LAKE WORTH – It’s a program set up to help those too little for latchkey when school is out, but some older students also reaped the rewards of summer camp through CROS Ministries this year.
CROS, which stands for Christians Reaching Out to Society, is a United Methodist ministry founded about 35 years ago. Its efforts include providing safe and educational summer spots for children in kindergarten through fifth grade by setting up camps at local churches.
|CROS Ministries offers summer camps at church sites like this one at Calvary UMC, Lake Worth. Photo from CROS Ministries.|
“These children come from low-income families, and if it were not for the camps, they would be home alone all day,” said Rev. Pam Cahoon, a United Methodist elder and CROS executive director.
This year the ministry operated camps at four locations in Palm Beach County, staffed by 15 interns through the Florida Conference Summer Mission Intern Program.
The camps were in operation for seven weeks, June 10 to July 26, at Calvary UMC, Lake Worth; First UMC, Pahokee; St. John’s Haitian Mission, Boynton Beach; and Paul’s Place-St. Paul Episcopal Church in Delray Beach.
The interns, most with at least one year of college completed, ran the camps, while local church members and youth volunteers pitched in, Cahoon said. They received two weeks of training, including the standard camp curriculum, mental health counseling, crisis prevention, first aid and even canoeing.
The college students then took on all the camp jobs, from registration to Bible studies and worship, arts and crafts, and science and math lessons. A typical camp session ran from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
“One blessing that’s happened this summer is the way the interns shared how the experience has changed their lives and led them to seek after God more closely,” Cahoon said.
“It’s a wonderful program of the conference and we were so blessed to have them.”
Summer mission interns serve in a variety of outreach ministry settings throughout Florida, with a focus on church-based community day camps and United Methodist district outreach agencies. A $2,000 stipend is awarded to each intern for 10 weeks of service.
Kathleen Audet was a summer intern this year for the second time. A senior music education major at Stetson University, she learned of the intern opportunity through the Wesleyan House on campus. She worked at the Delray site this year and at St. John’s UMC, Winter Haven, last year.
She acknowledged that working with about 17 kids all day for so many hours was a challenge.
“But even if some of the kids didn’t behave well that day, I never went to bed angry and I never dreaded going to work,” Audet said. “Instead, it was fun and it invigorated me.”
She said some parents told her their kids came home singing Bible verses and asking questions about God.
“Some had never really prayed before, and by the end of camp, you could tell they were really thinking deeply about what to pray about. Being with them helped me be more spiritual too.”
Chivan Rivers worked at the Delray Beach site. A sophomore psychology major at Valencia College, she saw a real difference in the children by the last week of camp.
“By then, they knew memory verses and shared in secret prayer time,” Rivers said. “It touched me that I made a difference in their lives.”
As a result of her internship experience, Rivers thinks she may pursue child psychology or school counseling in her career.
|CROS Camp participants entertain a visiting mission group at First UMC, Pahokee, this summer. Photo by Susan Green.|
“I thank God and I thank them [the conference] for choosing me to be an intern because I got closer to Christ myself,” she said.
Rivers’ friend, Moses Johnson, was a floater among the camps. A member of Simpson Memorial UMC, Jacksonville, he is a junior majoring in computer engineering at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.
He recalled a young camper with autism who bit and fought during most of her time at the Boynton Beach camp. Toward the end, he said, she did a praise dance and offered a prayer instead of her usual behavior.
“All the counselors had tears in their eyes, and it showed me that God can use anybody and that I was there for a purpose,” Johnson said.
“Since camp is over, I’ve gotten closer to God and have been praying more. … The team as a whole was truly blessed.”
Cahoon said the leader to camper ratio was about 1 to 8, which exceeded national requirements and allowed interaction between the interns and their charges to be educational as well as spiritual.
Parents were required to register in advance and pay $50, which covered field trips and a T-shirt. Campers also enjoyed nutritious food through the summer lunch program of the Florida Department of Agriculture.
“All four of our sites were [Florida Summer] Break Spots,” Cahoon said, meaning all four congregations signed up to provide children’s meals with federal funding through the state agriculture program. CROS encourages host congregations to become sites. Churches are eligible if there is a Title 1 school, meaning one with a high percentage of impoverished children, within a 10-mile radius.
“The camps are a great outreach for the [host] churches, and we do expect the congregations to follow up with the families as we provide them with names and addresses and phone numbers,” Cahoon said.
“We ask the pastors and staff members to lead chapel and singing while the camps are in session. And every year at least a couple of families join these churches.”
Besides helping the communities they serve, the camps also bring energy to the sometimes sluggish summertime.
“I was visiting the church in Pahokee and a number of folks came up to me and said how much they liked having the camps there this summer,” Cahoon recalled.
“One lady said that the church can be dead in the summer, but not with the camps going on.”
At Calvary, she said, the church invited parents to come hear their young campers sing and stay for lunch.
“It was a great outreach.”
-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.