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Jubilee funds a dozen camps this summer for children with an imprisoned parent

August 2, 2011

The quadrupling of the United States prison population in the past 30 years has left one child in 28 with a parent behind bars, according to a 2010 study.

That study, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, sponsored by the Pew Foundation, found that children with incarcerated parents suffer profound social, educational and financial impacts. These children are far more likely to live in poverty, to have difficulties at school, and to suffer from an inability to cope with future stress and trauma than are children without a parent in prison.

In response to that, a number of ministries have launched summer camps especially for the children of incarcerated parents. At these camps, children are surrounded by an atmosphere of love and acceptance. This summer, Jubilee Ministry provided $1,000 grants to a dozen different church-sponsored camps for children with incarcerated parents.

Deacon Chuck Lane – he’s the one with the beard – and campers at Camp Hope in Iowa.

“These are fantastic kids if you get to know them,” said the Rev. Chuck Lane, deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Waterloo, Iowa, and director of Camp Hope, one such camp in Iowa. “They’ve lived through a lot of things most of us don’t see. For some of them, seeing someone getting stabbed in their from yard is normal. We just help them deal with their frustration and anger, and help them move on.”

Last year, Lane found scholarship money for 10 children of incarcerated parents to attend an Episcopal youth camp. “Unfortunately, eight of the 10 kids didn’t make it the entire week,” Lane said. “In hindsight, we determined that we did not set the kids up for success. First and foremost, the culture shock to the kids was overwhelming, and because they all arrived on a van later than the others they felt secondary from the beginning.

Secondly, the camp was a new and, at first, uncomfortable environment for some of them. Thirdly, the religious instruction was too intense in the beginning for generally ‘unchurched youth.’ Finally, we had a counselor ratio of 8-1, and this could have been lowered to provide more individual and supervisory attention.

Learning from the mistakes of 2010, this year Camp Hope will be an exclusive camp to better meet the unique needs of the young campers.

“Camp Hope is all about the children of families who are isolated because of choices by a parent,” Lane said. “Those choices were likely due to many forms of social injustice. A goal of the Camp Hope experience is for these youth to become grounded in faith and therefore not follow in the footsteps of a parent who is incarcerated.”

Camp Agape, in Easton, Md., grew out of a challenge Bishop David Shand made to the diocese in 2007 to better model Christ’s example of building community by demonstrating compassion.

The camp began in 2007 as a one-week camp that served 12 children. More than 60 are expected this summer. This year, the project includes a traditional camp for campers ages 6-11, a leadership camp for those ages 12-14 and a teen program for those 13-16 who have prior leadership camp experience.

“For many of the children we serve, the week at Camp Agape is their first experience of being in a community that has enough food, soft beds and no fear of violence,” wrote camp director Brenda Dingwall. “The atmosphere of safety and sustenance allows the children to begin to awaken to the face that they are people of value. All the children are given all of the supplies they need. They receive a sleeping bag, pillow, backpack, t-shirt, and camp supplies. At the end of camp, each child is given a backpack filled with school supplies so that they are ready for school.”

The camp’s involvement with the children doesn’t stop when camp ends. Volunteers send birthday and holiday cards to the children. They also host a Christmas party with presents. Last year, each child got a bicycle and helmet, as well as other goodies. They also host other special trips for campers throughout the year. This year, Camp Agape partnered with NASA to provide science and engineering activities for the campers.

Other camps for children of incarcerated parents that received Jubilee Ministry grants this year include:

  • Camp Amazing Grace, a project of the Prison Ministry Task Force of the Diocese of Maryland, which has been providing a summer camp experience for an average of 18-20 children a year since 2006. Campers are provided – at no cost to them – with clothing, books, beach towels, swim goggles and other camping supplies. Educational activities during the week include astronomy, music, urban wildlife, a visit to a farm, canoeing, plus sports, swimming, arts and crafts and worship.
  • Camp New Day, a one-week residential camp for youth 9-14 who live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “Since the state of Michigan implemented mandatory sentencing, we have watched our prison population grow exponentially,” said the Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester, rector at St. Paul’s Church in Marquette, Mich., which has been the driving force behind the camp.  “The children of the incarcerated live in the shadows of this tragedy, often unseen and simply forgotten.”
  • Incarnation Center, located on 700 wooded acres in Connecticut, is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1886 by Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan. The center works with the Judy Dworin Performance Project to plan a weekend for 30 children whose mothers are in prison. The children come for three days and two night, accompanied by 10 chaperones, and spend their time swimming in the lake, boating, hiking and doing arts and crafts.
  • The Prison Ministry of the Diocese of Newark has been sending children of incarcerated parents to summer camp for 10 years. After realizing that many of the children did not fare well in Episcopal camps, the diocese developed a year-round Saturday mentoring program, called “Learning By Experience,” to help them succeed.
  • Camp Good News in Huntsville, Texas, a program of the Diocese of Texas, was launched in 2001 for children ages 10-15. As many as 54 children have attended the week-long camp, and there is at least one adult present for every two children. Children may continue coming as campers until they “age out,” and those who are exemplary are invited back as 16-year-olds to intern as junior cabin counselors. The following year they may join the staff.
  • Camp New Hope, in Tulsa, Okla., a ministry of the Diocese of Oklahoma, offers six sessions of camps for children from ages 8-17, including an arts and science camp for 12- to 15-year-olds and a canoe camp for 14- and 15-year-olds. About 150 children are expected to attend this summer.
  • Camp Agape Vermont is an ecumenical ministry shared among the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ, and the Northeast Conference of the United Methodist Church. The camp offers two overnight weeklong sessions for those ages 7-11, and one week-long camp for those 12-14. Attendance ranges from 66-78. “Many people throughout Vermont share their gifts with the children, including storytellers, magicians, drummers, fishermen, quilters, weavers and music-makers,” writes camp director the Rev. Sherry Osborn.
  • Camp New Happenings, a ministry of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, is in  its fourth year, at Camp Alexander Mack. Some 30 campers were expected this year. Daily activities include arts and crafts, sports, hiking and swimming. Last yaer, professors from Purdue University camp to the camp to do presentations on biology, chemistry, math, astronomy and atmospheric sciences. (Click here to read an article in the Goshen (Ind.) News about Camp New Happenings.)
  • The Diocese of East Carolina has sponsored Camp Hope for the past five years at the Kanuga Conference Center. “Scottie Barnes, founder of Forgiven Ministries and the One Day with God program has come to most of the camps to speak to the children and to share her testimony,” wrote the Rev. Dr. Peter B. Stube, rector of Christ Church in New Bern, N.C., and director of the camp. “Her story is like theirs, and the children relate so well to her.” Activities include hiking, arts and crafts, a challenge course, rock climbing, archery, sports, music and drama, swimming, canoeing, fishing and an overnight campout.
  • Camp Noel Porter, a facility run by the Diocese of Northern California at Lake Tahoe, operates eight weeks of summer camp for children every year. No camper is ever turned away from Camp Noel Porter because of financial challenges, and last year, 14 children of incarcerated parents attended.
  • The Children of Incarcerated Parents Outreach program at Church of the Good Shepherd in Galax, Va., meets one afternoon every two weeks during the year, and provides an all-day summer camp every week during July. “There is no extra money to help with the children’s development,” wrote Deborah Davis, program director. “They do not see their friends in the summer because of transportation constraints. They spend their afternoons and, often, days watching television. One child’s father is in prison for attempted murder. The child came to school with the word ‘killer’ tattooed on his hand. If the victim of the father dies, he will be in prison throughout the child’s life and the child’s great fear is that he will wake up to find that this has happened to the father. Another child acts out her anger at her parent’s five-year imprisonment on the children around her after she has been to see her father in prison. One child’s father, prior to imprisonment, had visitation rights with the children but was picked up by the police on drug charges while with the child. One child is afraid to say why his father is imprisoned because the crime is so horrible. He will only say, ‘My father did a very bad thing.’”
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