'I am somebody': Giving confidence, guidance to at-risk children in camp program

By James H. Seaborn

July 5, 2018 -  All God’s Children Camp is a weeklong United Methodist overnight experience for children with an incarcerated parent. The camp has three one-week sessions during the summer. Locations include Camp Overlook near Harrisonburg, Va., Camp Chanco on the James River, and Occohannock on the Bay on the Eastern Shore.

Children travel from all over the state to visit the camp. A staple of the program is getting participants out of urban home environments and giving them experiences that they could never have where they live. 

At the Camp Overlook session (June 25-30 2018), participants paddle boated and paddle boarded around a small lake. Open fields and wooded hills served to provide a sense of adventure to participants. Overlook campers spent their nights in simple cabins with new friends, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds of nature. A diverse set of activities made up their daily camp schedule. Campers participated in a marshmallow flinging competition one morning, then hiked Shenandoah Valley trails and played outdoor games later that day. 

Midweek the campers made lion pillows in recollection of the Bible story of Daniel in the lion’s den that they had learned about earlier in the day. Teambuilding games and arts and crafts take up a sizeable share of All God’s Children: camp time.

Life lessons are a crucial part of the All God’s Children experience. The camp day begins with a lesson from mentors for the children, such as an anti-bullying activity that exists to empower at-risk children to take a stance against bullies they encounter in school. At the center of these lessons is a love for Jesus and celebrating the gifts of every individual. 

Camp director Lori Smith shared that making a difference with the camp is important to her. She said she was particularly proud of two 16-year-old brothers who returned to serve the camp as junior mentors after being in the program yearly from the time they were seven. She spoke of her desire that campers take the skills and confidence they pick up at camp into their outside lives. The ultimate goal is for participants to bring the values and lessons they learn at camp into their communities, to keep the at-risk participants and those they interact with on the right path. 

Smith said many campers that began camp at young ages have emerged as leaders at camp in subsequent years, and participants often carry the values they pick up at camp from year to year. She said she has seen the impact of mentors on her campers first hand, and knows God is there at camp with children who come in with no confidence, who discover that they are someone truly special, and can triumphantly say “I am somebody” by the end of the week. She said she sees growth during every single session of All God’s Children Camp.

 Smith also reaffirmed that funding for this camp has been” fantastic,” and has allowed the camp to provide hygiene products and clothing for children who didn’t arrive at camp with adequate supplies. 

A current camp concern is the decreasing amount of camp mentors. The camp has a goal of a one-to-one camper and mentor ratio, but currently is only able to provide a two-to-one ratio for campers. At the Camp Overlook session, 15 mentors served 30 campers. Volunteer mentors between 18-70 years of age come from all over the state to serve for a week at one of the three sessions.  All God’s Children is a clear example of mission goals of The United Methodist Church, and those involved appeared quite proud of their attempts at reaching out to those who may need support, love and guidance during hard times, Smith said. 

If interested, visit www.vaumc.org/agc for more information. 

-James H. Seaborn is a 2018 summer intern through Connections 21 for the conference Communications office.


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