'I can be my own man, I can be whoever I want'--Camp Iron Sights works with teens with difficult backgrounds
Rainy Pass Lodge, a remote hunting and horseback riding lodge, is tucked deep into the mountains more than 160 miles from Anchorage. To get there, you'll need to take a flight in a small bush plane, passing snow-capped mountains and winding rivers often full of red salmon.
There's no internet connection, iPhones, or television here. Diesel fuel, horses and all the comforts needed at the lodge arrive daily on float planes that touch down easily on the chilly waters.
The lodge is owned by the Perrins family, who have become famous over the years for their reality TV show "My Five Sons," which details their rugged lifestyle in this remote corner of Alaska.
Steve Perrins, one of those five sons, started a non-profit called Camp Iron Sights more than five years ago with a group of people he met at the lodge. The camp hosts about seven teenagers every summer.
There is archery, clay shooting, horseback riding and mountain climbing. The teenagers are from diverse backgrounds, but have one common bond: a difficult childhood.
"Kids that are born addicted to drugs, we've got people, their mothers are alcoholics and their grandmothers they've living with," Perrins said. "There's been depression and suicide attempts and a variety of really heartbreaking stories. Abuse in the family. It's just really heartbreaking."
For seven to 10 days during the summer, Steve Perrins and his group at Camp Iron Sights create a family environment for at-risk teenagers. They play games and have competitions. The kids read books and journal. There are lots of talks about what it takes to have a successful life.
"Stay positive, it's all about the mind. Perseverance, forgiveness, all that. It's all very important," camper Ben Jacobs said.
Sunday was the final day of camp. It began as a day with multiple competitions, including archery and target shooting, as well as a canoe race and volleyball games. At one point two campers jumped in a pond, which had until just recently been filled with ice. At the end of the day, the campers gave speeches or read poems about how the camp impacted their lives.
"You guys saved my life by letting me come up here," a 21-year-old named Tommy from California said. "I had problems in the past with drugs and alcohol and, like you guys are amazing people, opening up your home... taught me how to be a man."
Even when camp is over, the life instructions don't end.
Camp officials say that out of all the teenagers they've mentored, more than 80 percent of the campers continue to meet for regular dinners.
"I can be my own man," said 15-year-old Gavin Seaton. "I can be whoever I want, and they treat me like I want to be treated, and I think it's amazing actually."