For the sixth consecutive year, a Maryland Disciples congregation sponsored several days of fun and fellowship for children who are currently experiencing very little joy in their lives.
From Aug. 8 to 11, Hyattstown Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Hyattstown, Md., hosted 15 children at Camp Starfish. The campers have at least one parent incarcerated in a correctional facility. The goal of the free, four-day, overnight, summer camp was to provide the children with encouragement, wholesome activities and good fellowship in a safe setting.
The camp takes place each year at the Christian Church Capital Area’s Camp Mary-Mac facilities in Sharpsburg, Md. Sponsors of this year’s outing included Hyattstown Christian, the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Montgomery County Safe and Drug Free Schools, local business and charity organizations, and National Capital Area regional churches. Camp chaperones are volunteers.
"Children of incarcerated parents are a very high-risk youth group," said Pierrette McIntire, director of Camp Starfish and a member of Hyattstown Christian Church. "Statistics indicate that approximately 70 percent of these children will end up in jail themselves at some point in their lives; however they can be an invisible population when it comes to support. Their lives are often filled with instability, stigma, and shame – and they have likely been exposed to crime, poverty, family substance abuse and/or violence, and even sexual abuse. Many of their guardians have informed us that one of the biggest issues that the campers face is thinking that their parent’s incarceration is somehow their fault. These children are often tough on the outside, but are very caring and sensitive on the inside."
For many of the children, Camp Starfish is their first camping experience. Their smiles and laughter when they ride a horse, swim in a lake with fish, steer a paddle boat, create beautiful crafts, enjoy team-building games, learn about nature, and sing and eat s’mores around a campfire, shows just how important and meaningful the experience is for them.
"Our goal is to take them away from their external worries and fears and let them be kids, if only for a few days, knowing the memories and insight stay with them a long time," said McIntire. "This year we also focused a little more on what all the children have in common (an incarcerated parent), with healing and hope provided through motivational speakers, activity lessons, special reading books, and a very special therapeutic dance and drum session led by Nyame Nti Cultural Healing Arts. Watching the children open up, enjoy new experiences, learn from one another, make new friends, and become part of the camp community, touches not just the hearts of our campers, but also our counselors as well. What a joy it is to participate in it."
To get more information about Camp Starfish, call 301-831-8184.
By: James Patterson