Summertime…Means Camp Time!

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Golden State Throws First-of-a-Kind Picnic for Campers, Families

NEW FRIENDS–Lt. Col. Bettie Love visits with campers during the kick-off at Golden Gate Park.

by Judy Vaughn – 

The Salvation Army in San Francisco held a first-of-a-kind picnic in Golden Gate Park to send 200 kids off to camp this summer. The premise was simple: to give kids and their parents a preview of camp before they got on the bus, before they left home for a week in the redwoods, before homesickness set in.

It offered parents a chance to share in the excitement of camp. If they were new to The Salvation Army, it told them what to expect. Most of all, it was a time for parents and kids to have fun together as a family.

The kids were shy, scared or rambunctious, ranging in age from 7 to 12, some aggressive and already labeled “at risk.” They live in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, Bayview, Mission, Chinatown and Korean communities, South San Francisco, East Palo Alto and Hayward. The adults were primarily low-income, single parents seeing their children leave home for the first time.

“Some parents came with apprehensions,” said Lt. Colonel Bettie Love, San Francisco City Administrator. “They left ecstatic about the possibilities for growth for their children. One mother was concerned at first. She told me she had planned to stay all morning. After seeing how well organized we were, she said, ‘I see your obvious love for the children. Now I can go back to work.’ ”

Joye Storey, San Francisco program coordinator, organized logistics. Helping her were 17 members of the Center for Student Missions, who did a yeoman job of helping kids personalize donated pillowcases with waterproof paint, hang them up to dry and get them back to the right child in the right duffel bag. The young people were from churches in San Juan Capistrano and Phoenix, among the 524 who came to San Francisco on mission assignments during their summer vacations.

Retired policemen and longshoremen from The Little People’s Fishing Program catered the meal with barbecued rosemary chicken and chow mein. Salvation Army board members Justice Timothy Reardon, Jane Eckels and Meta McDowell assisted with games and registration. Agnes Heiman, who had gone to Redwood Glen as a child, volunteered. Other parents came forward to say they also remembered good times at Redwood Glen. Each child received a duffel bag full of donated supplies. And, by the time the buses left for camp, there were more hugs than tears.

Captains Tim and Cindy Foley brought camp staff to introduce them to parents at the picnic. As a break between camp sessions, they attended an Oakland A’s game with the Colorado Rockies opened by Captain Dawn Rocheleau, Santa Clara commanding officer, singing the National Anthem. Members of the Asian American Corps presented the colors before an estimated crowd of 10,000. Six campers joined Lt. Colonel Bettie Love and Major Neil Timpson on the field as a thank you to donors on behalf of the thousands of children The Salvation Army sends to camp each summer.

What kinds of animals would they see at summer camp? A group of first-time campers got into a lively discussion about bears and snakes, caterpillars, crickets and frogs…and the more they talked, the wilder their imaginations became. Gorillas, kangaroos and rhinoceroses were ultimately discounted, but soon the conversation came back to snakes. What would they do if they encountered one slithering across the road? “Run, stop and drop,” shouted Michael. “Kill it?” questioned Chaz. “No,” chimed in Dominique, quietly. “It’s one of God’s creatures.” What would sounds of the night in the redwoods be like? Julian had the answer: “Trees going swish, swish…rustle, rustle.” What would stars look like? Dominique thought for a minute. “They’d look like dots.”

For these city kids, for any kid, The Salvation Army has provided some very special camp memories.

Photos by Meta McDowell

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