Camp Hope: Healing Heartbreak

April 5, 2018
By Christina G. Cummings, Executive Director, Kidz2Leaders

Every summer, dozens and dozens of smiling, selfless Mt. Bethel volunteers give up their Sunday and meet at our church to ensure our Camp Hope campers, all children with an incarcerated parent, are safely checked in for their bus ride to camp.

Eight-year-old Kennedy waited four years for her chance to get on the bus. Her two older brothers, Justin and Cameron, began in 2013. Every summer, she watched as they got on the bus and got off a week later bursting with stories of fishing, canoeing, horses, new friends, and most importantly, of how God loves us and forgives us.

Last year, Kennedy had her chance. Most new campers are cautious–fearful, even–not knowing what camp means or what awaits them when they arrive. But not Kennedy. She bounced through check-in and ran up the bus stairs to claim her seat, ready for the week God had prepared for her.

The family story of Kennedy, Justin, and Cameron is one of unfathomable heartbreak, and yet, through the healing powers of the Lord, one of hope. Tragically, many years ago, their father took their mother’s life, and he is now serving a life sentence in prison. Prior to this, these children experienced the horrors associated with growing up in a home filled with violence. Today, they are being raised by their precious grandmother, who is doing everything in her power to restore their world to normal. This story is not unlike the stories of hundreds of other Kidz2Leaders families, who are bravely surviving the consequences of choices their loved ones made, and, like all of us, are in desperate need of God’s grace.

Kidz2Leaders remains committed to ending generational incarceration and providing hope to children of inmates, like Kennedy. For 18 years, we have been refining a decade-long continuum of program services that begins at age eight with Camp Hope and continues with leadership training, career and life skills development, individual coaching, college scholarships, and family support services. Our programs have impacted more than 1200 children and family members. We rejoice, because of more than 100 young adults age 18 and older who have completed at least seven years of our programming, only one has been incarcerated in state or federal prison. These programs are working, and we feel God calling us to prayerfully expand our reach.

This year, for the first time, summer will include two sessions of Camp Hope: June 16th-22nd and July 7th-13th. This expansion is a leap of faith, greatly increasing our capacity to serve more children, and requiring more funding and volunteers than ever before. We ask you to consider helping get more children like Kennedy onto the bus by donating your time and your gifts.

Nearly 300 volunteers are needed in June and July to make Camp Hope possible. Opportunities range from spending four hours at camper check-in at Mt. Bethel to spending the week with us, pouring into children as a Cabin Mom or Cabin Dad. There are no skill sets or experiences required for you to qualify as a Camp Hope volunteer–only a desire to model the love of our Heavenly Father to children who may not have had the chance to know Him.  (Read more about Kibbie Parish’s experience as a Cabin Mom here.)

Camp Hope is intentionally designed to encourage families to serve through this mission week together, and volunteer roles exist for every age group. Rising 9th-12th graders can volunteer as Teen Counselors, students from age 16 through college can serve as Cabin Leaders, and Cabin Adults start at age 21 and up. Children younger than 9th grade can join in as Junior Counselors if their parent is serving, and children as young as three can participate as campers at our KidzKamp program with other children of volunteers.

We are overwhelmingly grateful for the support of the Mt. Bethel community that has empowered us to work toward our mission for nearly two decades. We ask you to pray for each family with a child considering stepping onto the Camp Hope bus this summer–that they would boldly decide to say yes to joining our Camp Hope Family. And we pray that your family will consider joining us, too.