What a great camp! Hyattstown Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Hyattstown, Md., sponsored our fifth annual Camp Starfish – a camp for children who have at least one parent incarcerated in a correctional facility. The camp takes place at the Christian Church Capital Area’s Camp Mary Mac facilities in Sharpsburg, Md.
We had prepared to accommodate 19 campers, but only 13 were available to go on the day of pick-up. This demonstrates the transient nature of our campers’ lives, with four of them losing their home and dropping out of contact with us less than two weeks before camp and two others not being able to attend on the day that camp started. About half of our campers were repeats, being with us for three or four years. It is great to see the friendships that have formed with our repeat campers, who use this opportunity to reconnect.
My favorite moments included watching the campers make masks (inspired by a positive thought or happy moment); listening to their overwhelming laughter when tossing/catching water balloons with sheets; seeing their curiosity when working on their science labs; crossing the stream on the wagon ride and pretending to be out of fuel midway through; listening to the children ask Momo Wilson about life in Malawi; creating colorful dream-catchers to chase away nightmares; and swimming with the children at Greenbrier Lake.
We also enjoyed hearing the campers sing songs during Spanish class; seeing even the most frightened camper smile after riding a horse (and asking to go again); watching them sort through the donated books, excited to read them; viewing the talent show and the pride on the campers’ faces at the applause; and hearing each camper say something nice about each other as they handed out goodbye teddy bears.
Before Camp Starfish, most of these children never had the experience of attending an overnight camp. They had never ridden a horse, sang songs by a campfire, or spent the night in a cabin in the woods. We saw them find such joy in making crafts, learning about nature, swimming in a lake, and being responsible members of a camp community. As the children open up and share some of their experiences with one another they start to realize that they are not alone in their challenges.
The Rev. Dr. W. F. Terry Reister, retired pastor of Hyattstown Christian Church, created the idea of Camp Starfish after a new correctional facility was built near our community. It is amazing to think that his vision for this program has led to five successful years of providing this camp to the children of inmates. This very high-risk youth group needs special attention. The camp makes a difference in the lives of these young children by offering them a summer camp experience that includes wholesome activities and good fellowship in a safe setting.
We are so very thankful to all of our wonderful sponsors and volunteers. None of this is possible without them. The laughter and goodbye hugs demonstrate that the program is making a difference in these children’s lives. What a blessing it is to be a part of it. The joy and smiles that are visible on their faces when they touch a horse, go on a wagon ride, create a sparkly dream-catcher, or squeal at a fish in the lake is a wonderful and blessed moment that impacts not just the campers but also the hearts of the counselors.
It is our hope that the idea behind Camp Starfish will spread, with other churches and communities developing camps and other opportunities for children of incarcerated parents. If you would like to discuss our program, please contact Pierrette McIntire at [email protected].
By: Pierrette McIntire