Prison Fellowship adds Art Camp to its curriculum

It was a dark day for Chuck Colson, special counsel to President Nixon, when he was sentenced to federal prison on Watergate-related charges. But, just before his sentence began, the light of the Holy Spirit came upon him and Chuck Colson gave his life to the Lord. He publicly proclaimed Jesus by stating that he would “serve the Lord in or out of prison.” Upon his release, Colson told the men who were still incarcerated that he would never forget them – a promise that he has never broken. That promise was the start of Prison Fellowship. Launched by Colson in 1976, Prison Fellowship is now the largest prison Life in America, having a presence in every state and well over 100 countries.
Raeanne Hance is the Executive Director of Prison Fellowship in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. She started with the non-profit organization over 15 years ago as a volunteer, and then watched as the Lord gave her the “desires of her heart” – a full-time position to work for Him in Prison Fellowship. Raeanne describes Prison Fellowship’s mission as “equipping and exhorting the Church to minister to inmates in and out of prison. It is a transformational Life equipping inmates to become reconciled to God, themselves, their families, and their communities.” A special focus of Prison Fellowship is on the families, especially the children, caregivers and siblings who are affected by their relative’s incarceration. Programs and activities produced by Prison Fellowship geared towards their families and children include: The Angel Tree Champions Sports Camp, The Angel Tree Arts Camp, Storybook Moms and Dads, Malachi Dads, Inside/Out Dads, Parenting from the Inside and also family support groups. Local churches are also encouraged by Prison Fellowship to reach out to these families in ways that meet their particular needs.
Raeanne describes local events that have taken place over the past few years which have showcased the organization’s outreach to families. “We have done Champion Sports Camps lasting 3-5 days each, and we partnered with Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale to do a Champion Football Camp,” she shares. The camps include children from elementary school to high school. Trent Gamble oversees the sports area and Ariann Denison is in charge of  the cheerleading program at the camp. This year Prison Fellowship added an Art Camp to its curriculum – a well received addition! The Art Camp was birthed when the Lord showed Raeanne that the children had untapped gifts and talents, that if not brought to light, the children would look for acceptance elsewhere and in unhealthy ways. In a dream, the Lord showed her children of all ages singing, dancing, and painting. Raeanne shared her dream with South Florida Field Director, Elizabeth Coldren, who went forward and took the vision to the next level and beyond. “Elizabeth has a gift of adding meat to the skeleton,” adds Raeanne.
This past summer, for the first time, children were able to participate in the Angel Tree Art Camp. “The theme for this year’s artwork was ‘Creation’ – how God is the Creator of everything,” explains Elizabeth Coldren. “We broke the children up into three age groups and each group was in charge of painting a certain aspect of ‘Creation.’ The younger children were responsible for creating the heavens, stars, the moon, etc. The middle group headed up the creation of man and animals, and the oldest group created the earth and landscape.” The three-day long art camp, held at Rocketown in Pompano, was enjoyed by over 22 children. “These children were overseen by three outstanding artists and their assistants,” added Coldren. “It was fantastic; the children loved it!”
Hance was overjoyed with both the turnout and God’s hand in creating this Art Camp, which meant so much for the children. “The artists who helped us are so creative and they had such a heart for this and a genuine love for the children. Even though the children worked independently in their age groups, when all of the artwork was completed, you saw God’s hand woven through the art. The children were so proud, and the volunteers, artists and Prison Fellowship staff were in awe,” Raeanne shared. “I encourage everyone to go and view the artwork. In October, it will be at the American National Bank in Fort Lauderdale. I would like to thank Rocketown for their generosity and others who gave so generously and helped us provide snacks and lunches everyday for these children. This was truly a collaborative effort.”
Raeanne shared how she feels truly blessed   to watch God’s hand at work within the Life over the past fifteen years. “The Lord has blessed us in so many ways. I get to see firsthand the work He is doing when I meet an ex-offender’s family and hear how they were blessed through our Life, when I meet up with an ex-offender on the outside who is walking with the Lord and giving back to society, and also when I have the opportunity to attend a high school graduation of one of our Angel Tree children or attend one of their weddings,” said Raeanne. “These are the gifts the Lord blesses me with regularly – seeing the changes in lives that we have invested in. When I see such radical transformation in the lives of inmates and their families, I am encouraged and assured that the Lord is still in control and cares for us so deeply.”
Both Raeanne and Elizabeth hope to expand the children’s summer camp next year, offering additional programs and activities and engaging more partners from the South Florida area. “We are trusting for God to expand the Life for the families and would love to see family support groups raised up around the city, “says Elizabeth, adding “we need volunteers who are willing to mentor children – ones who are really willing to dig deep with these families.”
In order to reach out to the community,  Prison Fellowship partners with local churches by helping to train, equip, motivate and guide them to do the Life and to open their doors to the prisoners’ families living in their neighborhood.
For more information on how you can become a volunteer or how your church can become involved with Prison Fellowship, please visit: www.pfm.org.

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