Action & Interaction

Five years ago, a new camp was added to New Hampshire camps Brookwoods and Deer Run. The camp, Moose River Outpost, was not created as a mere extension of the already-established private camps.

Though Moose River shares the Christian foundation and basic mission statement, it is quite distinct, both geographically and by the kids it serves.

Making a Difference

Moose River is located in the wilds of Maine, far from its sister camps. It’s also an Angel Tree camp, run mostly through donations, specifically geared toward kids who have parents in prison.

Angel Tree is a ministry of Chuck Colson, who runs Prison Fellowship, which is designed to help turn around the lives of inmates. Moose River is the first full-fledged Angel Tree camp, and it’s hoped that this first camp will spark more like it nationwide.

“If we get the kids out of the city it’s going to benefit them and the city. Perhaps the child will go back and break the cycle, because children of inmates are eight times more likely to go to prison if their parents are in prison,” says executive director Bob Strodel. “The first thing we did was to limit the number of kids at any one time and increase the camper-to-staff ratio to four to one. We also narrowed the scope of the ages to between 10 and 12. At that age the kids are more malleable than those who are 15 or 16. When you put clay on the potting wheel and it gets too hard it’s very difficult to change, so it’s better to start with a softer lump of clay.”

For those who have attended Moose River and reach the maximum age limit, the camp has initiated a leadership development program. Graduates of the program can come back and be junior counselors. Still others may be “mainstreamed” into Brookwoods and Deer Run.

In fact, given that Moose River is the only camp specifically geared toward Angel Tree kids, most of them are mainstreamed at camps across the country.

“We’re a test center for Prison Fellowship and they would like to see more camps around the U.S. do this. We have people come up during the summer to see how we’re doing it. They look at our staff materials and training and spend time with the kids and staff,” explains Strodel. “Last year, through CCI, they placed 5,000 Angel Tree kids in camps around the country. Imagine if every camp took three or four kids; that would really help.”

For those who are interested in bringing Angel Tree kids to camp, Strodel recommends that camps fully mainstream them, which means to make sure they’re not treated any differently. Also, it’s important to separate them into different cabins so that you don’t have a nucleus together.

“The idea is to break the cycle. Our urban director will say that by the time they’re 21, they’re either dead, in jail or they’ve fathered a bunch of kids and moved on. We’re trying to show these kids something different,” says Strodel. “It’s so neat to see these kids get excited about camping. This is the first year we’re seeing them come back to help us with staffing; it’s very gratifying.”

Moose River has two full-time staff members — a director and an area coordinator — who live in the same geographic area as the kids. After summer’s over they follow up and visit them.

“The ministry is not the 10 days the kids are at camp; it’s the follow-up and mentoring. You don’t want to throw a kid right back into the city, but if you can follow up once a week and visit the families, that’s where we see the change,” says Strodel.

Most of the kids come from the Boston area. Initially, Moose River hosted Angel Tree kids from Camden, N.J. and Bridgeport, Conn., but the camp found that the follow-up wasn’t as effective given the distances.

“The easiest way to do this is to get some Angel Tree kids through Prison Fellowship and they will help get the kids to camp. Take a few kids at a time. You don’t have to change your whole program just to help a couple of kids here and there,” says Strodel. “You could also do that at the state level.

Certain states have organizations that will help place kids in various situations, and you can effectively mainstream a couple of kids.”

Strodel adds that Prison Fellowship is planning on introducing a mentoring program across the U.S. in the future, which will be a big asset for Angel Tree campers.

Making it Work

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