Whether your memories of summer camp are real or formed from what you saw in movies, most of us know what summer camp is about. S’mores. Canoeing. Crafts. Bunk beds. Swimming.
But there is a segment of kids who have never heard of summer camp – or have any way to go to one. These kids are in the Division of Child and Family Services and live in therapeutic group homes at Methodist Family Health. For these children, their experience of summer is bouncing from a family member to a foster home to a group home.
Before coming to Methodist Family Health, their greatest desires were quieting their rumbling stomachs as they realize dinner isn’t coming, or having an hour or two to themselves after raising their younger siblings because their parents weren’t home (or weren’t able) to do so. Their summers were anything but carefree.
Each year, Methodist Family Health takes every resident in our therapeutic group homes throughout the state to a week-long summer camp at Camp Tanako on Lake Catherine in Garland County. The experience is a traditional one – fishing, crafts, and a carnival included – but the opportunity to just be a kid is not.
“Camp Tanako is a labor of love for the staff and volunteers who make it happen, but it’s one where we are rewarded with laughter from kids who haven’t had much to laugh about,” said Craig Gammon, United Methodist Children’s Home administrator and one of the masterminds behind Camp Tanako each year. “We have teenage boys ask to color and paint because they never have before. The girls love to kayak because it is a novel thing for them. All the kids’ needs are met, and the only thing they have to ponder is whether they swim or sunbathe. For our kids, it’s a week away from problems and troubles they are too young to face.”
This camp experience is made possible by the Rev. Robert Regnier Memorial Summer Camp Fund at the Methodist Family Health Foundation. Named in memory of former Methodist Children’s Home CEO Rev. Robert Regnier, this fund enables children who are residents of our group homes to enjoy a week of camp and outdoor activities, complete with campfires, arts and crafts, games, recreation, and spirituality services.
“The fund provides for rental of Camp Tanako for a week as well as all food and supplies for the kids attending,” said Carolyn McCone, CFRE, executive director of the Methodist Family Health Foundation. “Large or small, donations to the fund make it possible for our group home residents to have a time away they will never forget. It seems like a small thing, but it really means the world to the kids in our care.”
If you would like to contribute to the Rev. Robert Regnier Memorial Summer Camp Fund, there are several ways you can do so:
Text MFH to 501-881-2258;
Visit MethodistFamily.org/Donate to contribute online; Mail a check to Methodist Family Health Foundation, P.O. Box 56050, Little Rock, Arkansas 72215; Call 501-906-4209 to make a secure donation by phone.
Kaleidoscope Grief Center was another program of Methodist Family Health of which I was unfamiliar upon starting my position, but there is some fantastic ministry and healing taking place here. This program includes therapy and support groups for both parents and children who have lost a family member and helps walk with them through the grieving process. These groups meet twice a month and give parents the chance to talk with other parents, and kids the opportunity to speak to other kids, all of whom are going through similar, though unique, stages of grief.
In addition to the support groups and individual therapy that Kaleidoscope offers, another service (that is my personal favorite) is Camp Healing Hearts. Held at Camp Aldersgate, Camp Healing Hearts is an annual camp, the goal of which is to provide a safe environment where children and their families can develop coping skills, both individually and within a community of others, and can also help lessen the isolation that often comes with grief. Families participate in a variety of typical “camp” activities, including things like archery, fishing, swimming, arts, and crafts, and of course, s’mores around a campfire. However, interspersed between the camp activities are times of processing, sharing, and support as families have the chance to meet and talk with other families living with grief.
Last year was my first Camp Healing Hearts experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to being a part of it again. I had the opportunity to lead a candlelight memorial service on Friday night, during which families get a chance to share a favorite memory or something special about the person they have lost. It was so powerful to see people who came in as strangers so vulnerably express their memories and even their recent difficulties, but knowing that they were in a space surrounded by others with similar feelings gave them a boldness to share. The empathy that is shown through this weekend was truly awe-inspiring, and I feel it’s what draws families back again the following year. We also get to incorporate a service of healing on Sunday morning this year, and I’m truly looking forward to getting the chance to participate with everyone together in worship that day! While the grief process is so different for everyone, the opportunity to reflect, to remember, and to tend to one’s soul is universally healing.
This year we get the chance to expand the camp to two nights, which will give participants even more of an opportunity to decompress and grow closer as a family. Camp is coming up May 17-19, and it is FREE to attend. If you know of a family who could benefit, they can register by contacting Dao Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 501-537-3991. The deadline to register is May 6. We are also always looking for volunteers, to help with everything from registration to baiting fishing hooks, so if you would like to come to camp with us, please contact Tammy Weaver at email@example.com.
While we technically refer to our campus on Fillmore Street as the “Methodist Children’s Home,” we have many different programs that happen there. One such program, Arkansas CARES, is one I was unaware existed as part of the Methodist Family Health continuum until I came on staff. “CARES” stands for “Center for Addictions Research, Education, and Services,” and the clients are all either pregnant or mothers with children (ages 12 or younger.) CARES is a three-month treatment program for women battling both mental illness and substance abuse. During their time at CARES, our ladies learn how to better care for themselves and their children, while at the same time receiving needed therapies.
My favorite part about the program, however, is the fact that the women are often able to maintain custody of their kids by participating in the program. The women live on campus with their kids, and as they are learning how to be better parents as part of the education they receive, they are also able to live out those newly-improved skills in the cottage with the help of behavioral instructors.
While I love all of the programs I can help support through Methodist Family Health, I have to say the CARES moms hold a special place in my heart. They are so genuine about their struggles and past, and the ones who stick it out and graduate have such a strong desire to better themselves and put a stop to the negative family cycles of which so many of them have been a part. Overcoming addiction and mental illness takes hard work and courage, and I can see the evidence of this every time I meet with them.
Currently, I have a lunchtime Bible study with the ladies once a week where we open Scripture and learn more about it. We also meet on Friday mornings where we focus more on spiritual disciplines and tools they can take with them upon graduation. We employ practices such as prayer beads, labyrinths, and even some crafting as we learn how these things can draw us closer to God. One of the favorite Friday morning activities for our CARES moms, however, is yoga. Bailey Faulkner, executive director of the Ozark Mission Project, volunteers her time once a month to come to lead us all in a Christ-centered yoga experience, and the women absolutely love it.
Because of the difficult experiences these ladies have faced, most of them are so eager to learn about things that can help them lead successful lives, including an active relationship with God. They ask questions during Bible study, they share their prayer requests openly, and they understand the importance that Spiritual growth will play in their overall recovery.
Would you join me this month in praying for our CARES mothers and their children? Please pray that God would continue to strengthen these ladies for the journey and that they would all come to understand the unconditional love He has for each one of them.
Having been an Arkansan and Methodist since 2011, I have heard of Methodist Family Health for the past several years, but I will admit that I did not have a very comprehensive understanding of the different facilities and programs that were available to help families in need. As a youth minister, I even led my youth group in serving at the Methodist Children’s Home campus in Little Rock from time to time, but I still was unaware of the breadth of programs that existed. As an organization, Methodist Family Health is so fortunate to receive so much support from Arkansas United Methodist churches and individuals. It is our hope that by further explaining our different programs over the next several months, we can continue to help families receive the help they need, work to dissipate any stigma that surrounds mental health treatment, and help Arkansas Methodists find the best fit for ways that they may want to continue to join in prayer or service to our clients.
– Amy Shores, director of pastoral care at Methodist Family Health
Methodist Family Health has two residential treatment centers, one in Little Rock at the Methodist Children’s Home, and one in Bono, which is in Craighead County. Our RTC programs are for youth ages 6 to 17 (trending older), and students can be referred by various sources, including parents, churches, schools or mental health clinics. A typical stay at our RTC is 4-to-6 months, and while in treatment, the students focus on individual, group and recreational therapy.
We are very proud to be in our new residential treatment center in Little Rock, which opened in September 2018. Here, clients have their own rooms along with shared living, dining and recreational spaces. Because students need to continue schoolwork while at the RTC, we also have classrooms, and this school follows the Little Rock School District calendar.
Staff members at the RTC include behavioral instructors, therapists, doctors, nurses, administrators, teachers, and dining and housekeeping staff – all working together to ensure all students receive the best possible treatment for their mental disorders while learning new ways to cope with problems they may face at school, home or in the community.
Students at the RTC can eventually earn outings as part of their treatment along with weekend passes to return home to work on the skills they are learning.
However, at least for the first several weeks, it’s difficult for most of our clients to have enough time at home to be able to attend church. We have a weekly Bible study, and we also try to have at least one volunteer group come in each month to lead a Sunday service for our students.
Several local churches have also opened their doors to our students to visit youth areas on a Saturday pass or to occasionally join an activity with their youth.
If you are interested in volunteering to host our RTC students, or if you have any adults or youth who would like to lead a service at one of our RTCs, please contact Amy Shores, director of pastoral care, at firstname.lastname@example.org.