Close your eyes and imagine crackling fires, sweet treats, the aroma of sunscreen, cooling off in the water, and creating lifelong memories. Summer camp engages all five senses in a way that can truly change your life. The close friendships, newfound skills and perspective breed confidence that help campers grow.
But for too many older youth in the foster care system, summer camp is out of reach - a luxury that doesn’t match their circumstances. That’s all changing for five young ladies from Sunnybrook, thanks to a new partnership and your generous support.
In late July, they will travel to Carolina Point Young Life camp where they will meet kids from across the region, and enjoy “the best week of their lives.” That’s the promise that Young Life makes for all campers, fusing the charm of summer camp with a message rooted in Christ.
Throughout the week, campers choose their own adventures, from the ropes course to go-karts, paddleboarding, ziplining, and more–but a relationship with God is the underlying message.
Sunnybrook's Director of Advancement Ron Veazey attended Young Life summer camp as an adult while working on the Young Life Madison County Board and it left a lasting impression.
“My wife and I helped start Young Life in Madison County and I was the Committee Chair for about seven years on a volunteer basis,” he said. He explained that the difference between a Young Life camp and any other summer camp is not only the focus on God but also the quality of amenities.
“These Young Life camps are five-star experiences. Campers live in luxury, eat in luxury, the food is top-notch. It is all by design to show that the campers are special, desired, and pursued by God’s message,” Veazey explained. “Every aspect of it is intentional.
“If they go to a ropes course, they have to be with at least one other person. In the dining room, two people are served at a time. It's modeling service and Christ’s likeness throughout the camp.”
At check-in, all campers must hand in their cell phones for the week, allowing them to be 100% present stripping away almost all distractions..
“The cell phone for a foster child is their lifeline since most of our residents have been separated from siblings or other loved ones, but it’s also an access point for people who don’t have their best interests at heart,” he said. “After the initial shock of not having their phones, I’m convinced they will be primed to hear and receive God's word.”
This summer, Young Life is launching a new initiative called Young Life One, which overlaps nicely with Sunnybrook residents. This mentorship program targets foster, homeless, incarcerated, and trafficked youth by meeting their physical and spiritual needs.
Their mission is to introduce Jesus to these at-risk populations and break the cycle of dependency, homelessness, incarceration, and trafficking among young adults.
Their cause is just and necessary.
Research shows that 7-in-10 graduates of the foster care system will be unemployed, homeless, or in jail within two years of exiting the system. Fifty percent will be homeless within six months.
Young Life shares Sunnybrook’s mission of drastically reducing these numbers.
“Young Life One is a new branch of Young Life that hopes to reach every kid with the gospel,” Madison County Young Life Area Director Danielle Ellzey said. “Jesus left the 99 for the one; Young Life One finds that one in our community.
“This year we started a foster care cohort that meets monthly via Zoom to train and support staff, like myself, who feel called to start up this ministry in their areas.”
Ellzey looks forward to sharing the relational ministry of Young Life with Sunnybrook youth this summer and beyond.
“As I was praying for guidance on how to start this up, Ron Veazey was also praying for a way to introduce Sunnybrook residents to a deeper relationship with Christ,” she explained. “We had a few meetings and knew God was at work. We are so excited for the opportunity to welcome Sunnybrook residents and adults to Young Life camp this summer and kick off this local ministry.”
Sunnybrook’s Transitional Living Program serves older youth and young adults who are about to age out of Mississippi’s foster care system. For many, it is the first taste of stability in their home lives, providing critical life skills and a foundation in faith. It is also a very narrow window to make an impact before they reach the harsh realities of adult life.
“We only get them for maybe a year, two years, if that,” Veazey said. “But if they walk away from summer camp and Sunnybrook with some programs and services, and the added bonus that they know the Lord, then that's the cherry on top.”
During their week of camp, Young Life One will offer additional support and oversight to Sunnybrook campers. This pilot program will ensure they don't fall through the cracks at camp, as they often do in society. The additional attention and love are intended to draw the girls closer to a relationship with the Lord.
Veazey’s goal for Sunnybrook campers is simple: “That they get to know or deepen their relationship with God when they leave.
“Our residents have dealt with issues no child should ever deal with so I want them to know when they leave camp that they are loved by their creator, that they are special despite their difficult circumstances, and that they have a savior in Christ who will never abandon them regardless of what they have seen, experienced, or done.”
As the girls prepare for “the best week of their lives,” here are three ways you can help:
The cost of one camper to attend the Carolina Point Young Life camp is $600. A donation of any size is greatly appreciated! DONATE TODAY
Pray for safe travels and godspeed to the girls and leaders attending camp. Pray that the girls hear the Gospel and that their hearts are open to a relationship with the Lord. Finally, pray for lasting memories reminding these girls that God is bigger than their trials, triggers and traumas.
3. Help Spread the Word
Share Sunnybrook's excitement and hope for summer camp with family, friends and the community. Celebrate spiritual victories that result from the camp and encourage Sunnybrook staff in their continued partnership with Young Life One.
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