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Event trains leaders to reach struggling families, children through day camps

Event trains leaders to reach struggling families, children through day camps

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Event trains leaders to reach struggling families, children through day camps

April 16, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0831}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

ORLANDO — With nearly 40 percent of Florida’s children living in low-income families, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, the question of how to feed them and find a safe place for them to spend the day during the summer when school resources aren’t available is a big one for families.

Florida Conference leaders are hoping to provide at least one part of the answer through summer day camps run by conference churches and ministries.

JoAnne Carroll, co-director of Carson Simpson Farm Day Camp outreach in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church, shares tips and information on running a day camp at the Day Camp Training Seminar March 8 at Pine Hills United Methodist Church and Berea Haitian Mission in Orlando. Photo by Thomas Routzong.  Photo #08-0808.

The first step toward that goal was a session in early March to train churches on developing day camps. Blustery winds and unseasonably cold temperatures didn’t keep nearly 50 children’s ministry leaders from across Florida from attending the Day Camp Training Seminar at Pine Hills United Methodist Church and Berea Haitian Mission in Orlando.

Sponsored by the East Central District Church and Community Office and the Florida Conference Justice and Spirituality and Camp and Retreat ministries, the training focused on the nuts and bolts of starting a day camp ministry in a local church, as well as tips and resources to strengthen day camp ministries already in operation.

The Rev. David Berkey, executive director of the conference Camp and Retreat Ministries, says day camps have the potential of meeting a variety of needs felt by families.

“Many of the children have working parents or parents without resources for enrichment activities,” he said. “Many of the children do not have subsidized lunches (at their schools) so they go hungry during the day in the summer. Day camp can meet all of these needs, as well as teach them about God’s love for each of them.”

During the training Berkey facilitated a panel discussion over lunch. Melinda Trotti, the conference’s new director of Justice and Spirituality Ministries, presented issues of liability and personnel. Most recently, Trotti was interim director of the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park and director of Epworth Camp and Retreat Center in New York, which provides both overnight and day camping and retreats.

Claribel Baron, director of camp and children’s ministry for Christians Reaching Out to Society (C.R.O.S. Ministries), said she believes day camps will reach millions of children who stay home alone during the summer — children who have yet to encounter “God’s unconditional love.”

Baron helped plan the day’s training, specifically providing information on medical issues related to day camps.

“Research shows that children who are involved in activities are more likely to succeed than those who don’t,” Baron said in an interview after the training. “Now more than ever children need a safe place to grow and learn about God’s love. ”

Last summer, 238 children, all from low-income families, attended the day camp run by C.R.O.S. Ministries. An end-of-summer parents research survey showed 75 percent of the children who participated in the program would have been home alone, the behaviors of 94 percent improved as a result of their participation in the camp, and 90 percent of the parents were able to be at work because the children had a safe place to go during the day.

“More and more children are staying home alone; more and more children are getting involved in gang activity at an early age,” Baron said. “We need to intervene, and one way of doing this is by offering affordable day camp programming to families who need it the most, our most vulnerable, our low-income families.”

Children participate in the Fresh Start day camp offered last summer at Community United Methodist Church in Holiday. It was a communitywide effort undertaken after the local Coalition for the Homeless — of which the church’s pastor, the Rev. Dan Campbell, is a participant — surveyed the community and found 55 percent of the 2,200 people who are homeless in the area are younger than 18. In addition to getting breakfast, lunch and two snacks, the children participated in such "fiesta"-themed activities as hot Bible adventures, cactus crafts, “grande” games, and chapel time with music and stories. Photo by Caryl Kelley. File photo #07-0655. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0726/Aug. 22, 2007.

JoAnne Carroll and Meg Neitz have a lot of experience with day camp ministries and agree wholeheartedly about their importance to families. They took their Carson Simpson Farm Day Camp outreach in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church from serving 20 children to 150.

“Due to the fact that there are so many two-working parent households, parents need child care for their children for the summer,” Carroll said. “Christian day camp provides the care, along with teaching the campers about God’s love for them and how to live as a Christian in this world.”

In addition, Neitz said, day camps offer a unique opportunity to minister in the community and create important opportunities to begin relationships with children and their parents.

During the training Neitz and Carroll shared their experiences operating the day camp and showed a multimedia presentation that included humorous and heart-warming slides and photographs from the Carson Simpson Farm. At one point Carroll led participants in a silly, sing-a-long memory song contrasting real fruit with the fruit of the Spirit.

“Oh a watermelon is not the fruit of the Spirit,” she sang, as she mimed carrying a suitcase-sized watermelon. “A watermelon is not a fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

The Rev. Steve Nolin, pastor of Pine Hills United Methodist Church, said day camps are an important way to provide Christian activities to children. Baron agrees and says children can learn about God through Bible study, crafts and praise time. She said outdoor games offered at day camps also teach kids cooperation and teamwork.

The Rev. Marilyn Beecher, director of outreach ministries for the East Central District, said the Florida Conference has encouraged churches to start small this year and gradually develop their programs each year.

“We are also trying to network churches,” she said, “so that larger churches may be able to share volunteers, invite another church for a day in their gym, or do a mission project or field trip with the children from smaller churches in low-income neighborhoods.”

Beecher says this kind of “cooperative ministry” will help reach more children in more communities and local churches will become known as places that care about children and families.

The nametags of about 120 volunteers hang on pegs in a room at Community United Methodist Church in Holiday. That’s how many people it took each day to run the weeklong Fresh Start day camp offered last summer at the church. Approximately 90 children participated. Organizers say cooperation from the community crossed denominational, neighborhood and socioeconomic boundaries. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0809.

Joellyn McDaniels, children’s ministry director at First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden, attended the session and said she felt led to become involved in day camp ministry after seeing parents struggling to find summer and Bible-based day care for their children.

Silvia Natal of University Carillon United Methodist Church in Oviedo, near Orlando, said she is involved because her “heart goes out to children and families.”

Each church represented at the training received the American Camping Association’s book “Day Camp From Day One” and a nine-week summer camp curriculum called “La Frontera.”

Churches interested in more information about day camp ministries may contact Trotti at 800-282-8011, extension 755, or

Information on a day camp offered last summer at Community United Methodist Church of Holiday is available in “Community groups, churches join forces to help local families” at and “Children, struggling families get ‘fresh start’ at camp” at


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.