Ozark Mission Project Finds Success in Online-Only CampOMP Connect brings campers together via Zoom

Ozark Mission Project Finds Success in Online-Only Camp
OMP Connect brings campers together via Zoom

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The coronavirus pandemic has upended not only our churches but our extension ministries as well. Some of the most popular summer camps for youth and young adults are the Ozark Mission Project camps, where youth from all across the Conference can come together to physically serve their communities with renovation and building projects while learning about Scripture.

Unfortunately, because of the risk that serving in-person poses to the people OMP assists, this year’s camps were canceled in an effort to protect everyone from spreading COVID-19.

But that didn’t stop OMP from remaining connected despite the restrictions on meeting in-person.

OMP Connect is the organization’s solution to social distancing in summer 2020. 

“In April, our board voted to suspend in-person summer camps due to COVID-19,” said Bailey Faulkner, director of Ozark Mission Project. “Our number one priority is to keep our neighbors and our campus safe and following the guidelines. And there was no way we would be able to have in-person camp and be safe this summer.”

Faulkner said that while she and her team at OMP were racking their brains trying to come up with a way to still have something for youth this summer, Faulkner’s mother came up with a solution. 

“My mother has COPD so she isn’t able to get out during the pandemic. But she said ‘well, you know OMP is really about building relationships, and what better time to do that than with neighbors that are homebound?’”

After forming a committee of youth pastors and volunteers, OMP decided to launch OMP Connect for the 2020 summer.

OMP Connect is for 4th – 12th graders and is all of the fun of an OMP camp, but campers meet at home on their computer rather than at a church. 

“We try to incorporate everything that you would normally have at an OMP camp. All the campers ‘arrive’ via an online platform, Zoom, and we have music playing and people welcoming them as they come in, just like our regular camps.”

They then move into morning announcements and then a daily scripture reading. Afterward, campers move into family groups which consist of two adult leaders and five to six kids.

In the groups, they play games and have a discussion on the daily scripture.

One of the aspects of camp that is harder to reproduce on a virtual platform is the service activities. Normally during camp, OMP campers will do service projects for a resident of the community, which they call “neighbors,” such as repainting a house or building a wheelchair ramp. However, despite the limitations of an online camp, OMP has found a way to incorporate  “Tool Time” into the camp as well.

“We show a Tool Time video, which shows different things like how to use a power tool and things like that. This year, we are focusing on activities that they can do at home with their families, like showing them how to build and maintain a raised-bed garden in their yard,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner said that she’s found that campers have the same experience on the virtual platform as they do at in-person camps.

“You know, everyone is a little shy and awkward at the beginning of the week, but by Thursday, it’s the cutest. It’s like the kids don’t want to hang up at the end of the day.”

Jules Anderson, Student and Adult Ministries Director at Sequoyah UMC in Fayetteville, said that she’s seen lots of growth and joy in kids who’ve attended OMP Connect.

The most amazing thing to me about this week of OMP Connect is that despite the obstacles of an online program, Ozark Mission Project has still managed to find a way to serve neighbors in just the way that they needed.

“The hope in God that He could still move through a Zoom meeting and online worship was alive this week, and I know that I have walked away impacted by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring connection and unity through such a camp as this. The spirit is alive in our state through OMP Connect and I am thankful that I got to be a small part of this week,” Anderson said.

Dianne Cook, a neighbor who participated in OMP Connect this year, also had a memorable time with the camp.

“I’m impressed that so many younger youth are participating in OMP Connect. My favorite part about this camp has been getting to see faces, learning how to use Zoom, and getting to talk to this group of kids,” she said.

Grace Beckham, a recent graduate of Mountain Home High School who will be attending Belmont University in the fall, shared that even though this year was different, many memories and learning experiences were made at OMP Connect.

“This year has been a whirlwind for everyone, and if we were to fix our eyes on the things of this current world, it would be so easy to see only chaos, on every side,” Beckham said. “Being someone who considers Ozark Mission Project her favorite ‘place’ on earth, I had to be very careful and prayerful to make sure that I was going into this non-traditional OMP experience with an open mind and a humble heart. Despite my heart’s uncharacteristic hesitations, my experience through OMP Connect brought more encouragement, joy, and wisdom than I had ever dreamed possible.

“If I could pinpoint one lesson I learned, it would have to be this: we should never let our own comfort lead us to underestimate the unshakeable, unfathomable power of God. God showed up to me this week, and He proved to me that His transcendence is unrivaled. Nothing is impossible for Him.”

OMP scheduled three weeks of OMP Connect this summer, June 8 -11, June 22 – 25, and the last week of camp, which will take place July 13 -16. The first week Faulkner said they had 65 campers, and the second week they had 75. Although these numbers are smaller than what they are used to, Faulkner sees it as a major success considering there were no other alternatives.

One of the biggest barriers that OMP had to overcome this year was the loss in revenue from not having in-person camp.

Faulkner said that when they realized they weren’t going to be able to have camp, they made the decision to refund 100% of the money they received from registrations back to parents and churches.

“We returned a little over $170,000 back to families and churches,” Faulkner said.

What would have been a huge financial loss for OMP ending up being saved thanks to the generosity of the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas and other supporters of OMP.

“They made it possible for us to have OMP Connect as a completely free program to local churches and campers.”

For those wanting to register for the last week of OMP Connect, there is still time to do so. Registration ends on July 6 and more information can be found at ozarkmissionproject.org.

For the future, Faulkner said they hope to be able to gather again in-person in summer 2021, but from now on, OMP Connect will be their “rain plan option.” 

“This experience has made us realize that this camp is a huge need in our community. And right now, OMP is in a time of needing critical support. We are 100% funded by donations, and we need all the help we can get to continue doing this for another 35 years and beyond,” Faulkner said.

To donate to OMP, visit ozarkmissionproject.org/give and help financially support this vital ministry for years to come.

Ozark Mission Project Announces Free Virtual Camp

Ozark Mission Project Announces Free Virtual Camp

April 16, LITTLE ROCK, AR – Ozark Mission Project (OMP), a nonprofit ministry that brings youth groups to camp sites across the state each summer to serve individuals and families in Arkansas, announces free virtual camp, OMP Connect, for youth who have completed 4th-12th grades.

After announcing the suspension of their summer camps, OMP stated it would be offering a virtual camp experience for any youth who have completed the 4th-12th grades. This virtual camp is free for anyone who wishes to participate.

“While we are devastated to make the decision to suspend our in-person camps this summer, this was the best decision for our campers, volunteers, and neighbors,” said Bailey Faulkner, Executive Director. “As an organization, OMP connects people across the state and across generations. While we won’t be holding in-person programming this summer, we will still be able to connect with one another through our virtual summer camp, OMP Connect. We want to do our part in caring for our community during this time, so OMP is offering this program for free to those who are interested.”

The deadline to register for OMP Connect is May 18th. For additional information, questions, or to register for OMP Connect, visit www.ozarkmissionproject.org or call 501-664-3232.

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About Ozark Mission Project:
Ozark Mission Project began in 1986 with a vision to be a Christ-led mission opportunity and offers a diverse cultural experience that equips youth to make a global difference. Over 2,000 youth and young adults volunteer their time at OMP camps each year. Ozark Mission Project volunteers complete minor home repair and construction projects for low-income families in Arkansas.

OMP 101

OMP 101

OMP 101 is an annual event organized by the Ozark Mission Project that lets youth, grades 5 and 6, learn the ways that OMP helps communities in need. Kids learn how to use power tools, build simple wooden structures, and have fun in the process. Check out some of the photos of this year’s OMP 101, held at St. Paul UMC in Little Rock.

OMP 101 is not only a time for learning and serving, it’s also a time for fun and games! Before the week’s events begin, campers get to play some fun team building games. These games are meant to teach kids how to work together as a team. In the photo above, teams line up in two lines across from each other. One side throws a marshmallow to their teammate, who tries to catch it in a small plastic cup. || Photos by Caleb Hennington

Volunteers with OMP taught kids about some of the tools that are used to build and repair houses, ramps and more. While at OMP, kids will learn valuable skills that will help them get a head-start if they decide to volunteer with OMP in the future. A volunteer from the Society of St. Andrew also taught kids how to cut mesh rope to make into bags for gleaning. Gleaning is the process of gathering food together, which the Society of St. Andrew does for groups like the Food Bank and others. || Photos by Caleb Hennington

Ozark Mission Project Gets to Work in Pine Bluff

Ozark Mission Project Gets to Work in Pine Bluff

This year, the Ozark Mission Project traveled to different cities around the state to help out their neighbors by repainting homes, building wheelchair ramps, tending gardens, and other service projects.

OMP held camps throughout June and July, from Fayetteville to Texarkana, Jonesboro to El Dorado and everywhere in between.

Our Conference Communication team traveled to Pine Bluff to witness the work that a group of youth and adults from Lafayette, Louisiana were doing for a lady named Bernice Hayes in Pine Bluff.

You can watch the video below and see the amazing work of OMP. If you are reading the print version, visit bit.ly/omp-pine-bluff to watch.

Empowerment

Empowerment

By Hank Godwin

Featured Contributor

“That nail gun changed my life,” said Nicole Ross. I’m not sure this was the target transformation that most of the leadership team wanted to achieve. However, it was an indicator of a great life skill that all the college campers of the 2019 Ozark Mission Project (OMP)/Wesley Winter Mission Trip achieved in one short week. Teaching young adults new life skills has always been a secondary objective of all mission opportunities.

This year we went to Port Arthur, Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief. The theme for the week was EMPOWERMENT. When I think of my 20-year involvement with OMP, empowerment of youth and young leaders would be near the top of my list of our ministry’s goals. The theme is critical to the experience and is weaved throughout the week into every quiet reflection moment; morning, noon and night. It is important and vital to a successful mission experience. Nothing empowers youth more than the simple act of serving others in need. I was looking forward to the week.

True Empowerment has many necessary components. Some of those components were clearly demonstrated this week. I organized them into a mathematical equation for me to process this mountain top experience and share in this missive.

Empowerment = Focus + Courage + Transformation

Focus

Ms. Jenkins of Beaumont, Texas had two feet of water in her neighborhood as Hurricane Harvey began. It was rising quickly, and she was focused on one thing, get her mother to safety! Her husband left work to get as close as he could to her house. He walked two blocks to his home in the rising toxic water. Together, they waded another six blocks to her mother’s house. The focus turned to HOW. How could they safely get an elderly woman to the high ground? They emptied her mother’s freezer and took the door off to fabricate a makeshift boat. They waded through the driving rain keeping their new boat afloat with mom in it. They kept her safe for many more blocks to a fellow church member’s house above the rising water. Her husband had to then return to work.

The work we did for seven neighbors was very different from most flood relief. Usually, we are doing the nasty muck work of ripping Sheetrock off the walls and clearing damaged family heirlooms to the street. It is depressing on some levels, and sometimes the neighbor experience is missing. Port Arthur was different. Our projects were in the finish stage; door installation, flooring, and trim. This requires focus to do it right. Unlike the deconstruction work, this work was the final product for our neighbors. It had to be done to the highest standards by unskilled labor. In five working days, 48 college students installed 44 doors and 2000 square feet of vinyl plank flooring. They also painted three complete houses, nearly 40 gallons of paint and did a plethora of other finish tasks. The neighbors were highly engaged with the campers. The excitement of moving back in was palatable to everyone involved.

Texas Recovers and Shepherds Inn were our partners for this trip. It was evident that they were focused on more than just the mundane work of providing projects and shelter. They went above and beyond to make sure our experience was meaningful. Jessica and Josh from Texas Recovers were prepared, flexible and adaptive to our needs and the needs of the neighbors we served. Patsy at Shepherds Inn loved on us and attended to our every need. This focus contributed significantly to the success and enjoyment of our trip.

Courage

Imagine the courage to face your day when one morning you swing your feet out of bed, and they meet 14” of water in your home. Your wife is beside you in bed, and she is fighting cancer. I don’t think I’ve been tested in my life to find enough courage to gather my wits to survive. Our neighbor, Mr. Aldaz, did. He shared that he thought he could take care of his wife forever by himself. With God’s help, he now knows he has always needed help. He worked side by side with our family group, sharing his witness, and inspiring everyone he encountered.

We worked five full days for Ms. McCurley who was airlifted to safety with her two sons after four feet of water destroyed their home. The courage to ride in a harness and pulled by a thin line to a hovering machine several hundred feet above the polluted water is unfathomable to me. Where did they get this courage?

I’m overwhelmed with respect of the young people that attend these mission opportunities. They make time in their busy lives to go to an unfamiliar place to provide skills they seldom have to people they have never met! They ignore their debilitating shyness, anxieties, apprehensions, and fears. They pour out their hearts to people they just met to hopefully give them some joy and healing. The light emitted from this courage is inspirational and much needed in our world. The young leaders representing Wesley Foundations from U of A, ASU, HSU, SAU, and AR Tech fearlessly ran to an obvious need this week. I’m confident they will show this courage many times in their lives.

Transformation

I was able to reflect on larger societal subjects in the shadow of the largest oil refinery in the United States. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty was disturbing. The Port Arthur downtown was a ghost town. I kept asking myself, “Where are the people and businesses?” and “Where are the school kids?”

The city was clean, but it was obvious the people have not returned in the last 18 months.

Percy, son of our neighbor Ms. Blake, helped me with my questions. Many of his neighbors had fled Katrina and have now experienced two floods in Port Arthur. “Enough was enough,” he said. We then had an honest and disturbing conversation about speaking truth to power and how poverty has no voice. It rained the first two days of our mission, and all of us walked through ankle deep water to enter the houses we served. Why isn’t there better drainage in these communities? Why can’t there be a lasting transformation in these communities? Percy and I talked about solutions in his neighborhood. His positive outlook and forward strategy gave me some hope.

Noon devotionals with our neighbors are an important part of the college mission ministry. I try to structure my workday to attend a different family group each day during the noon break. I’m always impressed by the maturity of the conversation which usually crescendos during the week as each of the campers gain comfort and trust with each other. This is only one of the layers of transformation experienced during the week.

During one of these noon devotionals, we discussed “slow and deliberate” versus “mountain top event” spiritual transformations. Is one more lasting? Is one more important? I’m so pleased to be part of a denomination that embraces this type of critical thinking. I’m proud to be a part of a ministry to facilities spiritual transformation. All ministries of OMP and Wesley are a nurturing and safe environment to let these transformations explode into being or slowly mature. I have seen youth, adults, neighbors, and organizers experience a spiritual change in my tenure. In fact, transformation may be the most important parameter of the Empowerment equation. We were transforming lives through serving others in Port Arthur, Texas. We will do the same many more times for we are commanded and commissioned by Christ to do so.