RAINY PASS, Alaska (KTUU) - A flight away from the city, somewhere between snow-capped mountains and salmon-filled rivers, you will find that there's no place quite like Rainy Pass Lodge and no program quite like Camp Iron Sights.
A group photo from Camp Iron Sights 2019. Photo courtesy of Jeff Schultz.
"It's a little scary in the beginning, coming to an unknown place," said camp co-founder Steve Perrins. He and wife Carly Perrins started Camp Iron Sights, a program for at-risk teen boys, seven years ago.
"We say 'at-risk," Carly said, "but that's a pretty loose term, because, I say, what teenager is not at risk of something?"
Each year, a dozen boys attempt to begin anew in the middle of Alaska.
"It just breaks your heart hearing about what these kids go through," Steve said. "Some of the more heartbreaking [stories] are family members that have been murdered, parents that have passed away, abuse, neglect, teens that are homeless."
Even getting to the Rainy Pass site of the camp is often brand new for campers, some of whom have never flown or left their home states before. They are flown from Anchorage by Alaska By Air via floatplane, and then when at the camp, they experience more first-time adventures, such as going horseback riding for the first time, shooting a gun for the first time, and for many, feeling like part of a community for the first time.
They often find a family, and discover a new take on life.
"I'm giving everything a lot more thought," said Brandon, 16, an attendee at this year's camp. "Taking more responsibility."
Some campers, such as Ben and Dereck, even come back for more. They both attended the 2018 edition of the camp and returned to be counselors this year.
"I think it was really important for me just to get away from everything," Ben said. "In a crowded city, you have a lot of influences from a lot of different things. It's really nice. You can really see - it's a different environment."
Steve said he loves having kids from past years come back to be part of the Camp Iron Sights program.
"Dereck really excelled in the camp last year," he said. "Ben, we thought, kind of struggled, and then one day part way through, he just had some sort of awakening, or the light bulb went off.
"It feels amazing to have kids from past years here," he said.
Chock full of family dinners, Camp Iron Sights also has many life lessons to offer.
"No matter how down you feel, it's not too late to become who you want to be," Dereck said. "You just gotta put your mind to it, and if you put your mind to it, you can basically do anything you want."
To take the pressure off campers, registration for Camp Iron Sights doesn't cost attendees besides travel to and from Anchorage, which can be pricey by itself. The program is instead primarily funded by sponsors, donors and other sources. You can learn more about helping out whether with material goods or monetary funds by clicking here.
Video by Channel 2 multimedia journalist Beth Verge.
Copyright KTUU 2019. All rights reserved.