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IMPRINT camps introduce youths to justice issues

IMPRINT camps introduce youths to justice issues

Joel Pancoast divides group at IMPRINT camp
Joel Pancoast, program manager at Warren Willis Camp, prepares to send youth participants on a hunger game scavenger hunt at the camp's IMPRINT: Health retreat. Photo by Cameron Helwege.

FRUITLAND PARK – Nearly 500 youth participants and about 100 adult volunteers from 29 Florida churches got a taste of what life is like in impoverished communities in the U.S. and across the world during two sessions of IMPRINT: Health retreats at Warren Willis Camp this fall.

The second in a series of fall retreats intended to expose young people to justice issues, IMPRINT: Health gave teenagers and their chaperones a hands-on look at the challenges many people face in accessing clean water, adequate nutrition and disease prevention.

Games like “Mosquito Madness” helped illustrate how quickly a bug bite can turn into malaria.

Filling buckets at Lake Griffin and carrying them more than a mile back to camp helped drive home the hardships many people face in supplying their homes with water to drink, bathe in or clean utensils. 

Youths collect water at Lake Griffin
Youths collect water at Lake Griffin during IMPRINT: Health, a justice issues retreat at Warren Willis Camp. Photo by Trevor Norell.

Chris Agoranos, youth pastor at Community of Faith UMC, Davenport, said he attended the camp with 53 young people from his ministry in October. 

“It’s one of the most fantastic retreats I’ve been a part of,” he said, adding that he took a group of 45 to the first session called IMPRINT: Justice last year. 

“It was transformative, not just for the youths, but the adults as well.”

He said the retreat reminded participants that being disciples of Christ requires more than regular worship.

 “We are called to serve those lost and hurting, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned,” Agoranos said, adding that the Community of Faith youth group has begun talking about ways to act on what participants learned by raising money or otherwise joining organizations that are making a difference for disadvantaged people in the world.

“Watching the light bulbs go off is exciting.”

Joel Pancoast, program manager at Warren Willis, said camp staff and volunteers  opened a well and built a shantytown out of scrap metal and plywood to simulate a village environment.

After retreat participants lugged buckets of water for 1.5 miles, they were taken to the makeshift village to see how people’s lives are made much easier when they can draw water from a well.  

Mosquito Madness game at Warren Willis Camp
Young people pull flags from one another in a game of "Mosquito Madness" to represent mosquito bites. Photo by Cameron Helwege. 

Another exercise divided the total assembly into three groups, representing the world population.

About 15 percent of the total number of participants had a bountiful meal complete with a decorated table and napkins, while 35 percent sat at a bare table with a platter of rice, beans and tortillas. Half the group sat on the floor with a bowl of rice and some water.

Pancoast said another part of the program drew on the anti-apartheid movement of South Africa by inviting young people to write their hopes for the world on paper lanterns and hang them in the worship hall.  

Like apartheid, “hunger will never fall unless we can imagine the world without it,” Pancoast said.

He said he has been touched by some of the responses he has received, including one from a teenager who attends Anona UMC, Largo.

Decorated imagination lanterns at IMPRINT: Health
 "Imagination lanterns" hang above a worship service at the IMPRINT: Health retreat this fall. Photo by Trevor Norell.

The message read: “I am changed for the better because of everything I learned.”

The 2011 IMPRINT camp drew about 450 participants and introduced them generally to justice issues, Pancoast
said. Next year’s IMPRINT sessions will focus on shelter.

Susan Green is editor of Florida Conference Connection.