By: Lorrie Ward Jackson | Category: Other | Issue: May 2011
Happy campers at Camp Courage USA.
Every child is an individual with his or her own talents. But not every child is born with the confidence to express those gifts effectively. Children like this often need extra help identifying their abilities and developing the skills and knowledge to use those talents to make a difference in the world.
That is why Ronnie and Jennifer Hayes founded Camp Courage USA four years ago. “Camp Courage USA exists to equip young people and families with Biblical truths to help them overcome life’s difficult situations with courage and confidence,” explains Jennifer. Camp Courage is an independent camp for kids aged 8 to 15, described more specifically by Ronnie as “a place for kids to come and separate themselves from the technical influence of life, to learn about God and about themselves, and to be encouraged by that.”
Camp Courage USA is held at Sunset Bible Camp in beautiful Mannford, Oklahoma. At Camp Courage USA, kids participate in what Jennifer describes as “purposeful games and activities,” which include swimming, canoeing, wall climbing, rappelling, skateboarding, hiking, fishing, volleyball and camp crafts. Even more excitement and variety is added with a zip line drop into the lake, an 80-foot waterslide, and nights around the bonfire. Games at Camp Courage USA are called “initiatives,” as they are designed to help initiate certain character qualities in kids.
Because relationships and teamwork are important to building a child’s confidence, the camp has incorporated lots of small group time for the kids to make friends. These groups consist of only six to eight campers with two leaders, which is well below the state limit of 20 children per group. “We try to keep it where the leaders can work effectively with the students individually,” says Ronnie.
Each year, Ronnie and Jennifer recruit mentors from colleges all over the country and pair those mentors with local high school students, all of whom help foster the kids and oversee activities. Before being allowed to work at Camp Courage USA, mentors must pass a background and character check, which is accomplished with screening, interviews, reference checks and written essays.
“Our number one goal in performing these background checks is the safety of the kids who come to Camp Courage,” says Ronnie. “We have three kids of our own, and we understand the dangers out there.” Ronnie and Jennifer report that they’ve have had excellent student mentors throughout their camp’s history; in fact, each batch of mentors is so good, they raise the bar for the next.
“Our leadership is not a group of babysitters or chaperones or overseers; they are trained to lead and to be involved. They interact with kids on their level,” says Ronnie. “They know how to recognize problems and how much support is actually needed.”
The Hayes’ feel they are setting a trend with this type of camp and can cite several success stories. One example is of a young man who came to camp and had never been away from home his whole life; in fact, he had never been challenged, apart from his parents. “He was so transformed by the time he came home, he wanted to join a swim team,” says Jennifer. “His mother said it was the first time he’d taken the initiative to do something on his own.” Even though the young man loved his experience at Camp Courage USA, he was unable to come back the next year because he was too involved with his swim team, where he was having great success.
Stories like this are what help fulfill the vision Ronnie and Jennifer have worked for and will continue to work for each year with Camp Courage USA. For more information on how to get your child involved in this life-changing experience, contact Camp Courage USA at 1-877-3GO-CAMP.