Camp Hope Series: Director’s Cut

We have another guest submission for the blog today! Katie Strickland Swift has been a dear friend for fifteen years. In fact, she is the one who brought me to camp for the first time. Ten years ago, we started on summer staff and counseled our first Camp Hope Series camp together. Brionna Martin was one of our campers. When Brionna shared her story last week, Katie got in touch with me, excited to hear about the lasting impact of a program that means so much to both of us and to Lakeshore.

Jennie and Katie Oxley
Jennie Dickerson and Katie Strickland Swift. Summer of 2006

In 2008, Katie was the Camp Hope director, spending her whole summer with the Camp Hope program. The next year, I received a letter from Katie as I was about to embark on my own director experience with the Wilderness camp. She told me that over the summer I would learn to love more deeply than I knew possible. She was absolutely right. Read below as she shares her story of the impact of the Camp Hope Series from the director’s perspective.

Oxley 2008
Camp Hope Campers. Summer of 2008

I remember my first week counseling Camp Hope. It’s been 10 years, almost to the day actually, and I can still remember how nervous I was. It was probably partially because I knew these campers had been through far more than I ever had, and partially due to the fact that in those days we stayed in a house in the middle of the woods that I was told was haunted. I never saw the ghost I was told about, but I was changed by the experience. Two years after counseling my first Camp Hope I became the Director and had a summer that changed me.

Directing Camp Hope was the most challenging and most fulfilling job I’ve had to this very day, and almost a decade later I think of that summer and those campers often. My memories are full of serving up pancake breakfasts, bonding as a team at the ropes course, cookouts at the waterfront, making crafts, and decoupaging journals. I remember laughter and giggles, singing around campfires, staying up way too late, and everything else that summer camp should be made of.

I also remember really hard things. Stories of abuse. Meeting the toddler children of teenage campers. Learning about kids that had been in more foster homes than the number of years they had been alive. Listening to tales of fathers that didn’t care, or mothers that were addicted to drugs. Distributing so many meds that were prescribed to help them deal with depression, with mental disorders, with side effects of rape and abuse…

I remember one camper in particular who tested my patience more than any other. During 3 years of working at camp, he is the only one that ever flat-out refused to participate in low ropes activities, no matter what tactic I tried, and he proved that stubbornness over and over all week long. I cried with frustration at night, not knowing what to do to get through to him. And I sobbed with sadness when he left to go home to a dad who, I had discovered throughout the week, didn’t seem to care at all about his son. I realized there was a reason he acted the way he did, and underneath it all was a boy who just wanted someone to care.

I remember another girl, who was probably 12 or 13 at the time, whose social worker pulled me aside when she was dropped off to let me know that she had suspected abuse, and was looking into it. This camper was quiet, and she had what looked like cigarette burns on her arm. But she was full of kind smiles and got along really well with the other girls in the group. This young lady celebrated her birthday with us that week, and we had the privilege of throwing her first birthday party she had ever had, complete with hats and noisemakers, and birthday cake with candles.

After she blew out the candles, I heard another camper exclaim, “This isn’t camp! It’s home!”

That’s the beauty, and the hard truth, of Camp Hope – for many of these children, this one week of camp feels more like home than their own home does. During that week, we strive to give these teenagers a chance where they can just be kids, where they can laugh and play and make things and swim and not worry about anything. At Camp Hope we also add a layer of life skills, teaching them how to handle the tough situations they often find themselves in, how to control their anger, how to find peace in stressful situations, and how to find their value and their worth. That summer, I witnessed so many campers who desperately needed a break, find a break. Find peace. Find God’s love.

These days, I work at an organization whose goal is to help children have fullness of life. And that’s what I think Camp Hope is all about, too – fullness of life, if only for a week. But I pray that their experiences at Camp Hope have stuck with them, as they have for me, and continues to for a lifetime.

When you give a gift to help fund a camp scholarship, you can help kids who need it the most have a break and have a lot of fun! Please consider giving a gift to the Campership fund to help make Camp Hope possible.




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