AME church raising funds for summer camp program for Flint children

Rev. Jerri Porter, pastor of Dowagiac’s Conner-Mayo AME Church, stands on the lakeside deck of Cassopolis’ Camp Baber. Porter and other members of the AME church are raising money for a special summer camp program for children affected by the recent water crisis in Flint. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Rev. Jerri Porter, pastor of Dowagiac’s Conner-Mayo AME Church, stands on the lakeside deck of Cassopolis’ Camp Baber. Porter and other members of the AME church are raising money for a special summer camp program for children affected by the recent water crisis in Flint. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Update: Rev. Jerri Porter is asking that interested donors or volunteers contact her by cell phone number, (269) 414-0173.

For the past several months, many children in Flint households with lead-contaminated water have lived their lives out of a bottle.

They have had to bathe with bottled water, brush their teeth with bottled water, eaten meals prepared with bottled water — it’s a way of life that has taken a toll on the emotional well-being of these developing minds that people living outside the eastern Michigan city can’t even imagine, said the Rev. Cecelia Williams Bryant, the senior episcopal supervisor with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“It’s a very disturbing to me that these children in the U.S. are responding to the same kind of issues with water we have seen happen to children in developing nations,” Bryant said.

Thanks to the efforts of Bryant and other clergy with AME church, some of these children may soon enjoy a respite from the stress of their daily lives, spending a few days just being kids again.

Members of the church’s Fourth District Women’s Missionary Society are currently raising money for a special summer camp program known as Camp Joy, which is scheduled to take place from June 27 to July 4 at Cassopolis’ Camp Baber, an AME-owned campground located by Stone Lake. Organizers are looking to raise $47,000, which will go toward paying operating expenses to allow 130 Flint children, ages 7-13, to attend free of charge.

“What we’re trying to do is create an experience that will take children out of Flint and into a stress free environment at our camp,” Bryant said. “They won’t have to worry about the contamination of the water or the effect it has on their lives — they will live in an environment of affirmation and encouragement.”

The children will spend their days at the camp working on different activities, Bryant said. For example, attendees will spend 90 minutes everyday working on building academic skills like math and reading, another 90 minutes on creative projects related to the arts or culture and another 90 minutes on sports and fitness activities.

The Rev. Jerri Porter, pastor of Dowagiac’s Conner-Mayo AME Church, is helping to find local volunteers locally to assist with the camp, reaching out to places like area horse ranches to provide the children with activities they normally wouldn’t get a chance to do at home, Bryant said.

“We’ll be appealing to different segments of Dowagiac, Cassopolis and Niles families and neighborhoods to help make this a phenomenal experience for these Flint children,” Bryant said.

On the final day of the camp, the Fourth of July, organizers will look to invite the children’s families out to the site to enjoy a day of family-friendly fun, Bryant said.

The church is looking to raise enough money to provide meals to the children during their stay at Camp Baber, as well to provide free busing to and from the campgrounds, Bryant said.

“We just want to tell parents to bathe them, feed them and put them on the bus — and we will handle the rest,” Bryant said.

Organizers are raising money through a GoFundMe campaign, located online at http://www.gofundme.com/CampJoy-4thDistWMS. People can also contact Porter at Conner-Mayo to donate or to volunteer their time or services to the upcoming camp, at (269) 782-8581.

“Our long term goal is that the kids will come out of the camp with high self esteem, some new skills and a commitment to learning,” Bryant said.

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