Holston Conference (UMC) Change for Children
Change for Children began in 1998 as an outreach of the Bishops Initiative on Children and Poverty. Since that time, grants worth thousands of dollars have been awarded to church sponsored afterschool mentoring and tutoring programs, Christian education activities, homeless ministries, Bible studies, team-building events, restorative justice, child care ministries, camping opportunities, prison ministry children, backpack (food) programs, food pantries and clothing closets throughout the Conference. The coins collected are used for grants to support new and existing ministries with children from birth through age twelve and their families who are economically disadvantaged. Half the money stays in Holston Conference with the other half given to ministries with children in Africa.
In April of this year, Camp Wesley Woods in Townsend, Tennessee received one of those grants. Camp Director, John Erdman describes how the funds were used:
“This spring we received a Change for Children grant to conduct day camps in local communities. We saw this project as a way to live out what Jesus asks of us in the Great Commission, to "go and make disciples of all..." Rather than wait for kids to come to us, we felt called to go to where kids are and serve those who for a variety of reasons don't have the chance to come to summer camp at Wesley Woods. As we envisioned this project we thought we'd do several simple day camps at local churches where we could use our expertise to serve the local community.
Our staff, however, have really embraced and been energized by the idea of serving those not only at the camp but beyond our boundaries. Our simple day camp idea has evolved into an on-going effort to use every opportunity we can to reach out to kids. Whether it's day camp counselors who don't have kids in the evening or counselors who have a break between half week sessions, we've committed to using our resources to go out into the community and make a difference in the lives of kids.
Today we started what we hope will be a summer long effort. We loaded a van with staff, program supplies and snacks and went to a park where we knew many kids from low income families play. Our goal was to just hang out with kids, be positive role models, provide some fun activities and share the love of Christ. We were thrilled that 52 kids spent part of the day with us playing games, making crafts, getting their faces painted, eating snacks and sharing their lives with us. It was also great to see the positive impact the day had on our staff as they lived out our mission with kids in need. Our plan is to continue to do these Wednesday day camps the remainder of the summer.
Every evening next week we are taking our day camp counselors, who have evenings free, to Fairview UMC to do programming with kids in the Blount County Family Promise program. This program houses and feeds homeless families in Blount County churches. We are also sending staff to Cokesbury UMC on Tuesday night to work with kids in an outreach program they are doing. “
John reported later that they had served over 600 children with the Camp in the Community pilot project this summer which was made possible by the Change for Children grant.
Gaye King,Associate Director of Connectional Ministries, Holston Conference, United Methodist Church