camp UNITE program on UC’s campus July 22 through July 26. UNITE is a regional drug prevention and awareness program that has become extremely active in Southeastern Kentucky in the last decade and continues to grow along with the drug epidemic. UNITE, which stands for Unlawful Narcotics Investigation, Treatment, and Education, holds free, week-long camps for upcoming seventh through ninth graders and educates them on how to say no to drugs and how to make wise decisions through life. This year’s camp theme was “Be a Hero: Super Heroes.”

The camp provides a continuous anti-drug message along with safety tips for everyday life such as texting and driving and driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The camp counselors stress the importance of possible negative influences in their lives and how to handle and overcome situations. Guest speakers are brought in to speak with the campers who have survived devastating catastrophes, are recovering addicts, or have a life-changing and motivational experience to share with the youth. The lesson that Camp UNITE wants the students to take with them is to make wise decisions and good choices in all that they do.

“We try to show the students each year that there is hope in their future and a wonderful life ahead of them that can be drug-free,” said Camp UNITE President, Dan Smoot. “Everyone has the power to be a hero for themselves and for someone else.”

Camp UNITE brought around 120 workers with them including counselors, students, and administrative staff. Approximately 240 student campers attended the free, fun-filled camp. The campers were all assigned a student counselor for the week and the counselor is in charge of six campers. The campers must stay with their assigned counselor at all times even including mealtimes and evenings in the dorms. The campers who attend are often times youth who have been referred to the program through social services, school counselors, or just students who have taken an interest and want to be involved in a positive event. The majority of the campers have seen active drug use from parents or close family members and have fallen victim to addiction and/or abuse. During this week, they were provided a time where they were safe, can relax, have fun, and even learn how to cope with their living situations and become more educated on how to take control of their own lives and not be another statistic.

“Not only are we teaching these students how to stay away from drugs and how to live a safe and fulfilled life but we are also trying to motivate them to go to college and further their education,” said Camp UNITE staff member, Cheryl Keaton. “The majority of these students have never been on a college campus. Holding camp on UC’s campus gives the students the opportunity to see what is out there and possibly get them excited about going to college in the future. We want them to know that no matter what their situation may be college and an education are possible.”

The campers enjoyed an active itinerary of games, team building activities, rides on golf carts wearing “beer goggles”, sports, and many other recreational activities. Each morning, the campers would begin the day with a fun, repetitive dance that the counselors taught them the first day. They enjoyed watching skits, singing, a day at the Kentucky Splash Water Park, being silly, and just relaxing in a safe and positive atmosphere.

“Throughout the years, we have kept in touch with several kids who have attended our camps,” said Dan Smoot. “I can honestly say that I feel that Camp UNITE makes a difference in these students’ lives and we have witnessed it first-hand. A large portion of the students who spent their middle school years as campers want to come back and work as junior and senior counselors and that is great!”

Located in Williamsburg, Ky., University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction, which currently offers four undergraduate degrees in more than 40 major fields of study; 10 pre-professional programs; ten graduate degrees distributed over eight areas, including two doctorates and seven master’s degrees; certifications in education; and online programs. For more information visit