Written By Camp Director Ben Smith
Lashanda* sat at a shaded picnic table across from Grace and I with hot tears streaking down her cheeks. In her hands she held a piece of paper with a neatly written list of her dreams now dotted by her tears. She choked out the words as she read the list, while the tears spoke of the hopelessness she felt inside.
Lashanda is growing up in a community where most peoples’ dreams are drowned in a pool of poverty, abuse, and crime. She has already personally experienced it all. This was our Timothy Staff Training, a special week for our teenage campers whom we had invited back to train to serve on staff. We were excited to have 13 students return for this training.
Lashanda started off the week with a lot of excitement, but as the week progressed she began getting distracted by her peers and falling back into her old attitudes. You know, the kind of teenage girl attitude that parents dread?! Earlier that afternoon, we had talked with Lashanda about her disrespectful behaviors and hanging out with the wrong group. It was then that God inspired Mama Rose to give Lashonda the assignment of writing out her dreams.
On Lashonda’s list were great aspirations like dreaming for tomorrow, being a leader, sharing the gospel with other kids, becoming a motivational speaker, and growing in her relationship with God. As we talked about her dreams we helped her break them down into SMART goals: Goals that were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound. As we talked, Lashanda sniffed back her tears and a smile crossed her face. I could see a new excitement stirring in her eyes.
Lashanda finished her week well and she was one of ten students accepted to serve on staff that Friday!! When we sat at the same table where earlier we had addressed her behaviors, Lashanda cried again. After affirming her and the changes we saw her making, we announced she was accepted to serve on staff! This time she had tears of joy. But her story doesn’t end there.
In the week that followed, Grace and I smiled at each other as we watched Lashanda realize so many of her goals. While wearing a yellow counselor shirt, Lashanda shared the gospel with a camper. At chapel another night, braving the pain and tears, she shared her own story and how she was finding hope.
That week Lashanda helped lead a team of little girls as an Assistant Counselor. She helped them dress for the princess dinner and pushed the girls on the swings. We could see her desire for them to experience the same joy and excitement she had experienced as a camper. While Lashanda has a lot more growing to do, I am grateful she got experience the joy of reaching some of her life-giving goals and seeing God use her life challenges to give others hope.
I want to say a big thanks to all of you who helped make this week possible. We still need many sponsors and ask that you pray about being part of sponsoring some of our young leaders in training.
*Name changed for confidentiality
Children of prisoners are likely the most vulnerable children alive today. But their parents' sentences don't have to be theirs. We have found a week of camp can be a life changing experience, as these children find their true identity and discover that they are never alone.