By: Value News | Category: Special Interest | Issue: January 2012
Jennifer and Ronnie Hayes discuss plans for their first fundraiser for Camp Courage USA, a raffle for two luxury vacation packages. The drawing for the first package will take place in February.
Ronnie and Jennifer Hayes of Owasso are preparing to take a giant step of faith – again. Their present journey began five years ago when Ronnie resigned from his position as youth pastor in a church in Kansas and they began searching for land to build a summer camp for children and youth. For a year, they drove all over the United States, and even considered locating in the Caribbean. “God finally got my attention, and said stop focusing on land, focus on the kids,” Ronnie said.
For the past three years, that’s what they have done – and waited. Waiting is something with which they have lots of experience. They met in church when she was 16 and he was 19. He lived in Edmond, she in Claremore. Eventually, they started dating long distance and married when she was 20 and he was 24. Following Ronnie’s graduation from a two-year course of study at Rhema Bible College, they accepted a youth pastor’s position in North Carolina. Three years later, they moved to Topeka, Kansas, where they lived for eight years. They now reside in Owasso with their three sons, Clayton, 15, Kyle, 11, and Samuel, 8.
The Hayes began their non-profit, By Faith Youth Ministries, while serving in youth ministry. Classified as 501(c) 3, it is the parent entity for Camp Courage USA. It’s for Camp Courage that the Hayes took that next step. When they stopped looking for land to buy, they started leasing facilities for field trip day camps, held throughout the summer, and a residential camp. The first year, 44 children attended. The following year, the number grew to 70, and 172 kids were in last year’s camps. This year, they’re expecting more than 200. Kids come from all walks of life and faiths as well as kids who are not familiar with church at all. Some are able to attend only because of limited scholarships, and all need the lessons they learn at Camp Courage USA, Jennifer said.
“We don’t hold church camps. We’re not going to duplicate what churches do,” Ronnie said, adding that the camps are also non-denominational. Children learn courage, teamwork, communication, trust and problem solving through games and activities targeting those qualities. Teaching is biblically based and is from the Bible, he said. Ideally, children will want to continue learning about Christianity after they go home, and begin attending church. “We plant the seeds,” he said.
During non-camp months, Ronnie is a landscaper and Jennifer cleans houses and drives a school bus. The camp staff is totally volunteer, from the nurse who donates her vacation time each year and pays her own expenses, to people who have heard about what the Hayes are doing in their churches, by word of mouth, or from college leaders.
This year, the Hayes are holding their first fundraiser to raise the money to start buying the land and buildings they need. “We decided to raffle off a luxury vacation. We were going to buy a vacation package,” Ronnie said. When someone heard about the fundraiser, they offered their luxury vacations as prizes. “They said they weren’t going to be able to take them, so they donated them to us,” Ronnie said.
The first luxury vacation raffle will be drawn February 28 for the 5-star Orange Lake Resort in Orlando, Florida, sleeping up to eight March 18-24, 2012. Tickets are $25 each. The second luxury vacation will be drawn August 17 for the 5-star Hilton Grand Vacations Club at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, sleeping up to six September 2-9, 2012. Tickets are $20 each. Jennifer is planning a spaghetti dinner at the Owasso Community Center February 17 to help spread the word about Camp Courage USA and give people a last chance to buy raffle tickets.