“One of the things we’ve noticed is that relationship building is best cultivated when you are volunteering or giving,” said Justin Chades, student pastor at West Pines Community Church and the camp director. “Going to a theme park is fun, but when you are stocking boxes at a food pantry, that fosters a kind of relationship building that goes beyond. It gets the attention off us and on others.”
During the week, students are divided into eight teams and spend six hours a day serving at shelters, food pantries, foster care homes and schools. In the evening, they return to their hotel to clean up before sharing a meal then experiencing a nightly service, entertainment and small group discussions. “The next morning they get to put their faith in action applying the teaching they’re receiving,” said Chades. “It’s a time for personal and spiritual growth for them.”
In their second year, Unleashed Mission Camp sent students to more than 20 Broward sites. At the Salvation Army students washed windows and cleaned the kitchen. Another group of students spent a day at the Broward Outreach Center painting dorms and sorting out donations. Ely Mondshein, of West Pines Community Church, said they were told the Outreach Center had been wanting to have their dorm painted for many years, and the students were a big help.
Maggie Hulsey, director of operations for Kids in Distress, said she had eight girls helping her with inventory in their warehouse and a group of teenage boys who put together furniture for one of their on-site foster homes. “Facilities help is really important to us because we have a 5-acre campus and only a small staff, so in one day each group is doing about a week’s worth of work for our staff, which allows us to get other things done,” said Hulsey. “This is really fantastic because often kids sit around during the summer and don’t even realize the need in the community, but there’s tons they can do.”
Seeing the need
Matt Lewis, a firefighter paramedic who helped out as a leader at the camp, explained that students earn about 100 service hours as they move to a different site each day, so everyone gets a taste of the different ministries. His group helped out at Kids in Distress, His House Children’s Home, Susan B Anthony Women’s Center, Flanagan High School and 4KIDS of South Florida.
“These kids see that there are others hurting out there who are in greater need than them, and that simple truth can open their eyes to the bigger purpose in life,” said Lewis
At the schools they were scraping gum off the desks and chairs and cleaning them. Lewis said he was touched by an experience they had last year at Silver Trail Elementary School when the custodian expressed his tearful thanks for taking some of that burden from him. “You made my week,” he told them.
Taking a break from putting together furniture, Fabio Vazquez, an 11th grade student from West Broward High School, said “Every day we’re helping non-profits who work with kids that are less fortunate and it lets them know there are people who care.”
His group spent the previous day landscaping and plucking weeds in the hot sun. “To be honest, my hands are a little sore,” said Vazquez, “But I’ve learned it’s not all about me. There’s a whole new world of serving and giving to the community with things that actually matter, and I love giving and making peolpe happy But it wasn’t all manual labor; on “Wet Wednesday” the
students were able to interact with Kids in Distress campers as they ran through sprinklers and took part in water balloon fights with the kids. They also had the opportunity to play board
games with them and help with math turtoring. Carolina Olivera, a senior attending Unleashed Mission Camp for the second year, said, “It’s crazy seeing how much of a difference a group of teens can make in just working towards bettering the community.” For more information visit unleashed camp.