During the summer, many students will be freed from classes and homework as schools go on vacation, but a campus ministry is hoping that youth with incarcerated parents will experience a different kind of freedom through Christian camping programs organized through local churches in the area.
Angel Tree Camping Ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries plans to provide a positive environment for 12,000 children whose parents are in prison this year. By reaching out to them, Angel Tree hopes to counter a grim likelihood.
The damage done to those homes can be great, with boys and girls of an imprisoned parent likely of enter a life of crime themselves, told Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley to Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink.
"There's an old saying — crime's a family business," he said. "It's true in more ways than one."
Local churches are a key to Angel Tree’s ministry. After expressing interest in the partnering up with Angel Tree to help promote the camps, churches would then scout out local Bible based and Christ-centered camps according to guidelines set forth by Angel Tree. The church hosting the Angel Tree Camping also trains a team of leaders and counselors who will work with the students during the week-long camp.
Scholarships or subsidized funding will also be provided for churches that cannot cover the full cost of the camp, estimated at $390.00 per child depending on the cost of the camping facilities.
According Angle Tree, Prison Fellowship will provide a Pathlight Camper's Bible and a new backpack for each child the church sponsors. Church volunteers will then be filled with camping supplies such as sunscreen, bug spray, toothbrush and toothpaste.
For many children, the one week reserved for camp is one of their most cherished memories of the year.
"I remember one kid came back last year," Earley recalled, "and he said, 'I keep dreaming about camp because I'd never been to a place where I laid my head on a pillow at night and I didn't hear gunshots.'
Bill Devlin, founder of the Urban Family Council in Philadelphia, told Citizenlink that Angel Tree's program should serve as a model for churches.
"There's no question that when kids who have an incarcerated mother or father . . . go away to camp for a week during a summer, it has an incredible impact on their lives," Devlin said. "It's really the Church of Jesus Christ (and) local faith-based nonprofit organizations that really need to step up to the plate."