By CRIS HUNT
It’s the Christmas season and the Camp Hope office is busy preparing for its annual hope4christmas party – a reunion bringing together the group’s campers and counselors.
The joy of Christmas will be overflowing from the Mt. Bethel UMC Fellowship Hall as carols are sung and sparks re-ignite in each camper’s heart as he or she anticipates Camp Hope next summer.
For one week each July, children and teens from the metro Atlanta area experience fun and learn God’s promise for their life – that he has plans to prosper them, give them hope and a future.
The youth who attend Camp Hope have a parent in prison. According to a 2008 report by the Department of Justice, there are an estimated 1.7 million children in the United States who have a mother or father serving a sentence in a state or federal prison. For children who are affected by additional risk factors, such as poverty, low-income housing, or even drug or alcohol addiction, they are even more at-risk for falling into the powerful cycle of generational incarceration. The New York Times referred to these children as the “incarceration generation,” in an article published in July 2009.
In 2000, these risk factors motivated Rev. Diane Parrish to start Camp Hope, a one-week camp for prisoners’ children. The camp was the catalyst for the now year-round ministry called kidz2leaders, inc. where intentional programs were put in place to teach campers that God had a different plan for their lives. In its 11 years, the ministry has served approximately 400 children and has watched youth grow and mature through camp and other annual programming. Five students are now in college and 45 former campers are now serving as Camp Hope counselors during the summer. The ministry has fostered friendships between children from different counties who would not have had an opportunity to meet otherwise.
Tori is a former camper who now serves as a counselor. Tori talks about his best friend Ta, also a former camper who he met at camp. They live an hour apart, but Tori and Ta keep up throughout the year and hold each other accountable when they are not at camp. Camp Hope is a place of refuge for these children, and they can easily communicate how important it is to their lives. Messages fill the phone after camp with campers calling to say, “We miss you Camp Hope ” or “I wish Camp Hope was all year long.” One camper said of his peer: “ Camp Hope is probably the only good thing in Josh’s life.”
The statistics of the incarceration generation are overwhelming and kidz2leaders is tackling this cycle in the Atlanta area. However, the Christmas party will not be about numbers. It will be about the faces that light up, and the laughs that will be shared as campers tell camp stories. It also is about the hope campers and their families will leave with in anticipation of another summer at camp.
If you would like to enjoy a week of camp with us, or if you would like to find how to get involved, please contact Diane Parrish at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cris Hunt at email@example.com. For more information, please visit www.kidz2leaders.org.
This article recently ran in the North Georgia Advocate, the official print source of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference. For more information about the North Georgia Advocate, or to subscribe, please visit www.ngumc.org/advocate or call 678.533.1376.