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Pilot program is win-win for summer interns, conference ministries

Pilot program is win-win for summer interns, conference ministries

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pilot program is win-win for summer interns, conference ministries

Sept. 10, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0908}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

Florida Southern College sophomore KeTia Harris earned admiration this summer not for her theological knowledge as a religion major, but by making up and singing silly songs with children attending camps and retreats sponsored by the Florida Conference.

KeTia Harris helps a camper put on make-up for a clowning presentation at Riverside Retreat summer overnight camp. Photo by the Rev. David Berkey. Photo #08-0985. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.

And she wasn’t alone in those efforts. Harris was one of four summer mission interns working as part of a pilot program with the conference’s camps and retreat ministries.

Between June 1 and Aug. 8 the interns divided their time between Christians Reaching Out to Society (C.R.O.S. Ministries), a conference outreach ministry; the Grandparents and Me Camp and an outreach day camp sponsored by Carver Heights Ministries, a ministry for disadvantaged children and their families that is supported by the conference and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, at the Life Enrichment Center; and two two-week overnight camps at the conference’s Riverside Retreat In LaBelle.

Harris, a member of Sellers Memorial United Methodist Church in Miami, said being an intern allowed her to learn something she didn’t know.
“I like working with children,” she said. “Kids are just fun. They thought we were so cool because we learned crazy songs and would sing them whenever we would go someplace. I didn’t know it was so cool to act so weird while you’re having a good time.”
While helping the youngsters enjoy camp was a good thing, the Rev. David Berkey said, the primary goal of the program was to provide summer staffing to the conference’s outreach and camping ministries and provide college students with a theologically grounded, supportive learning experience in ministry.
Berkey is executive director of the conference camps and retreat ministries. He said the summer mission intern program began as a partnership between camps and retreats, district outreach ministries and the Florida Conference Justice and Spiritual Formation Ministries office.
“We were seeking to meet the need for staff at our emerging summer programs with children and youth at Riverside Retreat and the Life Enrichment Center, as well as provide support to the many day camp programs offered by our churches and outreach ministries,” Berkey said. “We held a day camp summit in the fall of 2007, and the intern idea emerged from that meeting. We decided that 2008 would be a pilot project, with the hopes of expansion in subsequent years.”

More than a summer job

Berkey said the interns received hands-on experience in a variety of ministry settings with supportive supervision, training and mentoring. They also had the chance to explore ministry within the church as a vocation and feel the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of the people they encountered.

During her time working with the various conference ministries, Harris said she took advantage of the chance to learn more about the Florida Conference and The United Methodist Church.
“I didn’t know we had so many camps,” she said. “I will definitely be talking to people at my church about what they have to offer.”
What Nikita Hernandez said she enjoyed most about the internship was making new friends. The junior at Stetson University said she enjoyed the adventure and spontaneity that came with being a summer mission intern.
“I learned about leadership and responsibility,” said Hernandez, a member at Community United Methodist Church in DeBary. “We traveled from camp to camp, and it was just fun.”

Kenneth Martinson, a member at Carlson Memorial United Methodist Church in LaBelle, said he enjoyed the variety that came with working at the different camps. The college junior said a constant at each camp setting was the smiles on the faces of the children being served.

Benefits go both ways

The interns may have gotten on-the-job training and access to the inner workings of the church, but the ministries also benefited, Berkey said, by receiving fairly inexpensive staff support from qualified and trained college students.

Because of the program’s success, Berkey said he would like to expand it next year and make it a permanent program, adding more mission interns.
Melinda Trotti, director of the conference’s justice and spiritual formation ministries, helped create the summer program. She said she would also like to see the program expand and hopes it will evolve to the point churches provide either half the funding for the interns’ stipend or all of it. Compensation for the interns this year was split between the agency at which the intern worked and the conference.
Trotti said support from churches could potentially help the conference maintain contact with young adults who often lose touch with their home churches once they graduate from high school.
To be eligible for the program, summer mission interns must be out of high school for at least a year and have solid references from their local churches or campus ministries.
Berkey said the application process for summer 2009 will begin in December, with information posted on the Florida Conference Web site at


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.