During our banquet on July 31st, we celebrated 14 years of the Urban Hope Summer Camp in Walltown. Every summer involves different campers and different counselors, but the mission remains the same: to raise up generations of young heroes - who are beating the odds by the grace of God - through creating safe places in our neighborhood to grow together into wholeness. We continue to experience the gift of generations through our Counselors and CITs (Counselors-in-Training) who come from Walltown. They are the ones who, along with the rest of our staff, make the summer camp a safe and empowering place for kids. And it is through the process of creating safe places that we experience growth into the wholeness of life offered by Jesus Christ. Below you will find five "major keys" to living out our mission that our counselors discovered this summer...
Major Key: Influence
The Walltown’s Finest track consists of rising 9th and 10th graders, the oldest kids in the Urban Hope Summer Camp. This year we had all guys in the track, and being the oldest meant that they were undoubtedly the most popular as well. Towards the beginning of the summer, I noticed a pattern in the behavior of the kids in camp. Whenever the older guys were paying attention and participating, so would almost every other kid. However, when the older guys were distracted, so were the others. One day, I pulled my guys aside and told them about the influence they had in the camp. We discussed how they had to be deliberate in the choices they made and the behaviors they exhibited. After the conversation, I got the feeling that everything we talked about had already left their thoughts. Two days later, a counselor told me that one of my young men, Jonathon, had told him to let him know if one of our more energetic younger campers got into any trouble. Apparently, Jon talked to the younger camper about how his behavior could and should be improved and that if he got into anymore trouble in camp that he would stop playing with him on Xbox Live. This seemed to be a big deal to the younger camper because his behavior and attitude became visibly better. I thank God for granting me the necessary influence on the young men in my track so that I might open their eyes to how they effect the world.
-Robert Johnson, 5th year Camp Counselor who grew up in Walltown and a 3rd year resident in the Alexander House
Major Key: Intentional Investment
My favorite and most moving interaction was with a camper named Fred. One day after camp was over Fred was working on a summer academic packet he needed to complete before school started. When I heard that he needed help, I decided to go see what he was struggling with. During this time, we grew closer not only talking about the school work at hand but why it was important. We discussed the importance of why it wasn’t just about this assignment, the upcoming year, or even high school, but the importance of education period to young black men. We talked to each other about our dreams, personal problems, ambitions, and goals. As the conversation went on, he opened up more and more about what was going in his life and allowed me to pour my knowledge and experiences into him. Watching and listening to each other was very therapeutic for both of us—in the way of one brother to another—not only wanting to see him succeed, but giving him the tools to make it happen. Through him telling me that he truly appreciated our time together, I knew he realized that I really care for his well being and future. To me, that made the summer well worth it!
-Jimaune Williams, 1st year Camp Counselor from Durham who participated in Urban Hope as a kid and is now a sophomore at UNC-Charlotte
Major Key: Sacrifice
There are many things we hope to instill in the kids by the end of camp. On the last day, we did a devotion about sacrifice. I wanted the kids to understand the sacrifice God made for us. To help them understand the general concept of sacrifice, I prepared a game for them to play. Groups with four campers in each group had to work together to discover different locations around the church and complete an activity there. However, each individual in the group had to make a sacrifice, either no arms, no legs, no talking, or no sight. To make that sacrifice and still complete each task was hard. They had to rely on each other. They were able to debrief afterwards about what it was like having to sacrifice for the team, why sacrifice is so challenging, and how it makes them feel that Jesus would willingly sacrifice by giving up his life for them. By the end, the realization of God’s love was prevalent on their faces.
-Jean Fitzgerald, 7th year Camp Counselor originally from Pennsylvania but now living in Walltown at the Alexander House
Major Key: Childlike Faith
During one of our Friday field trips, I was tired and wanted to rest until we arrived at our destination. Instead, I sat with Isaiah, our most energized camper (he won the “Most Energetic” award at the end of the summer). I tried to think of ways to calm him down while not stifling his energy. I challenged him to recite the alphabet backwards and he enjoyed it. We imagined we were on a picnic and we took food correlating to the alphabet from A-Z. When I ran out of games, he said, “Let’s name five things God has done for us today.” It put a huge smile on my face! He was calm and willing to play and share. He even talked about his struggle with reading and his desire to become better. God taught me that even children can have a heart of thanksgiving and wisdom without being prompted. The Kingdom of God belongs to little ones like these.
-Todd Campbell, Jr. is a second year student at Duke Divinity School pursuing a Master of Divinity with the hope of becoming a pastor
Major Key: Community
Psalm 133:1 reads, “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!” Although I believe that the Word of God is true, living out what’s actually in it can be challenging. I’ve always found so much comfort in spending time by myself, but God calls us to be in communion with our brothers and sisters. This summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to live out this scripture and see just how great it is! When the summer began, the counselors and staff who lived in The Alexander House thought that it would be a great idea to set aside time to intentionally get to know each other. We all agreed that Sunday night would be our time to eat, relax, and fellowship together. Sunday nights evolved into all of Sunday and all of Sunday evolved into any day of the week. We often found ourselves reflecting on the best parts of the week, requesting prayers from one another, and learning from each other. I’m beyond grateful that God called me to be with this community over the summer!
-Destin Johnson, 2nd year Camp Counselor from Durham who spent the last year as an Urban Hope intern mentoring youth and making hip hop music (album forthcoming on the Urban Hope SoundCloud page)