Summer camp fun for kids facing behavioral challenges

As warmer weather moves in, many kids’ minds start turning to summer camp.

But for some, being a part of that childhood summer tradition just isn’t doable.

But one La Crosse day camp is designed to make sure those kids don’t have to miss out.

The Family & Children’s Center’s Camp Coulee lets kids experience fun summer activities like swimming, hiking and fishing.

But it’s specifically designed for kids ages 6 through 17 who face emotional and behavioral challenges.


Dennis and Michelle LaRoche have had problems with some of their foster children getting kicked out of summer camps in the past.

“I think when you say, ‘You can’t come to the camp anymore,’ that’s kind of a pretty good rejection. And they know that. They’ve sensed that most of their lives,” said Dennis LaRoche.

Many of the kids the LaRoches have taken in have had a difficult past, leaving emotional scars along the way.

“So many times, they don’t have social skills. They don’t know how to problem-solve or, you know, trust,” said Dennis LaRoche.

That’s where the Family & Children’s Center’s Camp Coulee is different from other camps.

“Basically, we do everything that you would do in a regular summer day camp, but we’re able to adapt our schedule and structure to be able to better meet their needs and allow them to participate in those same activities,” said Camp Coulee Director Eli Jackson.

“We do a lot of hiking and just being out in nature, going out to the bluffs. And a lot of these kids have never been able to hike up the bluff. It’s like their own personal accomplishment to be able to get up to the top and be able to look over La Crosse,” said Camp Coulee counselor Lisa Jaroczynski.

For the LaRoche’s, the best part is seeing the kids’ faces light up when they come home.

“It’s rewarding to see them come home happy when they usually aren’t, or to see them tell us that they have a friend,” said Michelle LaRoche.

For eight weeks, it’s a chance for their kids to just be kids.

Camp Coulee switches up their programming for each age group, so every summer kids can come back and have a different experience. For example, their 15-to-17-year-old campers do leadership training, where they can mentor the younger campers and get hands-on with projects that make the community a better place.

When Camp Coulee first started three years ago, it had 20 campers a week. Last year, that number doubled. This year, 64 campers are registered each week.

To learn more about the Family & Children’s Center’s other programs for at-risk youth, visit