After our 2019 summer season, we quickly began planning and praying for our summer 2020 program. Even with all our planning, we would have never guessed what was going to happen. Like everyone else, COVID-19 completely changed our plans and hopes for our summer. Though everything changed, we hoped and prayed God would reveal His plan to us.
Soon enough, our director, Whitney Winston, started waking up in the middle of the night with many ideas on how to make an engaging, fun, and educational summer program for our campers. The best part of all, we would be able to do it while keeping our campers safe.
Thus Camp Is Where The Heart Is was born. It’s a program that would get camp kits straight into our campers’ hands in their own homes. These kits were packed by a small group of staff members who dedicated their summer to this program. For safety reasons, our entire staff agreed to follow a strict social distancing guideline.
Each box was packed full of 20+ activities, an activity book, and Bible studies. Our staff planned and individually packed each activity. Each activity had a video tutorial to go along with it. Videos and our instruction book were available in English and Spanish.
CITC serves a diverse group of campers, all of whom have a variety of life experiences. Due to this, we knew we needed this program to be accessible to all of them. In addition to doing everything in English and Spanish, our staff packed “starter kits” for every participant. These starter kits included the basic material they needed to participate in the activities. Pencils, markers, glue, paint, scissors, and more, all of which can also be used as school supplies.
To make this program even more accessible, we included DVDs for campers who did not have access to WiFi to watch the video content. Thanks to Second Harvest, we were also able to care for our campers and their families and provide food boxes that contained nonperishable food items and milk coupons.
All of the things we set out to do would make this program the best it could be, but with COVID-19 constantly putting up roadblocks, we quickly found this would be one of the hardest things CITC had ever undertaken.
We had a staff of seven people working onsite to accomplish this program. As our director said many times, if we had a group of any other people, our goal would have been impossible. Yet, the staff we had on-site, the few staff members working remotely, and a team of volunteers made over 5,000 boxes for campers across the span of five weeks. Because of them, our summer program was more successful than we could have imagined when we had to cancel our in-person program.
Our team would start prepping for a new week of camp kits on Friday by recording all of the videos for the activities and Bible studies. On Mondays, staff would finish filming videos and start the prep work to be able to pack the materials for the 20+ activities in the boxes. The materials for the activities would be packaged by our staff to be put into the boxes.
The prep work varied depending on the activities happening that week. For example, when doing God’s Eyes, 1,000 pieces of yarn was cut to 16-yard strands, then each one was put into a ziplock bag with two popsicle sticks.
The prep work continued into Tuesday, and then on Wednesdays, packing the actual boxes would begin. Depending on the week, we would pack anywhere from 1,000 boxes to 1,250 boxes. All week the curriculum would be finalized and formatted, and videos edited and burned to DVDs.
Thursdays were delivery days for our staff. We split into three teams to take the boxes to our church partners. One team went down to Chattanooga, one to Knoxville and Maryville, and the last to the tri-city area and into Virginia. Fridays, we would start again while our church partners distributed the boxes to campers.
By the end of each week, we were tired, both mentally and physically. Yet, what kept us going was knowing the work being done was good. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
That verse epitomizes the work we did this summer. Come Wednesday of each week, as we packed all of the boxes that would be sent out the next day, it was obvious we were growing weary. Yet, we knew the work was good. We knew the boxes we were packing were a part of God’s plan for our campers. And so, regardless of how exhausted we had become, we continued. “For at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Our staff may never fully understand the extent of the harvest, but we could see a small portion of it based on what we accomplished. Looking back at the number of campers we served, the amount of boxes we packed, and so much more is truly a testament to what God was able to do this summer.
Take a look at all God did this summer:
1,400+ campers served
47 partner churches and ministries
Five weeks of unique curriculum
5,267 boxes packed and distributed
102 different activities
130 total videos filmed (English and Spanish versions)
25 Bible lessons
780 food boxes delivered
Our 13 person staff accomplished all of these things. God worked through us on behalf of His 1,400 children we were able to serve. Those same children, we promise to continue to serve throughout this pandemic and beyond. We will serve them while always keeping their health and best interests at heart. After all, Camp Is Where The Heart Is.