ALCOA, Tenn. – (March 21, 2017) More than 900 children in the poorest neighborhoods will experience a United Methodist camp this summer because of a venture that started six years ago as a young woman’s dream.
“Camp in the Community” has joined Holston’s four camps to become the fifth camp, alongside Wesley Woods, Lookout, Dickenson and Bays Mountain. “Camp in the Community” started as a project of Wesley Woods in 2011 and was elevated to a conference-wide project by the Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries board in November 2016.
“This is the most empowering thing I’ve experienced in Holston Conference that reaches kids in poverty,” said the Rev. Tom Robins, pastor of the four congregations of Morgan-Scott-Roane Parish which hosted the ministry in recent summers. “It's utterly transformative and has changed the lives of every church member we’ve involved.”
Camp in the Community kicks off June 5 and continues for eight weeks throughout June and July. Sixteen churches will host a day camp for one week, reaching 60 children (in grades 1-8) at each site with worship, games, swimming, songs and meals.
The 16 host churches will be aided by partnering churches. Four counselors will be hired for each host church. Volunteers and youth undergoing leadership training will also be recruited.
The massive effort has potential to serve 960 children in low-income neighborhoods who probably won’t ever get to attend a summer camp, said Whitney Winston, director.
“We want to involve a lot of volunteers in the churches who – after Camp in the Community leaves – can continue to have relationships with the children and families they meet,” Winston said.
The 960 new campers could increase the number of children served by Holston summer camps to about 3,000. Last summer, Holston's four camps hosted 2,034 campers over eight weeks.
Winston, now age 29, began volunteering at Camp Wesley Woods at age 13 and worked on staff from 2005 to 2016.
“I love Wesley Woods. I learned who I was and what I wanted to do with my life there,” she said.
A native of Louisville, Tenn., Winston graduated from Maryville College in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation, minoring in business.
During a 2009 internship with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, she was required to live in the inner city of Greensboro, N.C. – “to learn how to be a neighbor and what that means.” She lived on the same limited budget as her neighbors.
“No credit card,” she said. “The city grocery stores jacked up their prices, and you had to learn how to ride a bus with your groceries. It was hard.”
To engage with her neighbors, Winston took yarn, scissors, and a blanket to the park to do crafts. “Kids just showed up,” she said. “I started to think, ‘How can we reach these kids in a camp ministry?’”
Although Holston Conference camps offer scholarships to low-income families, going away to a strange place for a week is “not a cultural norm” for many families, Winston said. “It’s scary. When you’re trying to feed kids and keep a roof over your head, camp is not a priority.”
Winston said she learned a lot from a similar ministry, the North Georgia Conference’s Grow Day Camps, before Wesley Woods launched the first-ever Camp in the Community in summer 2011. A total 77 children were served at one-week day camps held at Bybee United Methodist Church in Newport, Tenn., and Mountain View United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
In 2012, Wesley Woods offered Camp in the Community at seven churches, hosting 299 children total. The program grew over the following summers, reaching a total 1,988 children with the same curriculum and many of the same activities offered at Wesley Woods, Winston said.
In fall 2016, the Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries board approved Camp in the Community as a ministry separate from Wesley Woods and gave $7,000 in seed money. Instead of serving low-income neighborhoods only in the four districts affiliated with Wesley Woods, Camp in the Community will now serve children in poverty throughout east Tennessee and southwest Virginia.
Other groups have also contributed to the new ministry.
From the “Change for Children” fund, the Children’s Ministry Team will give $1,000 for each of the 16 church sites this summer -- $16,000 total – to ensure the new camp’s success, according to Gaye King, associate director of connectional ministries.
An additional $18,000 has been awarded from the Martha Gerrard Mission Endowment, according to the Rev. Charles Maynard, who served as caretaker of the Holston Conference Foundation fund along with the late Rev. John Trundle for many years.
“Camp in the Community shares Christ’s love in the glory of the creation in our backyards, our church yards,” said Maynard. “This seemed a very natural fit that honored Martha Gerrard and John Trundle as well as my own calling.”
The hosting and partnering churches will also share a $3,000 contribution for each of the 16 sites. The $82,000 budget for Camp in the Community’s inaugural season has been achieved, said Winston, who is already working on fundraising for the 2018 season.
Some of the participating churches have applied for “Children in Poverty” grants from the offering collected at Annual Conference 2016, said Robins, who now serves on Camp in the Community’s board.
“This is so important to me that this happens, especially since we as Methodists are focused on children in poverty,” Robins said.
Winston said she still has two major needs: “Now that we don't have a resident camp, I need summer housing for my 10 staff,” she said. “They will have places each week of camp, but on the weekends I need a stable space for them to stay.”
Also needed are two vehicles that can seat at least five people and tow a large box trailer from May 20 to July 28.
More information, including a wish list, is provided at CampintheCommunity.org.
Hosting churches for summer 2017 are listed below. Winston invites representatives of prospective hosts and partner churches for next year to arrange a visit at one of this summer’s sites. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
> St. John / San Juan (Maryville, Tenn.)
> First UMC (Marion, Va.)
> La Casa Del Alfarero (Philadelphia, Tenn.)
> New Life (Knoxville, Tenn.)
> Kern Memorial (Oak Ridge, Tenn.)
> Elk Garden (Rosedale, Va.)
> El Ministerio de Espiritu Santo (Sevierville, Tenn.)
> Carpenter's UMC (Maryville, Tenn.)
> Friendsville (Friendsville, Tenn.)
> Morgan Scott Project (Deer Lodge, Tenn.)
> State Street (Bristol, Va.)
> Middle Creek (Pigeon Forge, Tenn.)
> White Pine (White Pine, Tenn.)
> Bybee (Newport, Tenn.)
> Jubilee Project (Sneedville, Tenn.)
>16th location to be announced
While other camps close, how do Holston camps keep going? (The Call, 10/10/16)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.